AALL Conferences lawlibrary

AALL Annual Meeting Roundup: Working With Public Libraries

Two programs at the meeting dealt with the role of public libraries in providing access to legal information: “Partnering with Public Libraries to Expand Services” and “Statutes, Cases and Codes, Oh My! Easing Public Librarians Down the Road to Legal Reference.”

Many states do not have an extensive system of court libraries and public libraries can fill the gap.  Where court law libraries are available, public libraries can supplement with additional hours and locations.

Marcia Koslov, of the Los Angeles Law Library, began the “Partnering” program by stating that law libraries are a  means of bridging the gap between the courts and public libraries.  Public libraries and court libraries can complement each other. Public libraries can make legal resources more available to the public with better hours and more locations and have an established user population.  Court law libraries have trained staff, access to extensive legal material and are located within or adjacent to the court building.

Court law libraries can expand service to the public by partnering with public libraries to provide collection support, online services and staff training for public libraries.  Public libraries, in turn,  can provide additional space and extended hours.  Understanding the legal system, legal materials and the difference between legal information and advice can be a challenge for public librarians.

Los Angeles has a model outreach program consisting of three parts:  an introduction to the courts, access to legal information which includes a “civics” lesson, and legal materials in the public library collection.

While there might be concerns that this model could lead to competition, it must be considered that the public library will not be able to provide the extensive law collection or staff expertise found in a court library.  This model of partnering will allow the public library to provide better service to patrons needing legal information.

Liz Reppe, of the Dakota Law Library in Minnesota, described the partnership between the public libraries and law libraries in Minnesota.  You can find law libraries embedded in public libraries there.  This model provides the advantage of having public library substitutes when the law librarian is out of the library.  Other ways in which libraries partner in Minnesota include attorney legal information sessions in public libraries, guides to legal resources on the Internet created by law librarians, self help terminals in public libraries and legal clinics.

Sara Galligan, of the Ramsey Law Library in Minnesota, presented information on grant opportunities that Minnesota has taken advantage of to fund partnerships between public and law libraries.  LSTA grants are a source of federal funds implemented by the State Librarian.  The Gates Foundation is another source mentioned.

The program, “Statutes, Cases…” provided examples of programs developed by law librarians for training public librarians in legal reference.

Brian Huffman, a law librarian in a Minnesota public library, spoke about the “Austin” Conference held earlier this year.  Teams representing states from across the country met in Austin, Texas to address the needs and methods of training public libraries in providing legal information to the public.  He shared a FAQ and template resulting from that conference that could be used by public librarians to develop materials for use in providing access to legal information.  He provided a link to the conference materials:  His overview of Minnesota efforts in developing materials for public libraries included MALL‘s resources, a MLA 2009 Handout, “Access to Justice for All: The Public Library’s Role,” and the Ramsey County Law Library Guide.  Other resources mentioned included a training program for public librarians that deals with the unauthorized practice of law, “What Public Librarians Can Do,” and a handout on the topic for patrons.

In Georgia, the ALLA offers a Legal Research Institute that provides training to public librarians.

Terrye Conroy, of the University of South Carolina Coleman Karesh Law Library, described  South Carolina as a very rural state without a state law library and only a few public law libraries.  Public libraries are needed to fill the gap.  The need for the training of public librarians called upon to provide legal reference service to the public is being addressed by the  Circuit Riders Outreach Program. South Carolina law librarians travel the state to deliver the program and provide the presentation materials online for reference.

Maryland is one of the states that sent a team to the Austin Conference. The team was made up of  Sarah Frush, a Legal Aid attorney who heads the Glen Burnie District Court Self Help Center, Julie Strange who administers Maryland’s Ask Us Now service and Cathy Ashby, the director of the Ruth Enlow Library of Garrett County.  They are now collaborating with the staff of the Maryland State Law Library to create a three part webinar on legal information for public librarians.

On a local level, I recently worked with Catherine McGuire of the Maryland State Law Library to present a program to Anne Arundel County public librarians on legal information.  Catherine provided an in depth overview of law and legal materials.  I was able to highlight resources and referrals  specific to Anne Arundel County.

As a result of meeting Wanda Wagner, the director of  the North Area County Library,  at this training we can now offer the “Ask a Lawyer” program in north county on a regular basis beginning  in January of 2011.  Without taking part in that training, the AACPLL would still be an unknown resource to many Anne Arundel County public librarians and it would not have been so easy to expand the program.  The public can only benefit from such partnerships.

By Joan Bellistri

Law Library Director for the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library

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