The importance of law libraries – and the continued threat to Inner Temple library

1st October 2015

[Note: this morning Historic England confirmed it has received and is considering an application for granting “listed status” to Inner Temple library – see below.]

*

Two weeks ago I blogged here about law libraries in general and about one remarkable law library in particular, the library of the Inner Temple.

The post went down well: it had some 2,000 hits, and a link to it was tweeted 300 times and it was shared on Facebook 100 times.

But what was most noteworthy (and also satisfying) is that, unlike most of the posts on this blog, it prompted others to blog on the same topic.  (Five or ten years ago, it was common for blogposts to begat other blogposts; now days it is quite rare.)

One post – a wonderful piece – was by Carl Gardner, one of the UK’s leading legal bloggers, and you should read it in full.  His main point is powerfully made:

Astonishingly, according to a submission drafted by the Inn’s Library Committee this summer, this proposal hasn’t even been the subject of a proper business plan assessing the likely income from the new facilities.

How can Inner Temple’s governing benchers even think of doing it?

How could anyone do it? On a speculative punt, it would spoil a permanent professional and educational asset and a true centre of excellence—and instead assemble something that’ll be “state of the art” only on the day it opens.

That a library might be intentionally damaged in the interests of “education and training” makes “education and training” a sinister phrase.

The library is the best education and training resource the Inn will ever have, and should not be cut down at all. It should be enhanced and preserved.

*

Gardner is, of course, correct: for lawyers, “education and training” is not somehow distinct from a well-resourced law library.  It is where a great deal of meaningful legal education and training takes place, with the lawyer or law student doing it for themselves, or with the assistance of experienced and trained law librarians.

Another insightful post was by Mark Gould, and this also is worth reading carefully.

He explains eloquently why a library is not just about books and shelving: it is about space and community.  One passage by Gould is spot-on:

A good library is not just a space for books; it is also a space for people.

In particular, it is a space for people to focus on a specific task. That is now unusual in the workplace.

Technology (whether desktop or mobile) is built around the assumption that all a lawyer’s needs can be provided through the same screen. That might sound useful, but it also leads to distraction and thence (in all likelihood) to poorer quality work.

Other takes on my post – both well worth reading – were by the Scottish Law Librarians Group and on the Researching Reform blog.

And these are not new points – they are concerns made again and again in correspondence from lawyers and law students in response to the proposals – see the letters in full here.

*

What all of the above evidences is that there is significant interest in the development “plans” for the Inner Temple library, and that this interest in turn is based on an informed understanding of the purposes of law libraries.  The concerns about the library proposals are based on a lot more than mere sentimentality.

*

The library of the Inner Temple is a design marvel.

Not only is it set out perfectly in respect of books and shelves and desks – that is to be expected from any library (though one can often be disappointed).

Inner Temple library is exceptional for its use of light – and also for its acoustics: it is as quiet as an undiscovered tomb, regardless of who is talking.

For these reasons it is, in my opinion, it is the best law library in the United Kingdom.

There is no better place to research a legal point.

The development plans currently favoured would, at a stroke, severely reduce room for books and desks; but – irreversibly and unforgivably – the plans would destroy the delicate and careful way the library uses space, light and its acoustics.

*

Those urging that the library be “developed” may want to dismiss the concerns about the plans as “misinformed”.

Destroying an international-class law library is, it would seem, the “informed” thing to do.

In fact, the proposals are not based on a great deal of actual information: the positive plans are based on business cases which are flimsy (at best), and there has been no proper analysis of the benefits of the status quo.

It would appear – unfortunately – that those pushing through the proposals may not be allowing the “other side” to be properly heard.

And the proposals are being pushed through at speed, and this is a pity as Historic England have today confirmed it has received an application for the the building to have “listed status”.  A Historic England spokesperson told me:

We have received an application to list the Inner Temple hall and treasury. The case is with one of our advisers at the moment. It’s hard to say exactly how long our report will take, because it will have to go into a lot of detail, but we hope to send our recommendation to DCMS within the next few months.

*

It would be better, and far more sensible, for those making the decision as to the future of the Inner Temple library to not make the decision at speed and to ensure that it has full information as to both “sides” of the development plans.  It would also be appropriate for the result of the listing application to be known, rather than preempted.

The favoured proposals will irretrievably destroy one of the great law libraries.

It is not a decision to be taken lightly.

*

NOTE: the press statement of the Inner Temple is here – the currently favoured scheme is “Scheme 2”.

Please note these are my personal views and not those of any entity I am connected with.

__________________

To get alerts for my new posts at Jack of Kent and the FT, and anywhere else, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of this page.

2 thoughts on “The importance of law libraries – and the continued threat to Inner Temple library”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *