Steve Young, an academic law librarian at Catholic University, has written a short but fascinating piece that ponders law-library complicity in the legal education crisis. (those who follow the link in the previous sentence will need to scroll past the pictures of law librarians, food, and beverages to page 7, because LLSDC only publishes in PDF, presumably to ensure authenticity). He dares to suggest that perhaps law libraries are showing too much deference to non-essential demands on the part of law faculty, participating in a collection-development arms race (to be fair, not one of their own making), and wasting a bunch of energy feeling sorry for themselves. I suspect that most everybody could spin a tale or two that goes well beyond what he describes in his piece. Some of our higher-end compatriots might, for example, speak of the role that add-on library services play in the recruitment of highly specialized faculty. I would argue that the teaching of legal research as an uncompromising and limitlessly-funded activity is likely not such a great idea either.
But whether Steve covered all the bases or got the facts exactly right is not the point. For one thing, there are very few situations or remedies for them that are universal across institutions. But that doesn’t really matter. There’s a broad truth in what he’s saying, and we should listen up. Will we? Any time anyone suggests that maybe law schools or their libraries haven’t been doing such a great job, and might need to change, there will be platoons of serial-spotters-of-one-more-detail-he-neglected and threatened-rice-bowl-owners who want to represent the author as uninformed, slipshod, embittered, or simply Not One of Us. A profession interested in developing sustainable models for its own continued existence might collectively suggest that that crew sit down and shut up, at least long enough for some pragmatic soul-searching to take place.
Res ipsa, homies.
[ PS: anyone interested in the nest of snakes that inhabit “professional deference” might want to take a look at Andrew Abbott’s “The System of Professions”. Unfortunately, while he deals extensively with subordinated professions in (eg) medical settings, he doesn’t carry the discussion into his otherwise useful discussion of librarians, but the notions apply nevertheless. Selah. ]