Skip to main content

Circuit Riders: Building a Basic Legal Collection

Basic Legal Research Training

Building a Basic Legal Collection



The goal of developing a legal collection for a non-law library should be to provide access to basic legal resources, both print and electronic, to help patrons research legal matters on their own.

There are two types of legal resources —primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary sources are the actual laws themselves, i.e., the rules that tell us what we can and cannot do.  These four primary sources are cases, statutes, regulations, and constitutions. These laws are issued by official bodies from the three branches of government.  

Secondary sources are the books, articles, research guides, trial manuals, etc., that provide commentary or analysis of the law. They are not law, but explain the law and help researchers find primary sources.  

An excellent legal collection would include a comprehensive set of both primary and secondary sources, but this simply is not possible for most libraries due to the enormous expense involved.

The good news is that primary sources, both state and federal, are becoming more available for free on the Web from reliable government websites (see Free Internet Legal Resources). At this point the collections typically include 10-15 years of basic resources without annotations, which should suit the needs of most patrons. Of course, researchers can still visit the USC law library for primary materials not available on the Web.  

All South Carolina libraries should maintain a current set of the South Carolina Code Annotated, which includes the U.S. and South Carolina constitutions and South Carolina statutes and regulations. Because the South Carolina Code is annotated, it also provides researchers with references to cases interpreting the constitutions, statutes, and regulations, several years of which can be accessed on the free web.

Add a comprehensive collection less expensive, but helpful and current secondary sources to help your patrons understand and find the law, and you will have built an effective legal collection. To help you build this collection, we have recommended materials covering the legal topics you have told us your patrons need.


Coleman Karesh Law Library Catalog

Search the Law Library Catalog