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State Law Library a valuable resource for attorneys


By Franklin Runge

To answer reference questions from the bench, bar, and citizenry, I frequently jet out of my office, walk about 60 feet, and make myself comfortable in the State Law Library’s Montana section. 

While standing in front of the Montana Reports, all 409 volumes at the time this article was submitted, I am struck by how these books tell the state’s history through the lens of conflict. Conflict between citizens in civil lawsuits. Conflict between the state and its citizens in both criminal and civil cases. What has been the State Law Library’s role in this conflict? We are the neutral entity that — when called upon — has provided relevant legal information, current resources, and professional service to all sides of the disputes. 

In a profession filled with zealous advocacy, the State Law Library has the great privilege of separating ourselves from angry emails and bitter depositions. The information requests that we receive are as varied as our patrons. It does not matter your income, education, or background; we provide professional service to all Montana citizens. When our services are engaged, we become stronger. Our staff is just as comfortable navigating securities law as we are disputes between landlords and tenants. The diversity of requests pushes us to become generalists, a designation that is becoming harder to find in a legal environment that is trending towards specialization.

In 1895, the State Law Library’s Board of Trustees ordered that “[n]o books shall be taken from the Library” unless you were a member of the bar, a judge, or a legislator. If a book was checked out, it “[m]ust be returned the same day[,]” and the “Librarian is instructed to rigidly enforce this rule.” Much has changed, and I am happy to say that we are working on ways for individuals across the state to comfortably access Law Library resources in the comfort of their own offices. Since 2016, the Law Library has made available its Digital Library, which can be accessed from our website. If you have a Law Library card, you can sign in to the Digital Library with your barcode number. A patron is then offered access to over 100 treatises on topics including torts, employment law, mining, agricultural law, worker’s compensation, Social Security, and much more. 

When starting a legal research project, my advice is to always start with a secondary source, and this is exactly what the Digital Library allows you to do. Using a secondary source places you on the shoulders of giants. You could spend an enormous amount of time searching for cases about the Fair Use Doctrine, or you could start by reading a few sections of “Nimmer on Copyright.” This treatise explains the subject and provide citations for the leading cases. I have a sense as to what would be the most efficient use of your time.

How much does this process cost you? The time it takes to get a Law Library card. 

It does not matter if you are in Sidney or Missoula, this digital platform allows you to access our collection. We are happy to provide this resource as it allows us to advance our role as a professional, relevant, and neutral guide for those navigating Montana’s legal landscape.
 

Franklin Runge was named the State Law Librarian in January 2023. He is a graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law and has a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Indiana. This is his debut column for the Montana Lawyer.