ARCHIVED: Support for H.B. No. 440 to Increase Funding for County Law Libraries

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November 23, 1999

The Honorable Robert L. Schuler
Chairman, Committee on Local Government and Townships
Ohio House of Representatives
77 S. High St.,
Columbus, OH 43266-0603

Dear Chairman Schuler:

On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, I write to you today to urge you and your colleagues on the Committee on Local Government and Townships to support H.B. No. 440, introduced by Representative Ann H. Womer Benjamin (R-75), and to work towards its enactment during this legislative session. H.B. No. 440 will amend the Revised Code to increase funding for Ohio county law libraries based on the population of each jurisdiction. Since the last legislative increase to fund county law libraries forty years ago, the cost of purchasing print legal materials has grown exponentially. In addition, we are now in the age of rapidly changing technologies that add new and substantial costs for computerized legal research. It is imperative that funding for these important institutions be nominally increased so that county law libraries can build comprehensive print and electronic collections and be able to provide high levels of service to meet the important legal information needs of their constituencies.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) was founded in 1906 to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information. Today, with nearly 4,800 members nationwide, the Association represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with a wide range of institutions: law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; county and local, state and federal government agencies. We are very pleased that four of our members--Mr. Keith Blough, Ms. Billie J. Grey, Ms. Jan Ryan Novak, and Mr. Dennis Zavinski--who are also very active in the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries, attended the committee's hearing on November 10, 1999 and presented testimony in strong support of H.B. No. 440. We have read their statements and we fully endorse their testimony before your committee.

It is very important to recognize during your deliberations on H.B. No. 440 that this legislation was drafted with the assistance of the Ohio State Bar Association Committee on Law Libraries and Legal Information Services, and that OSBA and county law libraries have toiled for almost a decade to come up with a solution to the inequities in the funding mechanism. The need to increase funding for Ohio county law libraries is not a new issue for consideration by the Ohio House of Representatives. The fact that similar legislation has not been enacted during the past decade continues to plague Ohio county law libraries with unreliable funding and makes the enactment of H.B. No. 440 essential.

The provisions of H.B. No. 440 are very straightforward and it is supported by the OSBA Board of Governors who, along with Ohio county court law librarians, are dedicated to ensuring equitable access to legal materials and providing high quality reference and research services for the judiciary, the bar and the citizens of Ohio. While Ohio has a very historic track record of providing the judiciary with access to legal materials, dating back to 1872 when the basic structure was established in law, today's funding caps have not been revised since 1939 or 1959, depending on the section.

County law libraries play a vital role in providing access to legal information throughout the state of Ohio while concurrently supporting the important information needs of the judiciary and the legal community. The base for funding to support Ohio county law libraries has steadily eroded and these libraries need your support to correct this erosion and to strengthen access to legal information. What was intended as a ceiling on funding has become instead a very restrictive limit on funding. Basically, H.B. No. 440 follows the current statutory mandate but lifts current funding caps for fines, penalties and forfeited bail for county law libraries to current dollar value. Additionally, the bill proposes reasonable population based caps on the heretofore uncapped provision awarding the libraries a portion of state traffic fines. And, very importantly, the drafters of this legislation included provisions for cost of living increases for these caps to ensure continued incremental funding for county law libraries in the future.

The new structure of funding caps will allow county law libraries to predict what their level of funding will be and to plan systematically during the budget process. For a library, the predictability of funding is a necessity, not a luxury. The testimony of Ms. Billie J. Grey, Law Librarian at the Cincinnati Law Library Association, is dramatic in its illustration of current inequities of funding among similarly populated counties, and of large and erratic changes in funding from year to year. A library's budget impacts its collections, its services, and its staff, and the inability to be able to plan ahead of time because of budget uncertainties would have serious detrimental effects on any library's operations. Enactment of H.B. No. 440 will allow Ohio county law libraries to set their budgets realistically--tied to the amount of expected annual funding--and to be able to make long-term collection building and service decisions, neither of which they are able to do today because of funding uncertainties and shortages.

Since the early 1990's when legislation to increase funding for Ohio county law libraries was first introduced, technology has changed the landscape for the creation and dissemination of information from both public and commercial sources in ways that we could not have imagined. The cost of acquiring books and other tangible legal materials for library collections has skyrocketed. And, contrary to the view held by some that the role of the Internet in providing public access to the ever growing array of electronic resources is less costly for libraries, in fact the opposite is true. Law libraries must continue to acquire expensive print materials while at the same time purchasing an adequate number of computers to serve their constituencies--and these generally need to be replaced every two years--plus software, telecommunications costs and much more to provide their patrons with the legal information they need.

The enactment of this legislation is long overdue and yet critically necessary if county law libraries are to be able to provide high levels of services to the courts, attorneys and citizens of the state of Ohio. In testimony before this committee last month, Ms. Jan Ryan Novak, Director of the Cleveland Law Library Association, noted that due to the strong support of the state legislature, Ohio public and academic libraries are "the envy of the country." This same hallmark of excellence should apply equally to Ohio's county law libraries and indeed it will, with your support, upon the enactment of H.B. No. 440.

On behalf of the membership of the American Association of Law Libraries, I therefore urge your full support for H.B. No. 440 and hope that we can count on your leadership to do everything in your power to hasten its passage during the remaining months of the 1999-2000 legislative session. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance and thank you very much for your consideration in this very important matter.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
Washington Affairs Representative

cc: Rep. Ann H. Womer Benjamin