A report in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix that the University of Saskatchewan plans to eliminate its law library and integrate the collection with three other campus libraries into the main university library prompted protest from many in the legal academy. One of the requirements set by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) is that a law school maintain a law library (2009 FLSC report pp. 5, 11 and 42).
The argument that many students and practitioners now gain access to legal resources online ignores the importance of the tangible written word on the rule of law. A row of books, even ones that are “out of date,” serve to remind the public, as well as judges and lawyers, that even the common law is engraved in modern versions of stone tablets for all to view, not suspended in an oral tradition guarded by a few oracles.
The law’s repository in a physical library of bricks and mortar is as much symbolic as it is functional. And when functionality and symbolism conflict, symbolism must prevail. We do not demolish war memorials because it would be a more efficient use of taxpayers’ property to replace them with government service kiosks. We cannot relegate law libraries to cyberspace or the servants’ quarters of general research libraries, where it can be forgotten that our law is built on hundreds of years of legal disputes and attempts to adjudicate them fairly.
Update [May 15, 2014]:
University of Saskatchewan School of Law responded to the writer by pointing out the Dean’s letter to the editor:
— Usask College of Law (@UsaskLaw) May 15, 2014
Dean Anand’s letter is in fact quite unsettling, especially penned the same day as reports that other faculty deans are being encouraged to tow a party line about rationalizing university resources. The concluding paragraph states:
While it is not known what this reconfiguration will fully entail, the university has committed that there will continue to be study space for students within the current law library space while users will continue to have access to core legal resources of high-demand material on site. (Italics added)
What is meant by “core legal resources of high-demand material”? Would core high-demand material be adequate to support innovation? Does this sound like the library of a legal academy, or a book room for a trade school? I encourage everyone to read Dean Anand’s letter in full, and determine whether in fact the law library is in fact going to remain open.
Update [May 16, 2014]:
A reliable source has confirmed that there had been a decision to close the law library. A groundswell of reaction has led to the university’s reconsideration of this decision, in favour of opening negotiations to “reconfigure” the law library. For the sake of a great law faculty and its accreditation, let us hope the university will go beyond housing “core legal resources of high-demand material.”