If you're a law student these days, your tuition (the sticker price, at least) is going to be anywhere from $29,000 a year to $53,000, and you're going to graduate with $100,000-250,000 of debt. Guess how much of that is going to pay for your school's library.
$3,197 per year.
Yes, that's for the library. The glorified study hall that doubles as storage space for books no one needs or uses the hard copies of.
That is the average cost per student per year, looking at 16 different public law schools (part time students were counted as 1/2). The most frugal on our list was the University of Florida, which spends $1,898 per student. At the very top of the heap is UNC's library, eating $4,251 of every student's tuition every year.
The numbers include materials, salaries, and the school's share of payroll taxes. It does not include insurance, retirement benefits, the cost of running heat and A/C, the cost of the building itself, or the additional work created for HR, IT, and the janitorial staff.
Taking all the overhead into consideration, you're probably looking at $4000-5000 per year per student. Perhaps a lot more in times when new facilities are being built.
The main skill you learn as a law student from using the library itself is where certain books happen to be located within that library. That's a skill that is entirely useless the moment you leave. When you enter practice the "library" you'll be using will be at most a few stacks of books, and could be as small as a single bookcase in your office. Learning that the obscure foreign law journals are kept in the obscure foreign law journal sub-basement doesn't help you in practice when what you need to know is that Jim borrowed your copy of the FRCP while you were at lunch.
The real absurdity of the whole thing is that for $3,000 a law student could probably buy every single hard copy book that he'll need for his legal career. Whatever the value of a law school library is, it pales in comparison to owning the resources yourself.
For people who like numbers, here's the costs at each of the 16 schools:
Arizona State University: $3,406.16
University of Florida: $1,898.29
George Mason: $3,445.49
University of Illinois: $3,407.91
University of Michigan: $4,029.84
University of Missouri: $3,081.48
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill: $4,251.41
Ohio State University: $3,813.25
Rutgers - Camden: $3,024.25
Rutgers - Newark: $2,954.37
University of Texas: $2,220.3
Texas Tech: $3,805.24
University of Virginia: $2,548.18
William and Mary: $3,221.2
University of Wisconsin: $2,731.64