Newest Issue - May 2013

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Are digitization and budget cuts compromising history?

“When people say everything’s online,” says Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium, “they’re woefully uninformed.” Dupont, founder of the LLMC, a nonprofit law library cooperative, estimates that of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form. That figure includes access via proprietary, commercial services like Westlaw and LexisNexis.

Across the country, law libraries are trying to adapt to the digital revolution and preserve historic and precedential documents. But budget cuts have hit hard at academic law libraries, which historically have hosted some of the most robust legal collections. And the pressures are creating concerns that the public will lose access to essential legal documents.

For example, for six years straight the acquisitions budget for the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library has remained flat. Like many law library officials, director John Barden has managed to preserve public access to most legal content, but he has been forced to make some tough calls along the way.

Rising costs have forced him to scrap treatises and cancel nearly half of his print law journal subscriptions. At the same time, his staff has undertaken a massive effort to digitize state legal documents that date back to the 1820s.

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