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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Inner Temple Press Release on the development of the library

The following is the press release sent to me by Inner Temple. I publish here it in full.  My post on the development is here.

 

Project Pegasus – Redevelopment of the Inner Temple Estate

 The governing benchers and committees of the Inner Temple have been examining various proposals for the creation of new educational facilities to enable the Inn to discharge its core function of educating students, pupils and practitioners in accordance with the demands of a modern profession.

The original 1950s plans for the Treasury building provided for an additional floor and, having looked at a number other options, the Inner Temple Executive Committee has concluded that developing the current Treasury building is the preferred option.

Following consultation with the Inn’s main committees, the Inner Temple Executive Committee considered three schemes at its meeting on 21st July 2015. The majority of Committee members were of the view that the Inn should proceed with Scheme 2. This includes an additional floor, using the two western rooms of the Library in order to create a tiered auditorium and the construction of a mezzanine floor at gallery level of the Library in order to create a second additional storey. Access would be by lift from Church Court and the main entrance hallway.

The proposals have generated a lively debate during the consultation stages about the future of the Inner Temple. There is a need for the Inner Temple to have additional meeting room space.  There is a need to have educational facilities that are fit for purpose as the current Bench apartments not suitable for training purposes. There is also a need to ensure that the Library service remains a central element of the intellectual and collegiate life of the Inn.

The decision whether to proceed with any, and if so which, of these proposals lies with Bench Table, which will consider them at a meeting specially convened for that purpose on 21st October 2015.

Notes to Editors

 The follow schemes have been reviewed by committees and governing benchers of the Inner Temple:

Scheme 1 Construction of an additional storey, with access by lift from Church Court only;
Scheme 1.5 Construction of an additional storey combined with an incursion into the two western rooms of the Library in order to create a tiered auditorium. Access by lift from Church Court and the main entrance hallway.
Scheme 2 Construction of an additional storey combined with an incursion into the two western rooms of the Library in order to create a tiered auditorium and in addition the construction of a mezzanine floor at gallery level in the remainder of the Library in order to create a second additional storey. Access by lift from Church Court and the main entrance hallway.

 

  • The implementation of any of the three schemes would result in the closure of the Treasury Building, Hall and Library during part of the construction period. Alternative accommodation for the Inns activities would be found during this period.
  • Bench Table is a meeting of Masters of the Bench for the conduct of business.
  • The Executive Committee, subject to directions from Bench Table, is responsible for implementing the financial and other policies of the Society.
  • The duty of a Governing Bencher is to take an active role in the Inn and to help to support the future direction of the Inn. The affairs of the Inn shall be conducted by or under the authority of the Governing Benchers with the assistance of other members of the Society.

In praise of law libraries, and why defending Inner Temple law library matters

Good law libraries are an important public benefit, and not just a private convenience for lawyers.

The existence of a well-resourced law library freely available to lawyers means that those lawyers have access to the materials which will assist their clients, regardless of the client’s, or the lawyer’s, ability to pay.  Just as a cat may look at a king or queen,  a good law library means the most junior of barristers or solicitors can access the same resources available to a QC or a senior City partner, or indeed available to the judge before whom the lawyer will argue their point.

Law libraries are a great levellers within the unequal profession of law; the great chambers of barristers or the top law firms of solicitors may well have their own private libraries; but they cannot have privileged access to legal information when there are well-resourced law libraries freely available to lawyers.

So what is a good law library?

To a limited extent this is a subjective question, and one’s preferences for a law library, or indeed any library, will be as personal as George Orwell’s suggested attributes of a perfect public house.

But there are certain qualities which are essential.

If you are asked why you favour a particular law library, it would seem natural to put the books first – and by books I mean physical tomes on physical shelves. Books are important to a practicing litigator, and more important than many lay people will realise.

The stuff of litigation is a combination of knowledge about procedure (the rules about how cases should be dealt with), evidence (what information about a case can, and cannot, be put before a court), and the substantive law – the actual “black-letter law” which the court should apply to the case.

Every litigated case is a balance of these three inter-related subjects.  A claim is often won or lost on a procedural point or what evidence is deemed relevant or admissible.  But in every case the parameters of what a party can achieve, or be exposed to losing, are set by the black-letter law.

All three of these subjects are complex in their own right: there are detailed thick volumes on the rules of procedure and evidence, as well as on the law itself.  A litigator needs to have detailed guides to all three to even begin to advise on a point.

And that is only the start: there is rarely a point which requires looking at just one book.  Samuel Johnson said a person can turn over half a library to make one book; and to get to the bottom of a legal point is a similar exercise.

One will go the standard procedural guides, to a standard textbook, to a legal encyclopedia, to indexes of cases and statutes, to a case report, and then to another case report, to a volume of statutes, to a specialised text book, to a legal dictionary, to an article in a journal, back to another case report, and to a collection of forms and precedents; and then finally one will then have got to the bottom of a legal point and how to present it.

In the process, the lawyer will have darted around a library, in a number of different directions, going zigzag from collection to collection.

So a good law library needs to have certain qualities: it needs books, but it also needs space both to walk around (and not disturb others) and to put all the books out on the desk in front of you as you work.  There also needs to be sufficient space so as to allow one to work appropriately and privately on discreet and confidential matters.

And there needs to be light (so that one can read any book as well standing at a shelf than at a desk) and there needs to be quiet (because the whole intellectual exercise of researching and mastering a legal point requires considerable concentration, away from clicks of other people’s typing).

Finally, a good law library needs law librarians.  There is only so much even the most experienced lawyer can know about legal materials and where to find them.  An experienced law librarian will not only be familiar with the queries all lawyers tend ot have (and so can use that experience to save the time of everyone) but will invariably be able to assist in solving the most esoteric of research problems. A good law librarian is not only responsive; he or she will anticipate the changing needs of lawyers and ensure new materials (physical and electronic) are readily available.  And it is a simple truth that one cannot have good law librarians without having good law libraries for them to work in; it is not a “transferable skill” which can be somehow developed just on a training course.

A good law library is a masterpiece of design and utility; it not only stores the books but allows lawyers – practitioners and students – to use the books well.

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“Ah,” some will contest, “it is all electronic now, you don’t need actual books”.

And some will nod-along with this.  But ths contention is nonetheless flawed for three reasons.

First, and most obviously, there is a limit to what one can look at on any screen.

An electronic book is useful when there is only one thing you are looking for and you know where to find it – say a particular section of an Act, or a particular paragraph of a textbook or procedural guide.  But proper legal research – going through the tables of cases and statutes and indexes, the cross-referring of citation against substance, the tracing of a point from case to case – is impossible on a VDU.  There is only so much which can be done by someone with a click-the-link and copy-and-paste mentality.

Second, the providers of electronic databases (primarily Westlaw and Lexis) are rarely the proprietary owners of the materials they carry.

The providers are instead mere licensees of third party owners of legal knowledge – who can, of course, withdraw the content at any time.  There are numerous examples of databases dropping access to certain texts: ask anyone who now wants to get online access to Lloyd’s Law Reports and Family Law Reports.  To rely on electronic databases is to make the lawyer the hostage of the whims of a handful of highly expensive vendors and their licensors.

Third, there is the question of coverage: no electronic database is going to carry the greater number of legal texts – especially old editions – that can be stocked by a law library.

This is true not only in respect of materials on the laws of England and Wales. When one factors in materials – and not just simple case reports – about other common law jurisdictions (which can be of persuasive weight in English courts) as well as in respect of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights (which do have direct impact on domestic cases) – no database is going to be enough.

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And so we come to the misconceived and dreadful plans for the library of Inner Temple.

The library of the Inner Temple is as good a law library as it is possible for a law library to be.

Here are some pictures.

ITL1

 

 

ITL2

 

 

ITL3

 

It is an extraordinary and wonderful place for any lawyer, from a student to a QC, to work.

There is no better place in England to research a legal point.

By way of background, the Inner Temple is one of the four “Inns of Court”.  Each of these maintain a law library, not at the taxpayers’ expense, for barristers. (Solicitors have access to the Law Society library.)  Each of the Inns’ law libraries provide general materials and take a share in the burden of specialised collections (so, for example, Inner Temple provide legal materials on topics such as forensic science or mental health, whilst another Inn covers housing law). Between the four Inns, any barrister has free access to whatever legal material they need.

Inner Temple library was specially built to be a library to work in.  Care was put into not only shelving and desk space but also acoustics, light and use of space. Just as a symphony hall can be built to maximise the sound of an orchestra, a library can be constructed for the benefit of those using it.

But some have a different idea.

They want to rip the library apart so as to make space for “education and training” and an “international arbitration centre”.

The proposals are full of jargon: the development will be “state-of-the-art” and (inevitably) “high-tech”.  One half expects those pushing the plans to talk with a straight face about the white heat of modern technology.

In fact, the proposal is for an act of vandalism in management speak.  To particularise the act of vandalism:

– the library’s entire upper floor and gallery will be converted into meeting rooms, offices and an auditorium for education and training;
– half of the Library’s main floor will be lost to storage, equipment, lifts and stairs to a new fourth floor extension
– 58% of the floor space will be lost
– 50% of reader spaces will be lost (leaving only 49 reader places)
– 25,000 books from the main part of the Library and in every day use will be displaced.

And to make it utterly ridiculous: the Library will be closed entirely for a year and a half for these works to be carried out.

It is quite difficult to think of anything less thought-through.

It is also unnecessary: the Inn’s “education and training department” (clearly empire building, as such departments tend to do) has access to many other rooms and facilities in the Inn and elsewhere.  The envisaged “international arbitration centre” has all the markings of another white elephant.

As one can imagine, the proposals have not been popular.

But what is striking is the depth and detail of the opposition.

Last Monday, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association linked to an extraordinary document. You should click into it to: it is here.  It contains the sensible and reasoned response of the Inn’s library committee to the proposal; but is also includes something else.

Annexed to the report are letters and emails from all sorts of library users – from Lord Sumption (the Supreme Court justice) and Sir Stephen Sedley (the greatest English appeals judge of modern times) to hard-pressed family or criminal junior barristers and heavily indebted law students.  Each correspondent is worth reading; the case against the destruction of the library is well-made, again and again.  And, amusingly, the half-baked proposals for “state-of-the-art” and “high-tech” facilities are scathingly taken apart.

But will this be enough?  Unfortunately, it may not be.  The decision will be made by the “Benchers” of the Inn on 21 October 2015.

The supporters of the proposals want a quick decision and to start “development” promptly because they want to head off any application to give the library “listed” status.

And there is a real possibility the supporters of the proposals will get their way.

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So why does this matter to anyone else?

I have an interest: I work in the Temple and use the Inner Temple library, and that is why I know it is outstanding for what it does.

And it, of course, is important to other lawyers who use it.

But there is a more general interest, a crucial one.

A good law library, as I said at the head of this post, is a Public Benefit.  It provides a lawyer – any lawyer – with the same access to the very same legal resources as his or her opponents, however well-resourced or expensive those lawyers are.

And in every lawyer’s case there is a client; and so the access a lawyer has to first-rate legal resources benefits the client.  And the public benefit too: cases which are properly argued are more likely to be properly decided, and the output of our courts has an effect on society generally.

There are ways the libraries of the Inns of Court could be improved: not least, they should be more easily available to litigation solicitors and solicitor-advocates (and to the legal officers of NGOs and those who work at legal advice centres) as well as barristers. (I use the Inns’ libraries by virtue of having once been called to the Bar even though I practice as solicitor.)

Of course, one should be beware of the natural conservatism of any profession. And law can be the most conservative of professions: only lawyers would wear horsehair wigs and still expect to be taken seriously.

The case for good law libraries is not based, however, on conservatism, or nostalgia, or sentimentality.  It is also not based on aesthetics, though a library can be a very beautiful thing.

The case for good law libraries is instead based squarely on utility: the benefit of all lawyers and their clients, and society generally.

And that is why good law libraries, such as Inner Temple library, should be defended.

[Add: the press release of the Inner Temple on the development is here.]

 

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

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