A law library is an organized collection\information sources to meet the needs of the legal profession and legal information needs of the legal public. Examples of law library are libraries found in court houses, Ministries of Justice, law firms or chambers, faculties of law, etc. A law library is crucial to legal practice and administration of justice because law is a specialized and very technical discipline. Hence, a law library is to legal practitioners, and judicial officers what instruments are to technologist, and apparatus to scientists. In order to accomplish these roles, the library performs the traditional functions of collection development, organization, retrieval and dissemination of legal and related information sources.
Two issues are crucial to the efficiency of law libraries. These issues are collection development, and organization of the collection. Collection development involves selection and acquisition of information sources which translate into collections of a library. Collections of law libraries are the bedrocks of all the services they can offer and determinant of the extent to which such services can be provided. These collections can be categorized into three, primary sources, secondary sources, and finding tools or tertiary sources.
Primary sources are the information sources containing law, they are books of law rather than books on law. Examples are Constitutions, Laws, Acts, Decrees, Edicts, Gazettes, Law reports i.e courts and appellate court decisions, regulations and ruling of administrative agencies. Secondary sources are information sources about law which are not themselves sources of legal authority. They vary widely in quality, form and authority.
Although they lack legal authority in a formal sense, some may have a persuasive influence in the process of law-making by virtue of the recognized prestige of their authors or quality of their scholarship.
Examples are journals, textbooks, treatises, commentaries, restatements and other periodicals. Finding tools or tertiary sources of legal information are means of locating the primary sources of legal information. They provide access to large body of law, great number of decisions and statutes issued over time. This facilitates effective operations of the doctrine of precedents because judge and legal practitioners can have access to decided cases relevant to a particular case or problem. Examples are digests of decisions, citators, encyclopedia, phase books, annotated statutory compilations, loose leaf services, and indexes.
Collections of a law library must be reasonably good and diverse. Such collections must include all the categories of information sources mentioned above, and available in both print and non print form. Legal information sources in non-print form are available in databases such as LEXIS-NEXIS, LAWTEL, and the INTERNET. FLICK (1997) notes that:
Most of legal resources on the Internet are designed for judges, lawyers, law students and researchers.
He mentioned other legal sites useful to non-lawyers such as Court TV, Nolo press, and Findlaw that offer gateways to helpful resources on legal information.
Organization of collections available in a law library facilitate easy access and retrieval of the information sources. There must be prior organization of the acquired information sources in order to provide access to them when they are needed by the users. Among the means of having access to collections of a law library are registers, bibliographies, and catalogues. These tools provide detail bibliographic information on each of the items in the library, and how they can be retrieved. The processes involved in organizing the resources of a law library is called cataloguing and classification.
Cataloguing deals with physical description of information source called bibliographic descriptions and allocation of subject headings to the information source using Standard Subject Heading List (sear's or LC). Classification on the other hand deals with assigning codes or notation representing the subject of an information source. Classification deals with determination of the subject of an information source and allocation of notation by which that information is shelved in the library. Ama (2003) described classification as
The systematic arrangement of library collections on the shelves. All documents on a subject and are related ones are brought together from the general to the specific.
Classification is crucial to the determination of placement of an information source in a library and where it is placed on the shelf. The extent to which a library collection are catalogued and classified is a factor of easy retrieval and access to the collections. Thus, the focus of this discourse is on examining Classification Schemes and their effectiveness in organizing law collections in Nigerian Law Faculties. Specifically, Common Classification Schemes, Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), Library of Congress (LC) and Moy's Classification Scheme for law books will be examined.