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Law librarians bristle as written ABA reports no longer required

September 19, 2018

Usually, when someone’s workload is reduced, that person is happy. But law school librarians are upset that they will no longer be required to submit a written summary each year detailing the activities of their libraries.

Previously, the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar had mandated law libraries compile an annual assessment. Each review had to be written and include an evaluation of how well the bibliotheque was measuring up to its goals and mission.

But at the ABA’s annual meeting in August, the House of Delegates adopted a resolution that eliminated the writing portion of the requirement. Librarians will still have to work with deans and faculty to plan and assess, but they will not longer have to put pen to paper.

Appropriately, the American Association of Law Libraries and the Society of Academic Law Library Directors wrote letters urging the ABA section to reverse course. The two organizations argued that writing the assessment ensures the message is conveyed clearly and provides a document that can be referenced in the future.

“Without the requirement of a written assessment, changes in personnel, both in the law libraries and in their law schools, budget and funding changes and trends, law school and library demographic changes may be lost, hidden or simply not available,” wrote Adeen Postar, chair of the society.

However, the ABA section called the requirement “excessive” and maintained it had “led to confusion” among law library directors and the Accreditation Committee.

cadmus-femi-mug.jpg Cadmus

Femi Cadmus, president of AALL, bristled at the belief that librarians were confused and marveled that the solution was to remove the task of writing.

“Most concerning with the dispensing of the written assessment is the losing of valuable information over the long term,” said Cadmus, who is also the Edward Cornell Law librarian, associate dean for library services and professor of practice at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York.

Putting the assessment on paper best captures the state of the library at that point and becomes a reference over time, Cadmus explained. Writing creates institutional memory and can establish the benchmarks for planning by clearly stating what the library did in the past year and how it performed its duties. But conversations and discussions can miss or gloss over the themes, ideas and trends, she said.

While writing the assessment is not required under the new ABA standards, law libraries are not banned from crafting a written document. However, Cadmus worries small law libraries will suffer. The larger, most robust institutions will have the resources to devote to writing, but those with tighter budgets and smaller staff might not have the ability to go beyond the standard.

Presenting the value of the library is important, especially because a significant portion of any law school’s budget goes to maintaining the books, periodicals, databases and other resources.

Even as the world goes increasingly electronic, Cadmus said students often fill the reading room at the Cornell law library, pulling the bound casebooks and treatises from the shelves to do their research. More and more information is becoming available, and students, faculty and sometimes members of the public rely on law librarians to help them find what they need.

“I think librarians are even more essential because people are drowning in information,” Cadmus said.•

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