Tuesday, February 17, 2015

As Libraries Face Pressure To Cancel Print & Repurpose, Admins Must Look Beyond Monetary ROI

Rick Bales, Dean of Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, posted a picture over on the Law Deans Blog showing anecdotal evidence of a law library's mass cancellation of print. 

Dean Bales noted that "[l]ibraries are going digital, and budget pressures make it difficult to justify maintaining print publications. Most law firm and county libraries have long since cancelled their print subscriptions, driving up the publication costs for the few remaining (mostly law school) buyers."

It's true that libraries can discard a lot of material that was once only available in print but is now duplicated by many electronic resources. Law libraries are officially in "The Shed West Era" where we can reasonably rely on WestlawNext rather than the costly print material. There are pitfalls associated with relying on proprietary databases, but this is the direction we are all moving.

Dean Bales goes on to say that "[s]helves at many law libraries already are tagged with a note indicating that the shelved material is no longer kept up-to-date. Rows of discontinued publications already look antiquated; it's only a matter of time (and a reversal in the decline in law school admissions) before libraries are pressured to discard the paper and repurpose the space."

One thing that is very important for law school administrators to understand is that although there is a lot of room to shed duplicated material, there is a lot of material that is still only available in print. And we want law schools to be a place of academic rigor and exploration, which requires having access to the material. But the pressure that libraries will continue to face may be just what we need to innovate in a positive way. 

Libraries currently do a great job of sharing print, but we need to go a step further and try to configure a system for electronic resource sharing. Law libraries may also need to seriously consider providing new services to stay relevant.

There's no doubt that librarians will innovate in the face of challenge, but it's also important for administrators to understand that there should not be a total focus on monetary ROI to determine if law libraries are still needed. The library is often a huge expenditure for a law school, and it's a tempting place to tighten the purse strings without looking at the intrinsic value of the library.

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