Deciding What Is Not Needed

It is budgeting season again for many law firm libraries. My process for this arduous task is to look at the things that my department collects in baskets, compare the balance of the baskets to each other, and decide which baskets need more and which need less. As an example, for the last few years the ‘print collection’ basket has been weighing less.

My law firm library has a lot of baskets: print collection, database access, items used for current awareness, Canadian content, foreign content, things that are available to borrow locally, things that we can share between our offices, things used by each practice group, things that people need at their desk. As you can infer from the basket labels, there is considerable cross-over between baskets.

The big question is what keeps something out of every basket – what is not needed? I think that every law library that exists has been tackling this same question every year for the last, well, forever. It is likely that as of right now the collections answer is this:

“Are you kidding me? We are as lean as it is possible for us to be and still provide reasonable service!”

The real answer is this, if there is anything left in a Canadian law library collection that could be considered a “nice to have” it may just go in the bucket rather than a basket.

What does this trend mean for lawyers (big law firms, small law firms, or solos), judges, law professors and researchers, the public – including self-represented litigants? I believe that it means that there will be fewer resources shared among the same number of people who need them. It may also mean that decisions are made based on a smaller set of opinions. Perhaps it means that legal commentary that appears in a cost neutral environment from authoritative, known and respected contributors will become court citable. What do you think?


  1. Here’s my hypothesis.

    We are already moving toward the liberation of statute and jurisprudence with things like CanLII. The peer review model is being transformed by crowdsourced authorities like wikipedia. More peers > fewer peers. Book publishers are going to be crowdfunded out of existence, and epublishing is going to replace paper.

    There will be fewer books lying around, and people will care less, because the books can’t keep up, and cost more.