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Akron Law Library set to celebrate 125 years

Associate Editor

Published: March 13, 2013

The contract that first established the Akron Law Library, written in 19th century longhand and signed by five local attorney founders, hangs inconspicuously on the wall near the entrance of the collection.

On Tuesday, March 19, from noon to 2 p.m., the law library will celebrate its 125th anniversary with music, food and fellowship on the usually tranquil fourth floor of the Summit County Courthouse.

Library Director Alan Canfora hopes to flaunt the technology-driven future of the library alongside its modern and historical books, some of which remain virtually pristine after more than two centuries.

“We’re in the process of modernizing our library,” he said. “Our goal is facilitating justice, and we take our task very seriously.”

After assuming control of the 80,000-volume collection in 2011, Canfora quickly set to work. First, Canfora hired an Amish artisan to refinish the original 19th century conference tables. Then, with the help of assistant Amber Barnhart, Canfora obtained eight new computers, a feat largely unaccomplished and most likely envied by many of the various court employees downstairs.

Along with installing industry mainstays WestlawNext, LexisNexis and Loislaw, Canfora recently subscribed to EBSCOhost, a full-text reference powerhouse. Though he has seen at most seven of the computers in use at one time, Canfora plans to add four more machines to account for planned growth.

“This year, we definitely hope to recruit more members,” he said, adding that he receives new subscriptions “on a weekly basis.”

A long-awaited attorney lounge in a secluded alcove of the library will also come to fruition by the end of the year, Canfora said. He hopes to attract attorneys with downtime at the courthouse who would like a cup of coffee and a quiet place with a view to prepare for trial.

Canfora also said he has contacted a Cincinnati vendor of Polycom videoconferencing equipment. He hopes to obtain a mobile 55-inch screen with a professional-grade camera to allow library subscribers to conduct face-to-face business with faraway colleagues from the courthouse.

The library’s budget for these new toys comes mostly from a cut of the county’s income from fines for traffic offenses, a system established many decades ago. A foundation also provides donated money, allowing the library to function without any direct taxpayer support. Canfora said he also makes a modest profit from subscription rates.

Though his subscription list currently hovers around 140 members, Canfora hopes to add more through the attention the anniversary party will attract. He currently charges the first member of a given firm $180 for an annual membership and each additional firm member $90.

The library’s board voted Canfora to the directorship after only nine months of assistantship under Linda Hostetler, who retired. He started at the Akron Law Library in 2010 after amassing nonprofit educational librarianship experience. Canfora attended Kent State University to study library science, which was only offered in Kent and at The Ohio State University (now, KSU is the only Ohio school offering a degree in library science).

During his time at Kent, Canfora, an enthusiastic political activist, perhaps unwittingly found fame for absorbing a bullet from a National Guard rifle in the infamous 1970 Vietnam protests in which four student were killed. He later founded the Kent May 4 Center, a nonprofit educational charity charged with keeping the painful memories and lessons of the attack vivid for younger generations.

He continued his public service as the chairperson of the Barberton Democratic Party, a position he has held for over two decades. He also served as the Barberton chief deputy clerk of courts.

Before his service in library science, Canfora briefly attended Cleveland-Marshall College of Law after joining the top 11 percent of LSAT takers after only one late night of studying. After a year of civil procedure and contracts classes, he said that “law school wasn’t for me” and eventually forged a path in librarianship.

The 125th anniversary event will feature food from DeVitis and Ninni’s, and Celestial Strings, a well-rated classical trio featuring Canfora’s sister as harpist, will provide music.