books.jpgThe board president of the San Francisco Law Library said Thursday the institution found itself “between a rock and hard place” when it sued the city for more support.

The lawsuit, filed by the library against the city and county of San Francisco in Superior Court Wednesday, claims the municipality is violating its duty under the City Charter to provide “suitable and sufficient quarters” for the library.

Kurt Melchior, a San Francisco lawyer who chairs the library’s board of directors, said the board has been negotiating with the city for adequate space since 1994, but is now up against a May deadline to vacate its present temporary location.

“We’re just trying to get the city to do what’s required by law,” Melchior said.

The library is presently located at the War Memorial Veterans Building, which is scheduled to close in May for two years of seismic upgrading.

The law book collection was moved there in 1995 when City Hall, its former location, closed for seismic retrofitting.

The lawsuit says library officials have found a possible new site, in a building at Van Ness Avenue and Post Street, but the city is willing to pay for only 22,000 square feet of space.

The suit alleges that amount of space would make the library “a grossly substandard public law library” and says the institution needs at least 30,000 square feet to fulfill its duties to serve lawyers and the public.

Jack Song, deputy press secretary to City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said city lawyers could not comment on the case because it is pending litigation.

A Superior Court hearing on the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled.

The lawsuit asks for a court order requiring the city to provide “complete, adequate, readily accessible and suitable space and facilities” of 30,000 to 35,000 square feet and to allow the library to stay in the Veterans Building until that space is provided.

The library is an independent public agency created by the Legislature in 1870 and governed by a board made up of judges and lawyers. It was the state’s first public county law library. California law now requires all counties to have such libraries.

The City Charter requires that the library must be open to judges, lawyers and members of the public.

According to the lawsuit, the library now has 263,480 volumes, but is currently forced to keep two-thirds of the collection in storage because of inadequate space in its current location.

Melchior said that while some attorneys now view law books and publications online, many of the lawyers and members of the public who use the library depend on the printed books there because they can’t afford expensive subscriptions to the online publications.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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