The future of technical services

Chapter 20 of Law Librarianship in the Digital Age by Ellyssa Kroski is “Technical Services 2.0″ by Edward T. Hart. This chapter conveys the charm of some deeply appealing aspects of traditional law librarianship, even as it highlights some unanswered questions about the future.

I’m always awed by the librarian’s task of safeguarding a portion of the world’s knowledge. Hart’s discussion of traditional cataloging and classifications systems reminds the reader of the breadth of that responsibility. For example, the table of Library of Congress subclasses within the broad subject area of law go as far as “Law of the Sea” and “Law of Outer Space.”

However, I am left with questions about two digital age changes Hart mentions. First, the changeover from AACR2 to RDA is described as being a major challenge for catalogers, with a cost for implementation that libraries might not be prepared to meet. However, Hart notes that more than 90% of new catalog records at University of Florida’s law school library are downloaded from OCLC and are only modified in minor ways to fit local needs. If such a high percentage of copy cataloging is typical of most law school libraries, it does not appear that an upgraded standard such as RDA would dramatically affect the ongoing workload of catalogers at most law schools. Meanwhile, the promised benefits of RDA that Hart mentions, including greater integration with vendor systems and online tools allowing catalogers to reference applicable rules while cataloging, would seem to streamline rather than complicate the cataloging process.

The second unsettled question is the future of the last print copies of official legal documents. When a print version of a legal resource is legally designated as official, it is not enough to have digitally archived the content; there must be a print copy somewhere to withstand a legal challenge to the accuracy and authenticity of the law. Hart mentions that the Legal Information Preservation Alliance coordinates law libraries’ retention of print copies of such materials; however, the alliance’s website suggests that the project is still at an initial, relatively informal stage. It will be interesting to see how the project evolves as the transition to digital continues.