1) Why are you having a funding crisis?
The San Diego Superior Court filing fees make up 97% of our income. In the last 5 years, the revenue from filing fees has decreased nearly 40% while the cost of legal materials has increased nearly 60%. We went from an income of nearly $4 million in 2010 to an income of $2.6 million in 2015. We have to be fiscally responsible and spend within our current budget projections, unfortunately this means a reduction of resources, staff, and services.
2) You don’t have money yet you are getting a new conference room space in North County?
Yes, the County of San Diego is replacing our dilapidated trailer that we use for conference room space in North County. The County will replace the trailer but will not provide us with any funding for furniture or IT equipment to make the space functional. The County’s only obligation is to house us in a safe environment. The Library is responsible for all operating costs. Help us furnish the North County trailer!
3) But you have a new building downtown, why don’t you have money?
Yes, as of February 2012, we have a beautifully renovated downtown location. The money for this renovation was in large part donated by the Hervey Family Fund at the San Diego Foundation. Other major contributors include the Hon. Julia Kelety, the Morrison & Foerster Foundation, and Luce Forward. These donations were specifically designated for building renovation, not for normal operations.
4) I thought you were a County organization? You are a library, aren’t all libraries tax dollar supported?
Unlike the County and City general libraries, which receive operational money through taxes, we are designated as a special district governmental organization under the California Business and Professions (B&P) Code sections 6300 through 6364.
Thus, we are not considered State, County, or City. The provision for Law Library funding is through B&P Code section 6321, which states that San Diego Law Library receives $38 of every first paper filing fee paid in San Diego County. B&P Code 6322.1 provides that San Diego Law Library receives $12 from every Small Claims uniform filing fee. There are no other funding provisions.
5) Don’t the attorneys and big law firms support you by being members?
A couple of the local law firms supported our building renovation, and we do have some big law firms as members of our library. However, the downturn in the economy also affected law firms. It is hard for firms to justify the cost of being library members when they pay for access to their own print and electronic resources. Thus, many law firms have made a business decision not to renew their memberships.
Membership charges are only a small portion of our total income (2.3 %) The nominal annual membership charge of $45 for attorneys doesn’t even cover the cost of running the membership program. Being a member is great, but it only helps us cover some costs associated with the program. It does not contribute income to staffing or resources.
6) Why don’t you just charge more money for services and membership?
Thanks to our supporters, California Senate Bill 711 recently passed enabling county law libraries to charge for modern services to defray costs. We are currently in the process of creating a new membership program and are evaluating the possibility of charging for some of our services.
Prior to Senate Bill 711, the wording of the law was unclear and had been interpreted as limiting our ability to make a profit. According to B&P Code 6360, we could only charge money to cover the cost of special services (such as photocopies, membership).
There’s been recent litigation on the issue of making money through library memberships in a class action lawsuit against the San Diego Law Library (See Theule v. The Law Library Board of Trustees, San Diego County Superior Court, Case No. 37-2012-00057087-CU-BT-NC).
Until the law was clarified, we did not want to expose ourselves to more litigation by increasing charges. Now that Senate Bill 711 has passed, we can reevaluate our membership and service charges with an eye to increasing revenue.
7) Why do you need so much money to run the library? Isn’t everything available for free online? How much could this stuff possibly cost?
True, our budget is slightly over $2.5 million. True, some legal information such as California codes and case law is available for free online from reputable sources. However, the search functions are extremely limited making locating primary sources on a particular topic extremely challenging. By far the most helpful resources are legal practice guides published by reputable vendors. These resources are not available for free, and publishers often charge a premium because they know the information is unavailable elsewhere. While our income from filing fees has dropped almost 40%, the cost of legal resources has increased over 60%. Keep in mind that we have four branches throughout the county where we need to provide access to legal information.
8) What does your staff do? Why are they so important if the information is there?
Library staff is essential to providing access to legal information. We help attorneys find relevant resources more efficiently, and help self-represented litigants navigate the system by showing them information relevant to their situation. Without Library staff, the information would not be as accessible or meaningful.
Staff also works with local attorneys and legal organizations to make the law more accessible for the community. For attorneys we host minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) classes, and for the self-represented we host numerous legal clinics.
Due to budget concerns, we have experienced a reduction of 30% of staff over the last four years. We have only hired one new staff member and replaced two staff members in the last seven years. Remaining staff is doing an excellent job of continuing to run the library and provide services with limited staffing and resources.
9) What is the Library doing about the situation?
To be fiscally responsible with our limited budget, we’ve had to reduce staff and resources. You may have noticed a reduction of branch hours, less staff available at the Information Desk, and materials that have been cancelled. We have also reduced costs by partnering with the El Cajon public library and the Chula Vista public library to provide access to our databases. We partnered with local legal aid organizations to repurpose the El Cajon and Chula Vista Courthouse Law Libraries to house legal clinics and workshops.
The San Diego Law Library is working with the Council of California County Law Libraries (CCCLL) to introduce new legislation to provide a more stable source of income. The CCCLL Legislative Committee identified the following options and potential opportunities for lobbying and legislative efforts:
- Request supplemental funding to be included in the next state budget
Because the governor’s budget does not include supplemental funding for county law libraries we are reaching out to the legislature for help.
- Request the State Bar to collect voluntary contributions from attorneys
This is not a substitute for direct funding because there is no way to estimate how much would be generated in any given year, but it gives county law libraries some potential for relief.
- Defining County Law Libraries as public libraries
This task requires many different interests and funding sources to agree that county law libraries are public libraries and thus eligible for state funding and other financial benefits.
Please, use our SAMPLE LANGUAGE to contact your State Representatives and let them know how much the San Diego Law Library means to you! Ask them to support CCCLL’s and San Diego Law Library’s efforts to secure a stable future income.