Legal Collections: Print, Online, Both

The growth of electronic legal resources has had a mixed effect on collection management.  This is particularly true for primary source material such as official gazettes, court reports, and other government documents.

With a collection of over 2.84 million print volumes and nearly as many pieces of microfilm/fiche, my law library is constantly occupied with maintaining and serving its analog collection.  We attempt to acquire primary legal materials from all national jurisdictions around the globe and state or provincial jurisdictions for federated states.  For patrons, the addition of electronic resources has resulted in improved, timelier access to information.  For the institution, e-resources have allowed us to cease the acquisition of some print titles which has relieved pressure on the ever-growing physical collection.

This is not to say we have blindly embraced online access in lieu of print.  For our staff and patrons, official status and authenticity of resources trumps convenience.  In the case of Spain’s Boletin Oficial del Estado and the Official Journal of the European Union, we were happy to see the electronic edition declared official.  As a result, we no longer acquire, preserve (bind or film), and shelve the analog version.

Not all online gazettes are created equal.  There are jurisdictions that make their gazette available online but do not consider it official.  For example, several states (e.g. Coahuila and Michoacán) and the Federal District of Mexico provide electronic access but do not deem this version official.  As a result we continue to collect the print editions of these gazettes which results in a lot of microfilm.

Closer to home, the Library of Congress created , the official source for United States federal legislative information. is replacing the 20-year old interface.  Recent additions to include the Congressional Record, the verbatim remarks of the United States Congress proceedings as published by the Government Printing Office.  For even easier access to the Congressional Record, one may download an iPhone or iPad app to one’s own device.

To aid in identifying and accessing online content around the globe, our public services librarians maintain a Guide to Law Online which attempts to identify constitutions, executive, judicial, and legislative e-resources for a country as well as any third party legal guides or other resources.  Monitoring the status of electronic resources aids in providing patrons with the best material available and reducing duplication in our analog collections.

Kurt Carroll