06 January 2010

Creating a popular collection in a law library

Our library recently started a law-related popular media collection. Which is just a fancy way of saying we're now buying books and movies featuring (mostly) fictional accounts of the law and lawyers. Okay, technically, it's just books for now, but we've got about 30 movies to add to the collection soon as well.

I had an English professor in college who advocated the following writing process: When you've got a paper to write and you've gotten stuck, take a break from writing by doing some related activity. For example, if you're writing about The Importance of Being Earnest, see a production of it. Or read about the trial of Oscar Wilde on Wikipedia. Make yourself some cucumber sandwiches. Soon enough you'll be ready to get back to the main task, now with a slightly broader outlook.

It's an idea I thoroughly embraced. It stayed with me, in slightly adapted form, throughout law school, and when it comes to work was one of the guiding principles behind the new collection. Law students need a break too. But for various reasons they're often unwilling to take one. By providing them with law-related stories, we're offering an alternative to studying without taking too much of a step away.

We piloted the collection during the Fall semester, choosing a wide range of books: from legal classics that every law student feels they should read (One L, To Kill a Mockingbird) to Shakespeare and Plato and Grisham to books professors often recommend like Bleak House and The Once and Future King.

About a third of the collection was checked out at least once, and it was obvious from the broken bindings that many more were read here in the library. We declared that a success, and doubled the size of the collection for the new semester. The legal thrillers in particular were popular so I emphasized that on the last order. I'll also be making a regular monthly order to keep the collection growing.

The next step will be adding the movies to the collection. I expect them to be checked out even more than the books, but that's just a hypothesis for now. I'd also like to fancy up the collection's webpage. The layout is pretty bland at present.

It's been an interesting process, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the collection grows.