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Law Library Stuck in Limbo

Now a tenth of its former size, the Sarasota County Law Library is still looking for a permanent home

Last October the city of Sarasota ejected the Sarasota County Law Library from its home on Adams Lane. A fraction of its assets were moved to the second floor of the downtown Selby Library, far from the courthouse.

At Monday’s Criminal Justice Commission meeting, Court Administrator Walt Smith admitted there is still no permanent home in sight. “It was foisted on the Selby Library, but they really don’t have enough space,” he said.

“The Law Library Advisory Council met a couple of times with county officials, but so far nothing has come up,” said Smith. “Either it is not a good space, or not a good location, or the rental cost is too high.”

The city moved the library out to create a health clinic for its employees on the city-owned site. During a mad scramble last autumn, Law Librarian Roger Fischel was told to pare down the collection and move it to the Selby. Hundreds of volumes of old law books – some dating to the Nineteenth Century – we put in a overflowing dumpster, and other volumes were given away to all takers.

Smith himself found a slim volume of the Sarasota City Code, circa 1920s – a far smaller compilation than today’s bookshelf-long regulations.

Others were boxed with the intention of reshelving at the new location, which so far has not materialized. Smith says he will brief the county commission on Oct. 26, along with Chief Judge Andy Owens and other members of the advisory board.

Public Defender Larry Eger suggested the county really doesn’t need a dead-tree version of a law library because all the references, citations and statutes are on the internet. “When we moved to our new space in Manatee County, we got rid of our law library,” said Eger. “What I can get on my phone now is incredible.”

But Owens, who chairs the commission as the circuit’s chief judge, disagreed. “About half the usage [at the law library] is lay people. They are not able to do the research on-line,” he said. “We need a certain core of basic books. And a lot of attorneys use it.” Owens agreed most of the material is on-line, but is not understandable to non-lawyers.

Criminal Justice Coordinator Wayne Applebee said he spoke with county library officials to see if the law library could be integrated into the public library system. “We decided the missions are too incompatible,” he said. “Where do we move next?” 

The old law library on Adams lane had 5,000 linear feet of shelving, almost a mile of books. At the Selby, it has 400 linear feet. 

Elizabeth Boyle September 27, 2011 at 02:10 PM
We are circulating a petition to ask the Sarasota County Commission to return the public law library to a permanent home at the Historic County Courthouse. Our first signatory to this petition is the renowned legal scholar Henry P. Trawick. The best practice throughout the country is to have a public law library at the courthouse. The Ringling family gave our community the Historic Courthouse and specified that it be used for court purposes. What a wonderful gem it would be for our community to have the public law library returned to this lovely building, next to the wonderful Morton's Market cafe. This way more people in our community and our visitors will be able to use and enjoy this community space. Online access is not sufficient. The cost of much of what is available online is very expensive and getting more expensive. Online access has been described as a library where someone has just piled all the books up on the floor. How can we expect a lay person to find their way through it? A meaningful and well functioning law library is not just shelves of books but must also include a law librarian to guide the user through the materials. We have been enriched by having the best law librarian, Roger Fischel, who helps lay people, new lawyers and lawyers who have been practicing law for many years. In a democracy we cannot expect people to be subject to the written law unless they have free and meaningful access to the law by which they are governed. Elizabeth Boyle
Lori Hultman September 28, 2011 at 01:30 PM
There's a Mortons Market Cafe in the historic Courthouse? Good to know. Yes the historic courthouse seems like a good place for the law library. But I'm guessing if it could have moved there, it would have.

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