Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Shed West Era

In keeping with the electronic versus print theme, a challenge that we currently face in the law library setting is whether to maintain the vast, expensive West print material in what has been dubbed the 'Shed West Era.'

Most legal researchers today prefer electronic resources. We see this with both legal scholars and the current crop of students who can't remember a time in life without a computers. I've seen a rapid shift in the resources that legal scholars use to write law review articles.  It's gone from primarily print - to a mix of print and electronic - to primarily electronic in just a few short years (at least for my institution's law review).

In many respects, the electronic resources are superior to the print version.  A prime example is the West digests. The electronic version available on Westlaw is fairly easy to use and is up-to-date with the most current information. The books take more specialized knowledge to navigate, and the researcher is then charged with the task of updating.

So, as a collection development librarian, the question becomes, when is it okay to shed the print and rely solely on the electronic version of a resource? This is an ongoing challenge in all libraries.

My institution has five campuses spread across the country with an ABA-required core collection at each institution.  This means that we are currently maintaining five print copies of many of the same West titles when most of our teaching and access occurs through the electronic version on WestlawNext.  In my humble opinion, there is no need to have five copies in print of almost anything because we have a very strong system for resource sharing among campuses.

As I've stated before, I find it imprudent to rely solely on electronic resources because of the unstable nature of license agreements, etc..., but there is a balance. We should follow the lead of other law libraries, such as Harvard, and shed most of the West print material but not all. To be prudent, we should maintain one print copy because it continues to be the most stable format and share that print copy among the campuses while relying on WestlawNext for popular access.

Law Librarian Blog -- Digital-Only: The Shed West Era Has Been Officially Institutionalized in the Legal Academy

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