December 01, 2011It's not fair to say that area law schools, libraries, historical preservation societies and other groups interested in North Carolina law and Guilford County history are circling like vultures around the remains of the law library at the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro – which recently closed its doors due to funding cuts and other considerations. However, it is fair to say there's a great deal of interest among those groups as to who ends up with the library's contents.
The law library in the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro contains a diverse, extensive – and, in some cases, valuable – collection of books, documents and artifacts that now have some area law schools, libraries, private collectors and others excited about the prospects of getting their hands on the materials that the county will be selling or donating.
The Guilford County attorney's office, which is overseeing the dismantling of the law library, is now in the process of attempting to catalog the library's contents, assess the value of the books and other items, and beginning to determine which institutions or private collectors are interested in which items.
Robin Keller, a paralegal with the Guilford County attorney's office, is heading up the project for Guilford County. She said the first step will be to establish a committee that, among other things, will determine which volumes should be kept and archived by the county. The committee will also establish a fair and equitable procedure for selling and donating books and materials to interested parties.
According to Keller, several groups and institutions have already shown a good deal of interest in the books – and some groups, she said, had been taken on a tour of the now closed law library to get an idea of its contents.
Keller said some books and documents in the library "go way back," and she said the tour clearly provoked a good deal of interest.
"Some seemed to perk up when they saw some old city directories – like those for businesses in the1930s and 1920s," Keller said.
She also said some of the books have historical value, so Guilford County would want to hold onto those; she said there were other books that collectors or other libraries would no doubt be interested in acquiring.
"Obviously, some things we're going to try to sell," Keller said.
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Elon University Law School and the Greensboro Public Library are some of the groups currently showing interest in the library's contents.
Keller said she wants to see a fair process.
"We don't want to show any favoritism – that's what the committee is for," she said.
According to Keller, Guilford County has also had conversations with the local bar association as to the best way to proceed.
Before the library was shut down several months ago, it was a resource for attorneys, judges and the public – although its use had declined over the years as it became easier to use computers to look up legal information.
Given the cost of purchasing expensive new legal books every year, it made less and less sense to attempt to keep the library up to date by buying hardcover volumes.
Another factor in the library's closing was the fact that the librarian who oversaw the library for years recently retired.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said that, before it closed, the law library was being used by a variety of people, and he said accommodations are now being made for those who are "pro se" – which is a fancy legal way of saying they are acting as their own attorney.
"For instance, it may have been someone in a lawsuit who didn't have a lawyer and was defending himself or herself," Payne said of a typical user.
Payne said citizens will still have access to the latest legal information and case law through computer terminals that will be made available to the public.
"Our plan is to set up kiosks for the community," Payne said.
He said that should be more cost-effective than purchasing expensive legal tomes year after year.
Keller said some people who used the law library did so for relatively simple legal procedures such as filing for divorce. She also said some users couldn't afford an attorney, but often, with the guidance of the librarian, they were able to find a boilerplate form that took care of their legal needs.
Guilford County also has a law library in the county's courthouse in High Point, and, like the law library in Greensboro, the High Point library was also recently shut down after losing its funding as well.
The committee and process that determines the fate of the books, documents and artifacts in the county's law library in Greensboro will do the same for the items in the High Point law library.
Keller said it was her understanding that there was an attempt to keep the High Point library open without an on-duty librarian. However, there was vandalism and, after books and other items went missing, the county locked up the law library in High Point as well.