Quinn's leadership helped State Law Library evolution

Quinn's leadership helped State Law Library evolution

In this age of information overload, emerging technologies, escalating costs and shrinking budgets, one could be forgiven for overlooking one of the core staples of our legal system and indeed our free society. I refer to our libraries, and specifically to our State Law Library at the Licht Judicial Complex in Providence.

Law libraries have been greatly affected by the technological changes in all of our lives. No longer just bricks and mortar, a law library is an electronic marketplace as well as a preserver of our history. In the digital age, the law library provides a wealth of primary legal resources to serve all of our citizens of Rhode Island, whether they are judges, lawyers, self-represented litigants or students. Not everything can be found on the Internet with a Google search, and what is available on the Internet for free is not necessarily authoritative or current.

Make no mistake; the unrelenting advance to a "virtual library" is more evident with the increase in library database licenses and the exponential increases in information on the world wide web. But our state Law Library remains a repository of the most authoritative legal resources, as well as some peace and quiet and able assistance from a human being.

We in Rhode Island have been fortunate to have one such person, Karen H. Quinn, a Lincoln resident, in charge of our State Law Library for the past 10 years. Karen retired at the end of June after more than 29 years of state service, but we cannot let that pass without noting some of her achievements during a remarkable period of digital change.

Under her leadership, the Law Library strengthened its commitment to a multi-format collection, maintaining not only the historical statutes and volumes in the stacks, but partnering with regional and national libraries to streamline administrative costs and savings on electronic databases such as Westlaw, Westlaw Next, Lexis and the Higher Education Information Network Online.

Attorneys from firms large and small depend on the Law Library for its comprehensive collection not found elsewhere. State agency personnel and municipal officials turn to the library for assistance in research that contributes to the performance of their duties. With the numbers of self-represented litigants increasing dramatically, law libraries are natural partners in providing access to justice through self-help materials, handbooks and public computers.

During her years as law librarian, Karen Quinn successfully applied for numerous Champlin Foundations grants to upgrade and update the law library's technology. New computers, scanners and printers were among these acquisitions, as well as basic shelving and other functional and aesthetic improvements. In 2011, the Law Library received a digitization grant awarded by the state Office of Library and Information Services, using funds made available by the federal Library Services and Technology Act. The grant's main objective was to convert unique and rare documents into digital format, thereby providing access and availability through the Internet. It also ensured that these valuable print materials would be preserved from handling, overuse and deterioration.

Thanks to a Champlin grant in 2009, the law library embarked on repair and infrastructure upgrades that restored the library's former brilliance and ensured its proper place in the Licht Judicial Complex. We have an obligation to our taxpayers to maintain our magnificent buildings, and the grant also enabled the library to make energy efficient and eco-friendly improvements to its lighting. The restoration enhanced the warmth and beauty of this stately facility. Attractive and functional signage provided directional assistance and improved accessibility.

Karen was also active with the Judiciary's Office of Community Outreach and Public Relations, earning the law library the American Association of Law Libraries Marketing Award in 2008 in recognition of an innovative program that introduced students to basic legal principles and cultivated positive attitudes about the justice system.

Constant change is a daily reality in law libraries today. Karen recognized and embraced the changing demographics, new technologies and even the shrinking budgets as she pursued the appropriate balance of print and electronic resources, implemented cost-saving measures with the minimum of harm to valuable collections, and ensured superior service.

Anticipate the future while preserving the past. Those will continue to be the Judiciary's goals as we thank Karen Quinn for her wise and caring stewardship. The State Law Library is a beautiful and valuable resource, providing the free and open availability of legal materials that is essential to a free society.

Craig N. Burke


Berke is an assistant state court administrator at the Rhode Island Supreme Court.