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Status of county law libraries

Background
In Ohio, county law libraries date back to the mid-19th century and parallel the establishment and growth of county bar associations. Even today, the county law library association and the county bar association may be separate entities, but the law library associations are for the most part governed by members appointed by the bar association.

Initially, the county law libraries were supported solely by private funds. Eventually, a number of provisions were enacted in the Revised Code whereby the law library associations began receiving public funds to provide law books and legal research material for members of the Ohio General Assembly, judges and other elected officials. The obligation to provide these resources to public officials rests with the county government.

Source of Funds
Funding for county law libraries currently comes from three primary sources.

1. County treasury

The county board of commissioners is required to:

  • Furnish space, utilities and bookcases. R.C. 3375.49 (subject to changes made by H.B. 66 beginning in 2008-see below)
  • Pay compensation of one librarian and up to two assistants. R.C. 3375.48 (subject to amendments made by H.B. 66 beginning in 2007-see below)

     

    2. Monies from fines, penalties and forfeited bail. R.C. 3375.50 and R.C. 3375.44

    This money may be used for:

  • Operation of the library
  • Purchase, lease and rental of law books
  • Computers for legal research
  • Other services, material, and equipment which provide legal information or facilitate legal research

     

    3. Private funds. Membership dues, grants, etc.

    This money may be used for any purpose to support the library.

    Changes made by H.B. 66
    In 2005, Am. Sub. H.B. 66 (the biennial budget bill) made significant changes to R.C. 3375.48 thru 3375.56 regarding the financial obligations of the county commissioners for the operation of law libraries.

    The major changes were to R.C. 3375.48 (compensation of law librarians) and R.C. 3375.49 (County commissioners' responsibility to provide space, shelving and utilities for the law library). Prior to Am. Sub. H.B. 66 a librarian and two assistant librarians were paid "from the county treasury." R.C. 3375.48. In addition the county commissioners were required to provide ". . . suitable rooms with sufficient and suitable bookcasesÖ at the county seat with sufficient and suitable bookcases. (text omitted) The board of county commissioners shall heat and light any such rooms." R.C. 3375.49.

     

    Effective in calendar year 2007 the law library association would be responsible for twenty per cent of the space, utilities, and compensation of law librarians. Each year that amount would increase by twenty per cent until 2011 at which time the law library association would have total responsibility for the compensation as well as the space and utilities. Through subsequent legislation, the reduction in the county obligation to provide space would commence in calendar year 2008.

    H.B. 66 did not make any changes to the operating funds law libraries receive from a portion of the fines and penalties collected by municipal, county and common pleas courts as governed by through R.C. 3375.50 thru 3375.53.

    Task Force on Law Library Associations
    H.B. 66 also established a 17 member Task Force on Law Libraries to:

      1. Gather information on and study the current state of the law library associations, with particular emphasis on the structure, funding, and administration of their law libraries, and on the effect of technology on, and access to, their law libraries;
      2. Make recommendations on the structure, funding, and administration of these law libraries; and
      3. Make recommendations as to how to ensure that these law libraries remain open and may be made available to members of the public.

    Members of Task Force were appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House (one each); the President and Minority Leader of the Senate (one each); three appointments by the Ohio Judicial Conference (two of whom shall be judges and one law librarian); three appointments by the County Commissioners Association; and three appointments by the Ohio State Bar Association (two attorneys and one law librarian).

    The Task Force made the following initial findings:

      1. It is impossible to generalize regarding law libraries in Ohio.

        -although each association has the same funding source, the amount of money that is actually available is very dependent upon the traffic fines that are generated which are a function of the highway system in that county.

        -there is no uniformity as to the size or make-up of the associations' boards of trustees.

        -not all libraries are located in the county courthouse, which dramatically impacts public access and security.

      2. Given the current funding, no law library could continue to exist if it had to pay all salaries and space obligations.

    Final Report of the Task Force
    After meeting over the course of about 15 months, the Task Force submitted its Final Report to its appointing authorities and legislative leaders. All members of the Task Force agreed on the general concepts of the Final Report. The Task Force recommended a dramatic change in the structure, governance and operation of county law libraries.

    No changes were recommended as to the funding received by law libraries from the fines and penalties collected by municipal, county and common pleas courts as governed by through R.C. 3375.50 thru 3375.53.

    Task Force Recommendations
    A two-tier system would be created at the county and state level.

    County Law Library Boards

    At the county level, a County Law Library Board will be established as a public entity and will be governed by representatives of agencies to be served by the law library. The county or municipal court, the common pleas court, the county prosecutor and the board of county commissioners would have appointments. One of the county commissioners' appointments must be from the private bar.

    The County Law Library Board will be responsible for making legal research and reference material available to all county offices, courts and departments and for the operation of the county law library which has traditionally served the private bar and the public.

    Consortium of County Law Library Boards

    At the state level, a Consortium of Law Library Boards should be created as a public entity comprised of County Law Library Boards. Membership in the consortium will be voluntary. Dues from members will fund the operation of the Consortium and also can be used to make grants to members for special projects. Dues will be based on county population brackets.

    The Consortium will be governed by representatives appointed by the Ohio Judicial Conference, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Public Defender and the Ohio State Bar Association. Law Librarians will be appointed to serve in an Ex Officio capacity.

    The Consortium will have the power to negotiate contracts and purchasing on behalf of its members, will collect dues and make grants to members for special projects, determine the composition of a core law library collection

    Effects of H.B. 66 if Task Force recommendations are adopted
    House Bill 66 will impact County Law Library Boards in one of two ways determined by whether the County Law Library Board joins the Consortium.

    If the County Law Library Board joins the Consortium, the county will continue to pay the compensation of one librarian and to provide reasonable space and utilities. These costs which are shifted incrementally to the library under H.B 66 will be assumed by the county.

    If the County Law Library Board does not join the Consortium, the county is relieved of any obligation to pay for any compensation of law librarians or the obligation to provide space, utilities and shelving effective calendar year 2008. The incremental formula contained in H.B. 66 will be eliminated and the law library will assume all responsibility for compensation, space, utilities, etc. effective calendar year 2008.

    The existing private law library associations may or may not be eliminated. They may continue to exist for purposes of collecting, retaining and distributing private funds to the County Law Library Board for operation of the library.

    Primary objections to Task Force Report Issues raised by law libraries associations to the Task Force Report generally relate to the proposed structure of the County Law Library Board. It is the view of some that the boards would become politicized and would become "tools" of the county. As such, it is believed that they would not be interested in the well being of the library, but rather be more interested in using the funds for other purposes. There is also fear that the county law library board would not see an obligation to provide any resources to the private bar or to the public.

    Options/Scenarios
    There are three scenarios possible at this time:

      1. The General Assembly adopts the recommendations of the Task Force with or without modifications. The enacting legislation may be included in the biennial budget bill or become a separate bill.

      2. If there are serious objections to the central concepts in the Task Force Report, no legislation will be enacted and the reduced funding provided in H. B. 66 will continue. Under this scenario, the county obligation to provide space, utilities and salary of the librarian would end in 2011.

      3. No legislation would be enacted, effects of H.B. 66 would continue and we could see efforts by the counties to seek the diversion of the funds now received by law libraries from the fines and penalties (R.C. 3375.50 thru 3375.53) for other purposes such as indigent defense. If these efforts are successful, the county law libraries would be left with only private funds.

     

    June 6, 2007

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