Reply to Lawyers Weekly article "Legal Libraries Continue to Shift Online"

7 June, 2016 at 11:27 AM

Many of you will no doubt have read the article in "Lawyers Weekly" last Friday:

The ALLA Board together with Alison Jones, have written a reply to this article, which has been sent to the editor of Lawyers Weekly this afternoon. Following is a press release prepared by ALLA in response to this article, sent to the Editor of Lawyers Weekly on Monday 6 June 2016.  

Rumours of the death of the law firm library have been greatly exaggerated, according to the President of the Australian Law Librarians Association, Elizabeth Langeveldt.

Contrary to the views expressed by Kellie Payne of Bates Smart in last week’s Lawyers Weekly, digitisation has been happening in law libraries for many decades, with digitised material integrated into the collections of well managed Australian law libraries overseen by professional law librarians.

“Digitisation only changes the format of information, but the underpinning need remains for the skillset and value add which law librarians bring to law firms as well as our courts and law schools” said Ms Langeveldt.

“Smart legal organisations know that efficient legal research is enhanced through having a law librarian on staff. There are significant cost benefits that will accrue to law firms who employ law librarians who can not only provide timely information and assist in the carriage of current matters, but can also feed into the firms' risk management strategy, by ensuring the lawyers are up to date with the myriad changes to the law"

While Ms Langeveldt agreed that hardcopy books are not as significant in the collections of law libraries as they were in times past, hardcopy books nonetheless remain an essential part of many law firms’ collections. This is especially the case for many mid-tier firms, to which Australian legal publishers are yet to offer viable models enabling such firms to purchase lendable e-books. “Our members help lawyers and legal professionals to evaluate and combine authoritative information to provide great outcomes for a firm’s clients, regardless of the format of that information. While we utilise our online services extensively and make use of numerous databases and even of well evaluated information available on the Internet, often a published book remains the only authoritative source of in-depth information on specialised legal topics.”

One significant shift in recent times for law librarians, whether located in law firms, courts or law schools, is the range of material now curated by many law libraries and the skills required by law librarians to ensure that this material is fully available to lawyers. “Aligning with the needs of the law firms in which they work, law libraries have moved well beyond only looking after the books and online services purchased from legal publishers”, said Ms Langeveldt. “Our law librarians are often also responsible for maintaining knowledge repositories of high quality legal documents produced by their lawyers. Law librarians are often also responsible for their organisation’s Intranets and to integrate the information systems and tools required in a modern knowledge organisation. Some law librarians within law firms are even intensely involved with the production of smart, highly automated legal precedents.”

With many law firms moving into new office space, the Australian Law Librarians’ Association has noted the evolution of the legal library space. “Most of these new law libraries are the opposite of the quiet, withdrawn library space portrayed by Bates Smart” said Ms Langeveldt. “These new library spaces are usually open plan, centrally located in the firm’s design footprint and noisy spaces where lawyers are learning new skills and exchanging ideas. Law librarians fortunate enough to work in these new spaces love their libraries, because these spaces enable librarians to be physically where they need to be in the firm – right alongside the lawyers and working with them.”

Other law firms are using the embedded librarian model and have moved librarians to practice group floors with a small curated collection of hardcopy with most of the collection material online. Clearly the model presented in the article is a very small section of what is happening in law libraries and presents a one dimensional simplistic view of the law library”

The legal industry is constantly evolving and the law library and librarian have evolved with it.

About us

The Australian Law Librarians' Association (ALLA) is the professional association for those working in the legal information sector. - Established in 1969, the Association has grown from an informal group of six interested law librarians to a national association with over 500 members in all states and territories. ALLA represents librarians and information professionals working in courts, universities, government departments, law firms and professional associations.

We are a national association with Divisions in Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. The national entity is a company limited by guarantee registered in 2012 as Australian Law Librarians' Association Ltd. More information on the not-for-profit organisation is available at