Report Illustrates The Strain Public Legal Libraries Feeling In The USA

This piece in the (ILL) Daily Herald illustrates how a perfect storm of price hikes is really putting public legal information under strain in the USA

Kane law library seeks fee increase as use, costs grow

The Kane County Law Library and Self-Help Legal Center wants to increase the fee that supports it, due to increased use and skyrocketing costs of materials.

The county board’s judicial and public safety committee Friday recommended the increase, from $13 to $19, to the board’s finance committee.


The fee is tacked on to filings for new civil cases. It’s been the same since 2004.

The fee pays for salaries, materials, maintenance, capital improvements, utilities and other costs of the library, which is at the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles. No general fund money is spent on the library. It does charge for some services.

Director Halle Cox said even though civil filings have decreased since the foreclosure-related high in 2010, use and costs have increased.

Visitors who requested a librarian’s help increased 28 percent from 2008 to 2012, she said, to 6,846 annually. Of those, only 10 percent were county employees. The numbers do not include people who used the library but did not need any assistance. She has seen an overall 38 percent increase in costs for online and print legal publications since 2005. Of about a dozen print publications she considers basic must-haves, the lowest increase was 53 percent, for a basic law dictionary. The top was 673 percent, for “Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment,” a six-volume set.

Cox said some of the publications need to be available in print as well as online for times when the computers are broken, the Internet connection is lost or electrical power has gone out.

The spike in foreclosure filings helped cover the cost increases for a while, she said.

“We’re at a point where we cannot cut any more library services.”

Committee member Douglas Scheflow, an attorney, asked her how the addition of a third full-time worker last year, and about the trend toward having more materials available online, affected costs. Cox said the online push has meant librarians are helping clients more.

“What we are seeing more and more … surprisingly and sadly, there is still such a large population of people that do not function well with computers,” Cox said.

Not only do they not understand the Internet, sometimes they don’t even know how to operate a computer; a man the other day had to be shown how to use a mouse, she said.

“They (the self-help clients) are not in jobs that require them to use technology. Low literacy and technology levels lead to more staff-intensive interactions,” she said. These people typically are using the library because they can’t afford an attorney.