National State Attorneys General Program Creates Network of State Law Librarians

The Librarians Initiative Summit at Columbia Law School Brought Together AG Law Librarians From Across the Country to Share Information, Ideas, and Resources

New York, August 7, 2013—Like many government employees, librarians who work for the nation’s state attorneys general must do more with less as a result of budget cutbacks and layoffs.

But, thanks to a first-of-its-kind initiative launched by Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program, they have another resource at their fingertips: each other.

On August 7-9, the Columbia Law School National State Attorneys General Program, under the direction of James E. Tierney, gathered 20 state attorneys general librarians for the Librarians Initiative Summit. The goal of the summit was to begin the process of creating a permanent organization to promote the direct, timely, and collegial sharing of knowledge, ideas, and resources among AG librarians. Kent McKeever, director of Columbia Law School’s Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, also helped organize the summit, which included presentations by Tierney, McKeever, National Association of Attorneys General Supreme Court Counsel Dan Schweitzer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout, among others. Strout is married to Tierney and discussed her latest novel as well as the role that legal proceedings play in modern fiction.

“Our mission is to help AG librarians do a better job,” said Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine. “State government now faces a bewildering array of legal issues even as legislatures steadily diminish their resources.  The AG Librarians Initiative brings together all state AG law librarians and links them electronically to allow rapid and inexpensive information sharing that will avoid duplicative research.”
Cuts in state spending have reduced the staff and technological resources available to AG librarians, limiting their ability to assist state prosecutors and defense attorneys in requests for a broad range of information for use in litigation, such as these noted in an issue of the American Association of Law Libraries monthly magazine:
  • Spectators at a murder trial want to wear buttons depicting the victim. How many states allow this?
  • I need the text of each of the original colonies’ laws against blasphemy.
  • If a prisoner breaks out of his cell but is captured by prison officers before he leaves the prison grounds, is this really an escape?
Finding responses to such obscure questions is no easy task.  But Tierney hopes it may become easier with the Librarians Initiative Summit. Ultimately, he hopes state AG librarians will be able to use a common technology to send and receive information.

To organize the summit, Tierney convened a six-state advisory committee with members from Washington, California, Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, and Arizona.

Tierney came up with the idea for the initiative after reading the American Association of Law Libraries magazine article on the role of the AG librarian and diminishing resources. Authors Mark Mackler, supervising librarian for California’s attorney general, and Jonathan N. Chagat, senior research librarian for Ohio’s attorney general, are both now committee members.
“Given that the Columbia Law School library offers researchers one of the finest collections of legal materials in the country and that the National State Attorneys General Program is the leading academic center on state attorneys general, it seemed only natural for us to take the lead and bring all state AG law librarians together for the first time,” Tierney said.  
Mackler said the lack of a cohesive professional network for AG law librarians has long been a problem. But the initiative is changing all that.
“Resource-sharing and networking are vitally important to our practice,” he said. “The potential to interact with other AG librarians is exciting beyond words. This initiative enables us to serve our clients more effectively.”
Chagat agreed.
“We all face very similar problems, from basic library administration to answering the challenging reference questions that are unique to AG librarians,” he said. “What better way is there to enhance how we do our jobs than by learning from and with counterparts in other states?”
After initial support from Columbia Law School, the Librarians Initiative will eventually become part of the National Association of Attorneys General, which also helped organize the summit. For more information, read the full summit agenda.