The NYTimes reported that when the law firm Kaye Scholer moved to Manhattan, it left a lot behind, including most of its library.
"Shelves full of uniformly bound legal volumes — beloved of any photographer, videographer or cinematographer who needs a background that instantly proclaims 'law office' — are headed to oblivion in the digital era. Kaye Scholer’s library just got there faster because of the exigencies of the move."
When Kaye Scholer moved, "[n]early 95 percent of a library that numbered tens of thousands of volumes was discarded. Outdated books were recycled. Updated books were donated. Some were kept, like 'New York Jurisprudence, 2d,' which costs $19,963 for a new hard-bound set."
The new library in the Manhattan office has 700 ft of linear shelving compared to 10,000 ft in the old library. As one partner said, "[w]e have an account with an online library. That’s all that’s used.”
From the NYTimes article, it sounds like Kaye Scholer no longer needs the resources, but that is not the case. As the President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) notes, "[g]iven the author’s rhetorical strategy, one might conclude that Kaye Scholer’s library was 'left behind' in the firm’s move. To the contrary, the law library was transformed into a comprehensive, firm-wide digital repository of legal information and resources."
The AALL President goes on to say in a Letter to the Editor that "[l]aw libraries, like newspapers, are going through major transitions as they adapt to changes in technology and culture. Our members are helping to lead the way—reconceiving the library as a service, a virtual clearinghouse of legal knowledge, not just a physical space.
Kaye Scholer, the first New York-based firm to implement a fully digital legal library, is an important example. Under the leadership of Shabeer Khan, Director of Information Services, the library staff worked to replicate the firm’s physical collection in digital format, successfully leveraging technology to support this new law library paradigm.
While not easy, these transformations are necessary. Librarians are meeting the future head on, serving as managers, facilitators, and, most importantly, curators of knowledge."
It is important to note that the library did not get left behind. It merely transitioned to a digital library with the same or similar electronic resources. It's no surprise that bound volumes will become less important as libraries continue to rely on electronic sources and as licensing and ownership gets sorted out. But this doesn't mean that libraries and librarians are any less important. Librarians will continue to be curators of knowledge and navigators of information, whether print or electronic, well into the future.