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What should we do with the Inns of Court’s empty law libraries?

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Middle Temple’s library alone costs £725,000-a-year to maintain — and is quieter than ever now all those books are available online

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First the government had a pop at public libraries as part of its post-financial crisis austerity programme — now England’s former top judge is targeting the majestic versions at the Inns of Court for possible belt tightening.

Igor Judge — who stood down as Lord Chief Justice a year ago and is now the treasurer of Middle Temple — highlighted in a recent lecture the cost of library maintenance. His concerns have prompted Legal Cheek to continue its programme of providing useful suggestions to the legal professional bodies for dealing with their ornate, beautiful but costly buildings.

Writing in his fortnightly column for the Law Gazette, Joshua Rozenberg reported on Lord Judge’s remarks pointing out that the annual running costs of the Middle Temple library come in at the thick end of a quarter of a million knicker.

Enhancing the point is the fact that Middle Temple is not alone in operating a dusty home for old leather-bound tracts on land law and the finer points of contract. Inner Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s inns are all in the library game as well — and one imagines their book-harbouring costs are similar to the figure at Middle Temple.

librarys

Moreover, smack in the middle of that library square is the Law Society’s own book depository in Chancery Lane, creating something of a congestion of law tomes in the heart of legal London.

Rozenberg points out that the inns’ libraries were created in a vastly different era, when barristers spent hours squinting over pages of law reports under the light of a green-shaded oil lamp. Today, the simply flip open a laptop and click on bailii.org.

So what to do with the libraries? According to Rozenberg, Lord Judge is engaging in a bit of blue sky thinking by suggesting they “needed to become more like business centres”. Rozenberg says Lord Judge reckons that will mean more than just upgrading wifi connections and getting in some fashionable Scandinavian furniture:

“It means providing secure storage space so that out-of-town lawyers can leave papers overnight. It means providing soundproof booths where users can make and receive calls on their mobiles. And some conference rooms would be useful too.”

Legal Cheek welcomes the opening of the debate from Lord Judge, and suggests the Inns and the Law Society go a step further. Following our call for society to flog its highly valuable grace-and-favour Georgian townhouse for its president and put the money towards assisting law students, we suggest the Inns and Chancery Lane co-operate on the library issue.

They should combine resources in one super legal profession library that would be open to barristers, solicitors, law students and even potentially members of the public. And then convert the remaining four buildings into commercial conference centres and meeting rooms, available for hire generally, but at a discount to members of the legal profession or law student organisations.

Hey presto, suddenly a collection of overheads becomes a profit centre.

9 Comments

Not Amused

Yes, I imagine the £725k spent on the library is definitely the most obvious and unnecessary expense in the middle temple budget.

How deft of him to ignore the amounts unnecessarily spent on benchers, on ‘fun’, on unnecessary staff and above all on giving money every year to private equity companies. But wait, hang on, since when did the Inns become a democracy? At what point exactly did middle temple become publicly funded? Oh that’s right it didn’t.

If the master of the middle wants to do something about how the middle is run then may I politely suggest that he does something about how the middle is run?

I humbly suggest he writes the following letter:

Master of The Middle,
1 Big House Somewhere
SWRespectable postcode

Dearest Igor,

Long time no see old boy. It’s been ticking through my mind that maybe we ought to do something about how the Middle is actually run. I know “crazy chap crazy idea” but I think it might have some legs.

What say we get together over our massively subsidised lunch to discuss? See you at high table.

Yours,

Igor Judge

Kisses

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Fanshawe

Lots of waffle and specious arguments in both the Law Gazette piece and this.

1) It seems to me that the Inn libraries are used about as much as any library. During exam times, for example, they get pretty busy.

2) Some people like to use books and/or don’t like to use computers for their research.

3) By Lord Judge and the article’s logic, we should turn all libraries into “profit centres”. If this argument applies to the Inn libraries, it applies to all libraries that have books (i.e. all libraries).

4) Libraries don’t make profit. Applying a balance-sheet cost-benefit approach to them is like applying one to a school. Their purpose is different. They provide a public space (or a communal space for members/student members in the Inns’ case) for people to work in peace and have access to the resources they need. The people who use libraries value them immensely.

5) Some of Lord Judge’s suggestions seem to ask for facilities or functions that would ordinarily be provided by Chambers to be provided by the Inn. If there is an argument to be made for this, there is no reason why it has to be made at the expense of libraries.

6) If the argument is premised on the fact that the Inns are not using their money as wisely as they could be, which it would seem to be, it is again difficult to see why libraries are being singled out.

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colash

The idea of having ‘one super legal profession library’ has an obvious appeal. However, what happens in the event of its destruction in a serious fire or, heaven forbid, a terrorist attack? Would there be a backup library elsewhere?

I assume that if the current London legal libraries were to merge there would be duplicates of many of the works. Would they be relocated to the provinces to provide better facilities out of London?

However, the whole issue would be solved if all the works were digitised.

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Annie Onimouse

This is an irresponsible piece of journalism. The Inn libraries are a massively valuable resource. Not everything is available on line, particularly when researching transitional provisions and older case law. They are used a lot and split the collections between them. Just because you don’t see crowds there doesn’t mean they aren’t used. Some of the reading rooms in the British Library aren’t exactly packed!

Long may they continue. It would be a tragedy if they were closed because some penny pinching bursar with no proper understanding of law or the importance of libraries of this quality saw a quick win to cut his budget.

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Concern Library user

I agree with Annie Onimouse that the libraries provide superb legal knowledge resources which are invaluable to barristers and benchers.

The libraries stock unique unrivalled collections often of material which is not and will never be available online such including historic and current versions a diverse range of law texts, case reports, command papers and overseas collects etc.

The staff at all the Inns libraries are helpful and knowledgable. The libraries also provide a quiet place to work. They also provide the impoverished pupils and members of the legal aid bar a chance of resources and peace.

August and September are always quiet but otherwise all year round they are busy. It would be a crying shame to lose the libraries.

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Kris

Negative.

Does everything have to be reduced to battery hen “cost efficiency”?

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The Dungeon Master

I suggest that these great spaces and nice tables are rented out to Dungeons & Dragons fans. it’s always a problem to find the right space and these are very handy, located between the City and West End.
as to all the books……er, eBay..?
as to subsidised meals….how about a Starbucks instead?

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Matthew

I don’t agree that the libraries are usually empty. Whenever I visit Inner Temple library it seems just as full as it ever was. It is extremely useful to have a library with access to all the relevant law reports (most of which are still not online) and textbooks as well as very helpful staff.

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Nigel Henry

This chimes with recent public sector practice; for every ‘director of efficiency and engagement’ employed, a library closes.

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