CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court's regional law libraries are becoming the latest victims of technology.
The Court is in the process of closing the libraries because of a lack of use. The library in Huntington at the Cabell County Courthouse already is closed, and one in Wheeling will close soon. The others in Parkersburg, Beckley, Clarksburg and Martinsburg will be closed in the future.
Court officials says most law case books now are available online, and most law firms have their own law libraries or used Internet-based services for case law.
"They're a victim of technology," Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury told The Intelligencer in Wheeling. "Originally they were established to be a great equalizer for one-lawyer shops. ... They wouldn't be outgunned if they didn't have the materials."
Canterbury said Thursday each of the libraries costs from $110,000 to $125,000 annually to operate.
Justice Menis Ketchum said he noticed the lack of use last summer during the Court's hiatus.
A Huntington resident, Ketchum said he would go into the Cabell law library and would find it empty. He said he asked court personnel about its use, and they told him no one used it. A later study of the Huntington library found that no one used it during a three-month period.
"The law libraries open to the public are not used," Ketchum said. "I went to the Cabell law library two or three times a week last summer and checked with the court personnel, then with personnel at other libraries. Neither the public nor lawyers use them.
"The lawyers now use the internet, and the public can use Google to get what they need online."
Ketchum said the Huntington library was costing more than $100,000 a year.
"Since January 2009 when I joined the Court, I know the Court has made great efforts to cut expenses, particularly unneeded expenses," Ketchum said. "Our Court has made dramatic cuts in our expenses. Having said that, a judge can have any set of books he or she wants in his or her office's personal library.
"Technology is changing things. We used to have court reporters who took down what people said by hand. It took months to type. Now, we have court reporters who take testimony and it's typed instantly."
"There may be a couple who are sad about it going away for sentimental reasons," he told The Intelligencer. "It's not an easy thing to do, but it's the right thing to do.
"Taxpayers more now than ever before want their money to be used efficiently and effectively."
Canterbury said two local colleges are interested in taking books from the Wheeling library to use in paralegal programs. Books that aren't taken will be given to the state Agency for Surplus Property to sell. Any books that aren't sold likely will be recycled, he said.
The Wheeling library has about 12,000 books. The others, Canterbury said, have about 10,000 volumes each.
"We'll make sure in each of these that it's all reviewed to make sure they don't happen to have anything we don't have in the main law library," he said. "It's not as simple as just closing the doors. We have to make sure we don't throw away things that are valuable. And we have copy machines and computers to redistribute.
"These law librarians have done a good job, it's just that the jobs are unnecessary now."