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In the wake of improvements in technology and the skyrocketing cost of law books, the mission of the Rhode Island Law Library remains the same. The way that task is carried out, however, has changed. Like law libraries across the country, the Rhode Island operation meets the changing needs of its users with an eye on its budget, a process that is constantly evolving, according to the library’s longtime leader, Kendall F. Svengalis. The library’s affiliations with a number of regional and national law library organizations, including the New England Law Library Consortium, has allowed the staff to rethink the way it purchases books and other materials for its facilities. In projecting the future needs of the library, the staff looks to what other law libraries across the United States do about similar issues. The Rhode Island Law Library is also affiliated with the Law Librarians of New England and the American Association of Law Librarians. Tracy Thompson, executive director of the library consortium, said the main goal of the association is to share resources among its 25 member libraries, which includes academic as well as non-academic institutions. “Our members value the ability to meet and network and learn what issues other libraries are facing,” Thompson said. Among other things, the consortium can negotiate a lower price for legal products for its members because it buys in quantity, she said, and in turn, vendors do not have to approach each library individually. The consortium is currently negotiating a deal with the Bureau of National Affairs to provide members with online access to major legal publications at a reduced rate, Svengalis said. That kind of cooperative effort, Svengalis said, helps him save money and increase services to users of the Rhode Island library. One way that is accomplished is through a “borrowing” system with all 20 of the law school members of the consortium, including Harvard and Yale. COOPERATIVE EFFORTS “Law school deans are looking to encourage librarians to engage in cooperative collection development and greater resource sharing so we’re not all buying the same things,” Svengalis said. Balancing books and computer-based resources is a constant challenge for law libraries all across the country, said Barbara Bintliff, president of the American Association of Law Librarians. “We wish that choosing between print and computer-based legal resources was as easy as it seems on its face, but it’s not. Electronic resources are rarely completely duplicative of print counterparts,” she said. “Content, coverage, and pricing vary. More importantly, the way you access the information and, consequently, your search results vary.” She noted that not all electronic resources use the same equipment or interface, adding equipment considerations into the mix. Microfiche, the old standby, remains a valuable format, she said. That is true for Rhode Island’s library, which has gone from collecting bound volumes of some materials to providing it in microfiche form, including the individual public laws from the 49 other states. The resource sharing among those institutions also comes at a time when the price of legal publications has skyrocketed. In some cases, law books that cover legal treatises or state statutes have seen their prices increase by 1,000 percent between 1973 and 1996. Bound volumes of some legal books have almost tripled in price, and supplementation to some legal publications has risen from $500 to $2,600. “We have to grapple with the economics of law books increasing many times what the budgetary authorities are likely to grant us in the budget,” Svengalis said. Unlike law firms that can pass the cost of rising book costs onto their clients, state-funded law libraries have no such opportunity, he noted. The shift in the way law libraries approach their collections today has paralleled a change in the legal publishing industry, Svengalis said, particularly the consolidation of independently owned companies merging into just a handful of megacompanies. In 1977, there were 24 independently owned legal publishers; today all but one has been brought under one of three corporate umbrellas: Thomson Corp. (Canadian), Reed-Elsevier (British-Dutch) and Wolters Kluwer (Dutch). Those three companies now own about 80 percent of the legal publishing market. Svengalis called the consolidation a “double-edged sword.” While purchasers of law books are now in a position to buy what they need from only a few places, it gives the companies more control over price, he said. Svengalis advises lawyers to “buy more selectively” when updating their collections each year. He suggested that they not put in a standing order each year for certain books, but wait to see if they even need the new version, noting that some changes to the supplementation are “insubstantial.” ‘SHORT LEASH’ “It’s very important to keep publishers on a short leash. Do not buy the supplements automatically,” he said. The Rhode Island Law Library spends about $800,000 a year operating its facilities. The main library housed at the Licht Judicial Complex in Providence, and branch locations at the Garrahy Judicial Complex and in the counties of Newport, Washington and Kent, have a collection of more than 100,000 books, a dozen computer terminals, CD-ROMs, and for a fee, access to Shepardized cases and West Law. There are five professional librarians on staff with a total of more than 100 years’ experience with law libraries, including Svengalis, who has headed that library since 1982. The other staff members are Karen Quinn, Colleen Hanna, Sandy Giles and Marcia Oakes. Svengalis is author of the Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual 2001. About one-quarter of the library’s budget is spent on materials for the state’s judges. Currently, the library is negotiating a deal with Lexis for a legal database for all the judges. However, Svengalis notes that some judges still prefer the printed material rather than conducting research online. “Now we have to look at the impact of the judges having access to Lexis and what print materials we buy in the future,” said Svengalis, noting that the staff is sensitive to the judges’ research preferences. “We hope over time that more and more switch from print to online.” Some of the library’s historical collections have been moved off site because of storage limitations. “We discovered that once we started to examine our collection, we came to the realization that we do not use some things anymore,” he said. Users of the Rhode Island law library are predominantly professional people accessing the resources, whether it’s judges researching the law to write opinions or attorneys conducting research on behalf of clients. Law students, per se litigants and undergraduate students taking law-related classes can also be found perusing the state law library. Traffic at the main library or its four branches is, in some ways, a little less these days because “most attorneys are wired now and have access to the Internet,” he said.

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