Q&A: Trends in Funding of Court and County Law Libraries*


Recently, Connecticut and New Jersey have sought to remove funding completely for their county and court law libraries through budget bills and separate legislative actions. Has anyone experienced this threat from their state legislature recently?


In our state we have been given notice of a 10% cut in budget for next year. However, the cut is across the board and affects all state agencies so we have not been singled out.
All county law libraries in Minnesota are experiencing revenue decreases indirectly. Most county law libraries in MN (the State law library and law libraries in Hennepin and Ramsey counties are exceptions) receive income through court fees and fines. There is some jockeying between the state and counties for these fines. The current MN legislature has passed into law a reallocation of these fines in a way that we believe will reduce our income. Each law library board of trustees may need to reinstate these fees county by county to insure proper funding of the law libraries. It’s too early to know the impact of the law at this point.
Marion County Law Library (Indianapolis) has already lost 1 of 2 staff members last fall, reduced public service hours to just 6 a day, all federal and some practice materials have been canceled this spring. The library is going to be downsized even more or completely restructured by this fall (if nothing else, closing is an option that is being discussed too). All city-county agencies must present a budget with 5% cuts compared to 2008. The law library is not regulated by a state or local legislature/ordinance, it is a division of the Court Administration and funded from the Courts’ General Fund. There is a Family Court Project Room at the County Clerk’s Office opened last year (funded by a grant) that is supposed to help pro se family law cases but, so far, it has created more work for the library not less by referring all those pro se to the library. There is no state legislature concerning public law libraries throughout the state and, not surprisingly, there are just a few of us to begin with.
Although the income we receive through filing fees has increased do to more lawsuits being filed, the County is in dire straights. The County which pays for our leased facilities informed me in April that they could no longer pay for the lease on our branch and that there was a shortfall with the main law library’s lease as well.

They instructed us to shut the branch down in 2 months! My board did not want to do that and approved a one time allocation of funds to pay the lease amount ourselves so that we can properly close the branch in June 2010.
In addition to the above responses the following is a link to a recent comment by the Chief Administrative Judge of Connecticut regarding the current budget proposal for the Connecticut Judical Branch. Although libraries are not mentioned specifically these comments do speak to issues being confronted regarding state funding.

*In deference to privacy and confidentiality concerns expressed by some readers, all references to personal names in the above responses have been deleted. This however does not detract in any way from our appreciation of the professionalism and generosity of spirit exhibited by those participating in this discussion.

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