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New Zealand Law Society Library services: The hidden gold

31 August 2018 - By Geoff Adlam

New Zealand’s lawyers have had access to a national law library service for nearly a decade, but it is possible that many do not realise exactly what is available.

The libraries and the library service are well known to regular users. However, hidden within the single Law Society computer terminal which can be found in dozens of courthouses around the country are hundreds of up-to-date legal information databases which provide the most comprehensive collection available in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Law Society has operated a national law library service since 31 January 2009, when the former Auckland District Law Society library was transferred to the Law Society. This joined the library assets of the other district law societies and meant the profession was served for the first time by a single integrated collection.

Interior view of the Wellington library

With the print collection housed in the three research libraries at Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, the Law Society Library is co-managed by the head librarians of each, Janice Woolford, Julia Wartmann and Robin Anderson.

The three libraries had worked collaboratively since 1989 to produce the electronic LINX database and also co-operated, as libraries do, on interloans. Joining forces in a new national service and the combined resources which became available meant the Law Society was able to establish a network of dedicated computers in courthouses around the country. This has given lawyers free access to a very comprehensive range of legal information.

The Law Society Library is operated as a private library, meaning it is not open for public access. The Library is available to all currently practising lawyers, associate members of the New Zealand Law Society, members of the judiciary, and Ministry of Justice court staff.

Over 400 legal databases

Ten years on, the computers – or kiosks – are still available, with 46 in 32 different locations. They still allow members of the legal profession to search over 400 regularly updated legal databases. The research libraries located at the High Courts in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington each have a number of kiosks among the books and periodicals. The smaller courthouse libraries have a single kiosk. Printers are available at each kiosk and research results can also be emailed or saved to a USB memory device.

The terms of the agreements the New Zealand Law Society has with the multinationals who provide the subscription databases mean access must be on a Law Society Library computer or wi-fi network in one of the research libraries or a courthouse kiosk. The licensing agreements mean the databases cannot be accessed by lawyers directly from their desktops.

There is one exception. While negotiating kiosk access to the databases, the Law Society was able to secure direct desktop access for New Zealand lawyers to the AGIS Plus Text database. This has been developed by the Australian Attorney-General’s Information Service to support the study of Commonwealth-based law. It includes abstracts and articles in many areas of law from law journals published from 1975 onwards. A link to AGIS is available on the “Journals” section of the Law Library Databases pages on the Law Society website. Access requires entry of the lawyer login issued by the Law Society plus password.

Interior view of the Wellington library

The databases contain all the familiar New Zealand legal information sets, from LexisNexis, Westlaw and Wolters Kluwer. Important databases of Australian, Canadian and United Kingdom material are also available, including the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting which publishes a wide range of UK law reports.

At the heart of the collection is the Law Society Library’s LINX service. LINX is a comprehensive database of New Zealand case law and legal writing which now has nearly 30 years of records. It summarises cases and indexes articles and currently consists of over 242,000 records. Available as part of LexisNexis New Zealand’s Linxplus service, LINX can also be accessed from the library kiosks as Linxplus.

Technology has developed rapidly since the network of kiosks was established in 2009. This has resulted in regular upgrades. At present the Law Society is upgrading the computer hardware with larger solid state hard drives to improve the speed of processing online queries. These are faster and have four times the capacity. The new drives are expected to be in place around the country by the end of September.

Another challenge in maintaining the kiosk service comes when the publishers who provide the information make new releases which require more memory or other system resources. The kiosks have been built so that they flush out any user data when a new session commences. A re-start of a kiosk which seems sluggish will often restore it to a healthy state.

Use of the kiosk terminals is not necessary in libraries where the Law Society is able to provide free wi-fi access from personal mobile devices. At present this is available in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington.

A decade of ups and downs

The passage from 2009 to the latter half of 2018 has not been the smoothest for each of the three research libraries.

There have literally been some ups and downs. The September 2010 Canterbury earthquake knocked some books to the floor but did no damage, although the other major law library in Christchurch, at the University of Canterbury, suffered major damage. The February 2011 earthquake was a different story, bending and breaking shelves, dumping and damaging the books and – because the library was in the red zone – keeping staff away from the library. Library staff cautiously ventured back several months later and started repairing and re-shelving, only to begin all over again when a 6.3 magnitude aftershock tossed the books back to the floor.

The Law Society Library moved into the new Justice Precinct in December 2017. As is common for libraries in the digital age, the floor area was much reduced, but careful shelving and management meant nearly all the collection from the old Durham St library could be accommodated.

What the earthquakes did demonstrate was the value of digital legal information. If you have a computer or a phone and access rights, you can quickly find yourself searching or reading the equivalent of several million books on LexisNexis or Westlaw. This was reinforced in November 2016 when another major earthquake wreaked havoc in the Wellington library. The late night quake also activated the library’s sprinkler system, meaning many books suffered water damage. By December all books were removed and taken to a document warehouse in Porirua where they were assessed for damage and dried out.

Staff were back in the library by April and by mid-2017 the traditional library quiet was absent as electricians installed new lighting, carpet and ceiling tiles. The computers were running, but it was a library without books. As part of the remediation of the whole courthouse complex, the library lost the second floor. A new shelving system – bolted to the floor and braced against further earthquakes – had been installed by November and the books were returned by Christmas.

The Auckland library has also undergone disruption. When the Ministry of Justice decided to build a new jury-capable courtroom and a conference room in part of the High Court Library space, the library staff and some of the book collection had to relocate to the Auckland District Court Library for nearly half a year.

2018 library services

Trained librarians are based in the three research libraries. The library is accessible during usual business hours, but 24/7 card access can be arranged. The Auckland Library is also staffed until 8pm from Monday to Thursday. The Law Society has a total staff of 17 FTE employees and headnoters are also contracted to assist with the LINX database.

While the library can be used for do-it-yourself research, a range of legal information services are provided. These include “document delivery”, which is provision of requested judgments, legislation, articles or other commentary at a charge of $17 per item, or $22 per item (GST not included) for urgent requests (fulfilment within two hours).

A team of experienced legal researchers is available for on-demand research on any legal subject. Research services are charged on a time basis at $40 per 15 minutes or $60 per 15 minutes for urgent requests (fulfilment normally within four hours). Again GST is not included.

The services may be requested by filling in an online form on the Law Society Library website, by email or by phone.

The Law Society Library receives an average of 780 document delivery requests and 540 research requests each month. The most commonly requested research topics are in criminal, family and insurance law.

Last updated on the 31st August 2018