The prison law library: from print to CD-ROM.
Every few months a lawyer in private practice calls the Maryland Correctional Education Libraries offering a collection of used law books. This, in itself, is not unusual. For years, prison libraries have been dumping grounds for old, out-of-date law books weeded from retired or deceased attorneys' offices. What is unusual is that the books now being received are the Annotated Code of Maryland and the Maryland Reporter with the latest revisions (pocket parts). These books are current and relevant for a prison law library collection.
This generosity is not due to the merging of small law firms or a mass exodus from the legal profession. It is because computers now have an edge over books as tools used in legal research. Very small law firms cannot afford to spend the amount of time it takes to do research using books versus a computerized search.
Attorneys today cannot justify the cost of maintaining the space needed to house books that are essential to their practice. At least 45 feet of shelf space is required just for Maryland state statutes and court reporters - and Maryland is a small state. California needs about five times that amount for state materials. Adding federal materials (court reporters, statutes, encyclopedias and digests) doubles the needed space.
Users also need space in the library - for searching through all the different titles and volumes that relate to each other. The nub of legal research is that it requires looking through many volumes to associate current legal issues with precedent.
Managing a library collection of law books is labor intensive. It requires organizational procedures for information retrieval and extensive hands-on work in processing, filing, lending, photocopying and shelving. Legal books constantly must be updated (inserting revision pages in existing volumes) and occasionally replaced.
Electronic database technology, both on-line and in compact disc read-only memory (CD-ROM) format, eliminates much of the labor involved in operating law libraries and in doing basic legal research. The allocation of space required for users to handle the multivolumed titles and to contain the collection diminishes considerably with the introduction of technology. It is the computer that organizes and retrieves the information. The computer delivers the information to the screen or printer.
This technology is portable. A stand-alone computer with an internal or external CD drive, a printer and the CD-ROM discs can be placed on a media cart and wheeled to an electrical outlet anywhere in the facility. An entire law library or any segment of one can be in use, anywhere, at any time.
In contrast, with books come higher costs, continuous purchases, control and circulation difficulties, storage and maintenance problems, and the need to identify, allocate and secure suitable and accessible storage space.
Despite these disadvantages, converting from print to CD-ROM seems problematic for corrections, perhaps because of security concerns about hacking or other criminal activities associated with computers or because of the perception of computers as rewards for inmates.
However, by converting their law books to CD-ROM databases, correctional agencies can save money and provide court access to inmates cost-effectively. Other advantages include:
* The library is brought to the user (e.g., inmates in lock-down units).
* One resource can be used by more than one person at a time.
* There is no need to purchase duplicate copies of in-demand titles.
* Less research time is needed.
* Less space is needed - one disc may contain 200,000 pages of typed text or 100 volumes.
* Easy-to-use, menu-driven software allows users to search by word, subject area, court jurisdiction, historical sequence, and current and previous rulings.
* Legal practice forms are available for print through word processing software.
Developing a plan for converting a library should be the responsibility of the facility's librarian. The state library agency consultants and a systems librarian from a nearby law school library are good resources to tap for advice.
Librarians may select from an array of CD-ROM products marketed by legal book publishers. (Call the vendors for demonstrations of their products.) The selection process should include an assessment of the following criteria: level of ease in learning to use the search software, the vendor's technical assistance support program (initial training and ongoing, toll-free telephone help line), and the product's cost (initial and yearly) compared with costs of similar CD-ROM products.
When Maryland Correctional Education librarians were ready to make the switch from print to compact discs, we selected one CD-ROM product to test. This gave us an opportunity to develop procedures for controlling the use of the product and keeping the equipment and software secure. We purchased one copy of the selected CD-ROM for each facility and received a substantial discount.
After being trained by the vendor, the librarians trained the inmate clerks and patrons to use the product. We evaluated the product's potential as a print replacement by documenting its use, the number of users and the time it took a user to complete a particular research strategy.
When we were satisfied that computers and CD-ROM databases were beneficial to the Correctional Education Library program, we piloted additional products. Subscribing to both primary and secondary legal sources is recommended, including state and federal statutes and codes, a citator, an encyclopedia, a digest, treatises and pathfinders.
Michie's Law on Disc for Maryland contains the Annotated Code of Maryland, Rules (court rules), and decisions of Maryland's two appeals courts. The folio searching (scanning for a group of words taken from a document) was easy, and the vendor sent trainers to facilities in various locations.
Shepard's Citations: CD-ROM Edition is a citator that validates precedent and enables the user to find additional authorities. An essential tool that's easy to use, Shepard's offers products geared to specific states and regions as well as the United States.
Because of the ease of folio searching we chose the United States Code Service, a Lawyers Cooperative CD-ROM product. This is the annotated code of the United States and a must for any collection. This ties into a Law Desk product that cross-links to other Lawyers Cooperative titles. We again were assisted by a vendor's local representative to train our librarians.
The West Publishing Company has two products that are a good starting point for anyone who is unfamiliar with legal research or topics. We were amazed to find two classics: the Nutshell Series, consisting of 74 titles, each a source on a specific area of the law, and the Hornbook Series, 24 one-volume treatises, each on a particular area of the law, in CD-ROM format. This menu-driven software can be searched by words and concepts. These are excellent pathfinders for beginners in the legal research process. The Maryland Digest, an important case-finding tool, also is a West CD-ROM product.
The following recommended vendors have many more titles available:
* Lawyers Cooperative Publishing (1-800-313-9339)
* Michie (1-800-356-6548)
* Shepard's McGraw-Hill (1-800-899-6000)
* West Publishing Company (1-800-328-9352)
This software is interchangeable with print and can be used to satisfy court mandates.
Brenda Vogel, M.S.L.S., chairwoman of ACA's Libraries Committee, is the library coordinator for Maryland Correctional Education Libraries, author of the recently published Down for the Count: A Prison Library Handbook and editor of the Directory of State Prison Librarians.
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|Title Annotation:||part 3; Maryland Correctional Education Libraries|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1996|
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