GeneralLibrary Science

Law Librarianship


The law libraries are considered as “the laboratories of the university to the chemists and the physicists, the museum of natural history to the zoologists, the botanical garden to the botanists” quoted Professor C. C. Langdell, the then Dean of Harvard Law School in 1886 while addressing the Harvard Law Association on the occasion of 250th anniversary Harvard College. (Danner R. A., 2015). The law library may also be described as the lawyer’s workshop’ (Yaqin, 2008) for practicing and `laboratory’ for future lawyers. Law libraries are specialised libraries and are integral part of courts, judicial academies, law firms, government agencies and law schools. There are different sizes of law libraries depending upon the parent organisation and clienteles being served. The content may also differ according to the varying needs of the clienteles.

“An academic law library is different in its content, organisation and use than other type of academic libraries” (Levor, 2006). Any academic law library may have strong collection of text and reference books, law reports, statutes, academic periodicals, historical and philosophical works. The legal professionals or law firms need a different form of law literature covering reference books and law reports in highly specialised area of their practice. Online legal information resources, subscribed or open access, are integral part of the law libraries in addition to print collection in 21St century. On the basis of parent organisation, law libraries could be categorized as in the table-1.1 below:

Table 1.1: Types of Law Libraries

S.I No Types of Law Libraries Clientele/Patrons/Beneficiaries
1. Academic Law Libraries (attached to Colleges/Universities) Law students and Teachers, Research Scholars
2. Judicial Libraries (attached to Courts) Judges, Jurist
3. Bar Association Libraries (at different geographical levels) Legal Practitioners
4. Government Law Libraries (attached to Government Departments) Civil Servants and Government Officials
5. Legislative Libraries (attached to Parliament and Legislatives) Legislators
6. Libraries of Judicial Academies & Training Institutes Judges and Civil Servants
7. Research Libraries (attached to Research Organisations) Researchers
8. Private Law Libraries (attached to Law Firms) Practitioners

Law Librarianship:

ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science defined librarianship as “the profession concerned with the application of knowledge of media and those principles, theories, techniques and technologies which contribute to the establishment, preservation, organisation, and utilization of collections of library materials and to the dissemination of information media” (Young H. , 1983). The special librarianship is defined in the Librarian’s Glossary and Reference Book as “The branch of librarianship, administering and evaluating books and non book materials in specific and limited fields of knowledge, and disseminating the information contained therein to meet the needs of the particular institution or its clientele” (Harrod, 1977). “Law Librarianship is a hybrid of the profession of librarianship.” (Dada, 2011).

“Law librarianship is an intensive subject librarianship, just as any special librarianship where the collection and clientele are specialised and are of homogeneous character, and where the services and operations are unique and are determined by the administration and objectives of the parent institution of which the library is a part, or perhaps the heart” (Bikshapathi, 1972). Law librarianship is one of the specialised branches of librarianship which has deep relationship with the subject -law. The practices of the librarians while serving in law libraries make them law librarian. (Hazelton, 1993). Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘profession’ as “a vocation requiring advance education and training” and ‘professional’ as “a person who belongs to a learned profession or whose occupation requires a high level of training and proficiency” (Garner, 1999).

“Law librarianship integrates information professionals into the legal field, where they are expected to be interdisciplinary collaborator.” (Andrews, 2014). The law librarians help law professionals and students as they have expertise in handling legal materials. They may have a degree in law with library science or have specialised degree in law librarianship. (Danner, Estes, & Meadows, 2009).

In India, the need of qualified law librarians was felt in a UGC sponsored seminar on legal education held at Pune in 1972 and it was one of the recommendations that the Indian Law Institute should conduct a course of eight to ten weeks, to train those who already have a diploma in library science and experience in the administration and services of a law library. But it could not be implemented due to lack of funds. (Mahr, 1990). The controversy over the qualification of law librarian, whether a law degree is essential or not for him, has long been discussed in USA and UK. (Bonney, 1991), (Belniak, 2009), (Young S. , 2012). In India, as suggested by a Senior Law Librarian, “more than adding a law degree, it is important that the existing law librarians get themselves trained in legal terminology, literature and legal research skills. A specialised advanced diploma course can be an option or a specialised module in the library science course where an optional subject of law librarianship and legal research training should be introduced”. (Narayan U. , 2014). Even though law librarians need special skills to serve library users, there is lack of specialised degree program in law librarianship in India. UGC Model Curriculum of 2002 suggested “Law Librarianship” as an elective paper for second year of integrated MLIS (Kumar, 2009). But only the R.T.M. Nagpur University has adopted this elective paper which includes Legal Information Sources, Services, Systems and Network at MLIS level. (RTMNU, 2012). And the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai has started Post Graduate Diploma in Law Librarianship (PGDLL) under distance education programme from the academic year 2014-15 for those having a graduate degree. (TNDALU, 2014).

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has been constituted as a statutory body which frames standards to maintain the quality of legal education in India. Under BCI Rules the qualification of the law librarian in academic sector is not clearly defined. According to BCI Inspection Manual a qualified and trained librarian should be the In-charge of an academic law library. (BCI, 2010). The qualification to work in colleges or universities is defined by the UGC and there is no distinction between the qualification of academic law librarian and other librarians in academic sector. A degree in law or specialised training in law librarianship is not compulsory requirement to be an academic law librarian. “The existing standards laid down by BCI are not adequate to evaluate the facilities and performances of law libraries in India.” (Rao, 2012). The BCI rules about the academic law libraries are not in details and updated. (Kaur, 2015).

“There is a lack of proper networking and collaboration among Indian law libraries although the libraries do assist each other with important materials available to them.” (Narayan U. , 2011). The need of Law Library Network or Consortium has been always felt because the number of law universities and other institutions having common interest is increasing every year. (Vyas, 2010). The idea to establish an Association of Law Libraries is yet to be materialized although a couple of attempts have been made in this direction. (Narayan U. , 2011).

Status of Law Librarianship:

A law librarian requires special training and skills to handle the specialised collection and provide specialised services. (Tewari, 2008). Most of the activities in law library are same as in other libraries but the important difference between law library and other library is the subject matter and the clientele because they have specialised requirements. (Hicks, 1926). Emphasizing the role and contributions of a law librarian in legal academia and profession, Kelsh acknowledges that a qualified law librarian can understand the nature and complexity of law library operations, procedures, policies and knows the process of legal research. The law librarians are supposed to be expert of financial management, information management and training or teaching. They remain always relevant in a law school by providing excellent services by using their skills and acquiring new competencies to tackle future challenges. (Kelsh, 2006).

Academic law librarians must keep informed themselves, so that they may adequately support the efforts of law schools in meeting the demands of globalization. In 2001, Nicholas Pengelley described a scenario of the law school and the law library of 2021. There will be web-based course contents having hyper links to the primary and secondary sources of law and students would be able to participate in online class discussions. There will be possibility to attend online lectures in virtual classrooms. (Haugen, 2005).

For a law librarian to cope with the coming scenario, it is essential to receive formal training in law librarianship. The training in law librarianship and application of ICT give the existing librarians, knowledge, skills and confidence which are required for a competent law librarian. Besides the specialised training programmes in law librarianship during the job, it is also necessary for Library and Information Science (LIS) Schools to start optional paper in law librarianship at Master’s level.

Role of Law Librarianship:

1. Library Management:
The law library staff plays an important role in the library management as they are engaged in strategic planning, anticipating future needs and trends, and articulating a vision that mirror the law university’s mission. The librarian and staff ensure compliance with Bar Council of India Rules as well as assessment and accreditation requirements. They also provide records for documentation and demonstrate compliance.

An academic law librarian needs to understand the law university’s mission and the Vice-Chancellor’s vision. It is crucial to maintain relationship with the faculty and other department of the university. The relations should not only be at personal level but to know their information needs and to fulfill their needs through library services with respect to the mission of the parent institution.

The law librarian deals with personnel management, financial management, and most important knowledge management. He deals with various other organizations outside the law university and he has to maintain relationship with them.

2. Collection Development:
“Any law library has to be well equipped with regard to two types of basic materials — “authority” and “precedent”. These materials may equip the reader not only with what the law is but also help him understand that in a complicated society with complex laws, he may have to take recourse to such secondary material as books, reference books and articles. In addition to this a library has to contain materials in allied fields such as History, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology and Economics and also in Comparative law.” (Jain, 1982). In the current scenario of globalization and Internet connectivity, e-resources containing legal information not only for the law of the land but of other countries and International laws are the integral part of the academic law libraries. Every law library must have a written collection development policy and collection retention policy.

“The use of electronic resources is increasing day by day, at the same time the usage of printed documents is also demanded by users.” (Mahawar, 2011). “While acquiring the material, the librarians should consider the user preferences, mission of the parent organization, preservation of primary materials for future generation of legal scholars and cost of the physical and virtual storage for collection”. (Smith-Butler, 2014). The scope of the collection may go beyond the law of the land and a librarian has to acquire the material dealing with the laws of other jurisdictions. The librarian also deals with the Copyright and Licensing issues while digitizing the library material and purchasing access to the legal databases.

3. ICT Application in Libraries:
“Today, law libraries enjoy the convenience of online library catalogs, as computers continue to make a direct impact on their daily operations. The ‘age of information’ continues to develop, and law libraries face new challenges with additional breakthroughs in wireless standards, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.” (Balleste & Kaufman, 2014). “New technology has required law librarians to quickly adapt to the ever expanding technological landscape. This can provide a challenge to librarians and patrons alike who have not been exposed to some of the newer platforms.” (Wertkin, 2014). From automation of daily library operations to the implementation of web 2.0 tools to provide real time library services, it is the responsibility of the library staff. Mobile computing, wireless technologies, cloud computing are the new avenues for the librarians. They need to understand how these model works and how to be implemented.

4. Legal Information Literacy:
“The law library users may find a wide range of information, but how well do they understand exactly what they have found? Do they know whether it is the current law? Do they understand what is missing? Do they recognize whether or how well their results answer their original query? Do they understand how their results raise new queries altogether? Do they see what criteria have been used to judge relevance in the retrieved list? Effective legal research still requires a high skill level. Critically thinking skills and a refined knowledge of legal materials and sources are immensely important in current research environment.” (Hutchinson, 2014). “In recent years, information literacy in law schools has become a subject of great interest to law librarians” (Harker, 2013). “The role of law librarian is as much pedagogical as it is managerial, organizational or technical” (Bird, 2011). The teaching of legal information literacy skills must be undertaken in collaboration with academic staff to ensure proper examples and explanations.

5. Library Services:
Library is a service organization and the services are provided not only for users’ satisfaction but to achieve the goals of the parent organization. “The background required for law library public services may include specialized knowledge of legal research tools and techniques, or training with library systems that range in complexity from replacing paper in the photocopier to managing multiple online systems.” (Klinefelter & Sampson, 2014). The law libraries provide a range of services and some of them are very specialised in nature. The library staff should be able to “understand different learning styles, know how to use the reference interview to fully understand patron requests, handle complaints, and market the library.” (Klinefelter & Sampson, 2014).

Original Reference Article:

  • Alam, I. (2016). A study of the role of librarianship in National law university libraries of India. INFLIBNET.

Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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