Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The inaccessible Roanoke Law Library

Over 75 years ago the Roanoke Bar Association was formed for the then primary purpose of maintaining a cooperative law library. (Law books are expensive).  In the 1970's the library was given to the City of Roanoke with the understanding it would maintain the library for the benefit of the public and for the lawyers (who represented that same public).  11 years ago Roanoke City cut hours of the Law Library and now the current operating schedule for the Roanoke Law Library is beyond ridiculous.  The hours are generally 8 am to noon all days except one when it is open until, I think, 4 -- this is applicable to lawyers and the general public. 
This puts the usefulness of the Law Library on nearly the same level as screen doors on a submarine. A joke.
I've toyed with the idea of some action against the city for the reduced hours, but would rather make a few suggestions and comments that may improve the present situation.
The heck of it is, Roanoke's not alone.  I just learned that the Alexandria, VA, proposed budget cuts all funding (except what comes from court fees) from its law library.
Short of restoring the Roanoke Law Library hours to something resembling common sense, a solution would be to move the Law Library over to the main library so the public at large and lawyers could have access on a more human schedule. Having the resources available is -- these days -- more important to the public than for lawyers (we've got our computers with Fastcase, Westlaw, Lexis).  That would free up significant room in the courthouse for something else.  (However, if this is adopted I'd urge the continuation of the "Lawyers' Lounge" for a place we could work between appearances, meet clients, take a nap, etc.).  
An alternative, which would apply to lawyers only, is to reinstate a version of the 'key club' (a privilege lawyers had for access years ago).  The Courthouse security checkpoint is mere feet from the door to the Law Library.  Have a key with the deputies and a sign-in/out book.  A lawyer needing to go in to the library could do so upon presenting his bar card and signing the book. (a modification of the old magistrate system)  Frankly this could be instituted immediately while the main branch consolidation idea is studied to death in typical Roanoke fashion.
For a number of years I was a member and chair of the Roanoke Bar's library committee and worked with the late Clayne Calhoun to make it a premier law library for a community of our size. It is disheartening to see it as a stepchild of the library system and virtually inaccessible to anyone who might want to use its resources.
I want to see it fixed.