Back to the Future of Law Libraries

Scott Frey, Reference Librarian, at the Western State College of Law, Fullerton, California, has written a nice Delorean free article that takes a look at the future of law libraries from the perspective of law librarian’s opinions from the past. It’s called, “A History of the Future of Law Libraries: Lessons in Forecasting from Law Librarians” Predictions of the Past,’ and was published in the June issue of AALL Spectrum.

Frey drops us back a hundred years ago to 1915 and then moves up to the present day citing a number of interesting predictions from law librarians along the way.

I particularly like these predictions that Frey uncovered:

The 1917 AALL president Luther E. Hewitt envisioned this new technology: “Special tables will be invented on which books can be arranged in temporary classifications for special study.” Which, as Frey notes, was possibly “a glimmer of Vannevar Bush’s ‘memex’” outlined in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly article, “As We May Think.

George S. Goddard, the State Librarian, Connecticut State Library, wrote in 1930 about collaboration through interlibrary loans. Frey speculates that although Goddard “…wasn’t exactly talking about e-books, he was saying that technology could eventually provide any book to anyone practically anywhere at any time, which is something we’re getting closer to now.”

My favourite prediction though is this very prescient view from 1959, by legal scholar, Layman E. Allen, from his article directed at law librarians, “Logic, Law and Dreams”:

“In brief outline this dream was about a library user who had complete access to the total corpus of all written information from within the walls of his own office. By a device similar to a telephone this user could dial into any spot in a master repository of all written information and what was available at that spot would appear on a viewing screen in his office. If he wished to have a permanent copy for his personal use of something that appeared on the screen, there was another button to push, and the copy would be produced and delivered to his desk almost instantly.”

Frey offers his own views on the future of the law library emphasizing function over form and concluding that “law librarians have continually added roles to their repertoire—we find, create, organize, use, and show how to use legal and non-law resources, and we implement and troubleshoot technology too!”

Learn more about how the present was viewed from the past in Frey’s complete article.


  1. For those of you keeping score, it turns out that Laymen E. Allen‘s comments summarized a presentation he had attended the previous fall at the International Conference of Scientific Information (Washington, D.C. in 1958). It’s referred to as “Fano’s Dream” in the preceedings and was delivered by Robert M. Fano from MIT.

    Allen commented on the reaction to this “dream” in his article “Logic, Law and Dreams”:

    “A real wild dream? Some of the conference participants did not think so. Of course, these participants were the theoreticians. This dream was presented at the session where the mathematicians, engineers, logicians, physicists and computer specialists were having their say. These are the very persons to whom we must look for a sound theoretical basis to expedite the rapid development of automatic processing of information. One after another, the members of the audience stood up to suggest some surprise that this story was presented as a dream. They indicated that in their organizations this “dream” was getting pretty close to being realized.”