| Apr 15, 2014
As so much of our world shifted to digital over the last two decades, law has been something of a hold out. When it comes to legal information, the “authoritativeness” of print has been slower to fade. Lawyers, as a profession, aren’t known for embracing new ways of doing things. But that’s now changing, rapidly. Technology is now transforming what it means to find and use legal information. The shift to digital has arrived.
Gone are the days where legal research began and ended in expensive texts and hefty case reporters that were only within the grasp of the few. The amount of information available has inflated exponentially and the ways we get it look very different. The leading case that would have taken a journey to the library can now be found on your laptop, tablet or phone. Publishers have put their content online and integrated it in ways that allow you to cross reference with ease. Switching between texts is now as simple as a few clicks, and using precedents is easier than ever with downloadable versions.
This is an exciting time for Courthouse Libraries BC. One of our passions is ensuring that the most number of people get access to the greatest number of legal resources in the most cost effective way possible.
In a world where only the wealthiest firms could stock complete in-house collections, Courthouse Libraries BC has been an important equalizer, ensuring that every lawyer has access to legal information no matter their budget. This hasn't changed. Rather, technology has allowed us to push the boundaries of what this means for every lawyer in BC, reaching more clients than ever before.
We continue to be dedicated to keeping you current with legal information. We believe that this means we need to alter the traditional approach to law library collection. Keeping you current means we need to ensure you have at your fingertips the best legal information in the most practical format. There has been a fundamental change to how legal information is accessed and used. This change has meant that we are adapting our services and collection to better serve you. We're calling it the Digital Shift.
Informing the Digital Shift are a few main principles (which we've illustrated in our infographic).
Case law and legislation are now accessed primarily through digital sources. We know that 90% of lawyers surveyed used CanLII in 2012 to find their case law and legislation.
These digital sources have met a practical need for expanding access to primary law.
Digital books, where available, get more use than those in print. In our libraries in 2013, we tracked use of books we have available in both print ad digital formats, and found that the digital versions were used at least four times as often.
Digital sources of commentary are quickly overtaking print.
Print law books, especially loose-leafs, have become untenably expensive. This trend is truly staggering. My colleague Nate Russell wrote a piece in the March 2014 issue of the Advocate on the "End of Loose-leafs", highlighting that the costs of keeping loose-leafs current are escalating dramatically, and publishers in many cases are making mandatory updates an all or nothing proposition. Combined with the staff time needed to file the updated materials, loose-leafs are increasingly a poor use of limited resources.
We believe that digital titles provide better value than print.
Digital versions of content have a vastly wider reach than print. A print book can be used by a single individual, whereas dozens or even hundreds of clients can simultaneously use the same title in digital format. The cost for us to put a single print version of a title in one branch can rival the cost to make the same title available digitally across all of our 29 branches and 2 access points throughout BC.
We are dedicated to reaching more clients with legal information than ever before.
So with these principles in mind, we're making changes to the collection at Courthouse Libraries. We're shifting our budget from being focused on print resources that can be used by only one client at a time and instead focusing more on digital versions that deliver the greatest value for our clients. While this does mean that we've chosen to discontinue subscriptions to a number of print resources, we've also expanded what is available through our library in digital formats.
Over the last two years, we have launched our online Lawyers' Reading Room, which gives every lawyer in BC access to subscriptions to legal texts, journals and practice tools for free from wherever they have internet. We've upgraded technology in our locations around the province, often doubling the number of computers available in our libraries in smaller communities while growing the collection on the computers in some significant ways. Over the last three years, we have added Quicklaw, Criminal Spectrum, the Irwin Law eLibrary, and O'Briens to the digital tools available in all our locations.
We appreciate that changes like this one come with steep learning curves for some. We're committed to help you make the shift. We've launched a full curriculum of webinars for lawyers on a variety of digital tools, all free and all eligible for CPD credits. We've also created a series of support video tutorials that take you through a quick and practical look at how to solve a need using one of the digital tools.
As well, we're launching a new email service called the 6 Minute Expert, featuring tips on using digital tools. Anyone can sign up here for a monthly tip on finding legal information digitally in an efficient 6 minutes or less.
To read more about the Digital Shift, we invite you to read our Digital Shift FAQ. As this unfolds, we want to continue a conversation with you. Tell us your successes, your challenges and your concerns. We welcome your thoughts.
Welcome to a brave new world of legal information. The landscape may have changed but we have a map and we want to help you find the way.