U.S. Federal Court Libraries Deal With Cuts and New Tech, Funding Increase Unlikely
Funding for library spaces, subscription and purchase budgets, and staff positions all have faced sharp cuts. The changes have been driven by new information technologies, which have reduced the need for books and enabled judges and law clerks to do more online research.
Judge William Terrell Hodges, chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee, praised the circuits’ chief judges for “executing hard decisions with respect to libraries and librarians.” But he also warned that “the present budgetary constraints will continue into the foreseeable future, and it is unlikely that there will be any increase in library funding.”
What we do hasn’t changed, but how we do it has changed quite a bit,” said Patricia K. Michalowskij, circuit librarian for U.S. courts for the District of Columbia Circuit. “You do not see the same foot traffic that you once did see in libraries, but that is not to be misunderstood. Library services are as heavily used as they ever were. I would argue more so.”
Under a new staffing formula, 254 circuit library positions were authorized nationally in FY 2015, compared with 335 positions in FY 2014. That is a 24 percent fall in just one year.
Similarly, court libraries are playing a significant role in a national Judiciary effort to cut building space 3 percent by 2018. Closures of 10 library facilities have been approved or completed in seven circuits. These include library spaces in Tacoma, Wash.; Wichita, Kans.; Mobile, Ala.; Baton Rouge, La.; Miami; Toledo, Ohio; and New York City; as well as a library annex in Tulsa, Okla.
Major space reductions were identified in 11 circuits, including space cuts of 40 percent or more in Spokane and Las Vegas. The D.C. Circuit reduced its library from two floors to one, and the Eleventh Circuit, headquartered in Atlanta, saved $250,000 annually by closing a law library in Miami.
Pruning law book collections also has yielded savings. The Eleventh Circuit reported saving nearly $1.4 million between FY 2011 and 2015 by cutting publications. Cuts in law book purchases in FY 2014 led to $300,000 in savings in the Fifth and Tenth Circuits, and more than $200,000 in the Fourth Circuit. In the Sixth Circuit, staffing and book expenditures in the main library in Cincinnati have been reduced by half in the last four years.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.