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Do Law Libraries Even Need Books? The ABA’s Recent Changes to Standard 606

In February of this year, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates finalized a number of changes to the ABA’s Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools as part of the 2023-2024 revision cycle. Among these changes was a surprising, and potentially worrying, change to the standard relating to library collections.

Formerly, Standard 606 (Collection) mandated “reliable access” to a core collection of enumerated categories of primary and secondary materials. The new Standard 604 requires “reliable and efficient access” to a collection that is “complete, current, and with sufficient continuing access”

for the law school to comply with the Standards. Interpretation 604-1 makes clear that physical books need not be part of a library’s collection in order to comply with the standard, and even more bluntly, the accompanying cover memorandum states: “Physical books are no longer required.”  A physical library space is still expected for the time being, thanks to a successful amendment advanced by Scott Pagel of George Washington University Law School, but physical materials are not.

Naturally, the change has already stirred a great deal of discussion and concern about the implications. At a minimum, the ABA clearly has not prioritized the maintenance of those collections and it’s likely the change will serve as an accelerant for existing trends in law school administrations’ ability to encroach on library spaces and budgets. As now written, Standard 604 won’t encourage law schools to preserve or expand their libraries’ physical collections, and provides cover for faster deaccession and tilting the balance even further away from ownership of print toward licensing of online materials. Losses of 80 or 90 percent of physical collections and the spaces that house them are no longer unthinkable.

While libraries need flexibility in order to connect their patrons to the information required for their research, work, and other endeavors, there are many compelling reasons for law libraries to keep robust physical collections and to secure ongoing access to legal information in print. LIPA can help with those efforts by providing forums for discussion and collaboration, and resources for preserving unique, fragile or endangered legal information. If the ABA’s recent changes have made preservation of physical collections a more urgent priority for you, please join the discussions at the upcoming two-part webinar co-presented by LIPA and AALL’s TS-SIS this summer and LIPA’s annual member meeting in July (registration link).

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