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Is the Texas State Law Library on Death Row?

February 28, 2011

Photo by danesparza. Some rights reserved.

It’s an old story. The economy slows down, budgets are under siege and everyone is looking to cut costs. We at Knowledge Mosaic have had a front row seat to the toll the recession has taken on the organizations we serve. We’ve seen it in law firms switching from high cost “premium” services to more cost effective, albeit less “sexy” alternatives. We’ve seen it in the layoffs of our advocates and friends working in law libraries at firms, corporations, law schools, investment advisors and the menagerie of other organizations we serve.

Cutting costs is rarely easy. Does one make large, drastic changes, eliminating big ticket items or make lots of small cuts hoping the savings add up enough to keep the head above water? This is currently a scenario being played out in Texas, where budget proposals in both the state House and Senate have come forward eliminating the Texas State Law Library.

While the move represents a cost savings of about $1.1 million a year, the effect it could have is arguably far more substantial. This is the subject of “Adios to the Texas State Law Library? Legal collections feeling budget punch,” from Grits for Breakfast, a blog dedicated to the Texas criminal justice system.

In the post Carl Reynolds, of the Texas Office of Court Administration, speaks to the ramifications of the proposed cuts, which amount to the loss of 13 state employee jobs and would make it far more difficult for those who rely on the library — including state agencies and courts, small businesses, consumers, prison inmates and the general public — to access current and historical legal materials currently collected sometimes exclusively by the state library. The library also fields legal questions from the general public when the applicable state agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, do not have the resources to handle them, working to locate the relevant information or provide contact information for legal services. The library also offers a fee-based copy service to the courts and prison inmates for the case files maintained by the Court of Criminal Appeals, Supreme Court and 3rd Court of Appeals. This eases the burden placed on the courts and provides access to the files to inmates, their families and their attorneys who are working on appeals.

Law libraries facing budget constraints is nothing new. While they are often seen as cost centers, the value of the services they offer are often understated. This is exemplified by the fact the proposed budget entirely eliminates, rather than provides less funding for, the Texas State Law Library. Should these budgets pass the trickle down effect, it could severely inhibit the state’s ability to effectively administer law and justice. Which begs the question: would most Texas residents agree such a consequence is worth the savings?

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