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When I started here in the Law Library, 40 years ago today, I was just starting the University of Maryland’s Master of Library Science program. My technology or equipment consisted of an electric typewriter, a rotary phone that didn’t even have a hold button and a copier.
I had a lot to learn. At that time, I saw mostly attorneys and law clerks using the law library as everything was in the books.
A lot has changed over the years. Now so much of the library’s collection is available online with Lexis and Westlaw. Close to 80% of the library’s reference questions come from non-attorneys. The library houses the Family Law Self-Help Center and provides a weekly “Ask a Lawyer in the Law Library” brief advice clinic for civil non-family matters.
While much has changed in the way that we can access legal information, I can say that one constant is actually me, the law librarian able to assist with access to legal information no matter the format or who might be asking.
Although, technically, I have been in the same position for 40 years, I have seen so much change that I can’t say that anything else is the same. I have enjoyed the challenges and opportunities that change can bring without having to leave. I am looking forward to the future and whatever it may bring.
The People’s Law Library of Maryland has a new look. We were accustomed to the look and feel of this important website since we use it many times everyday and so were a bit surprised to see the new design with Maryland colors pop-up on the screen.
The front page provides a link to the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center as well as the phone number where live assistance is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. (I appreciate the live chat button on every information page as it makes for easy referrals – to information and live assistance in one convenient place.)
The People’s Law Library of Maryland is an important tool that we use all of the time. It makes assisting those that call in or email with questions so much easier as long as they have a computer or smart phone. People’s articles can be a part of almost every reference response for non-attorney questions. We are fortunate to have such a great resource in Maryland.
Why libraries? Why law libraries?
The age of Google and smartphones may seem to put all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, but the reality is that we still need trained professionals to curate all that information, contextualize it and point us toward new sources an algorithm might miss. There is a serendipity in browsing the stacks of a library that the Internet has yet to replicate.
This from a Baltimore Sun editorial published last October that I clipped and saved : The 21st-century library . It included a description of how libraries “are an indispensable font of information and support that enables them to meet life’s everyday challenges” and that “it’s not a stretch for them to see their mandates broadly and to seek to help those who come through their doors however they can.”
This editorial was in reference to how the Pratt Library in Baltimore City would be making social workers available at neighborhood libraries. I couldn’t help but compare the program to our Ask a Lawyer in the Library program offered in the courthouse and public library branches.
Law libraries long thought to be the province of lawyers and judges are now also the spot where anyone in need of legal information or referrals can find what they need to assist in solving legal issues. As a result, public law libraries must find ways to meet the needs of these varied user groups. We are meeting those needs, through existing traditional resources still needed for lawyers and the court; and those resources created for the non-attorney. We are lucky to have the Maryland People’s Law Library available. We have also created FAQ pages available on the library’s Pro Bono and Self-Help Wiki. Librarians provide assistance to the non-attorney, too, by explaining legal research and the traditional sources of law. The law library has increased its digital resources and as a result, provides online assistance to attorneys and non-attorneys alike. The court law library is ever-changing as it adapts to changes in legal information and the users of that information, making it relevant as a 21st century library. The AACPLL is a 21st Century Library:
Why libraries? Why a law library?
Loved reading that Batgirl is a librarian in AALL’s KnowItAALL on 3/19/2018 citing of CITYLAB’s article: The Latest Supervillain Attacking Batgirl’s Gotham City: Gentrification by KRISTON CAPPS on MAR 19, 2018
Obviously, this is my favorite part of the interview:
…. It also ties into her history of being a librarian. She’s a human computer, a human catalog.
That’s right—so why does Barbara Gordon need a library science degree?
We wanted to bring that back to her character. She’s historically always been a librarian. This character goes back to the early ‘60s. One of the things that is so cool about librarians is that they’re really involved in their communities. It’s not just that you’re dealing with books and research. You’re also helping out folks who may not have any other resource for computers, how to deal with stuff like taxes, small-business stuff. Libraries are really a community resource. I wanted her to be thinking about other ways she could be helping to build up her community, other than being just a crime fighter.
Couldn’t say it better myself. I might have to start reading Batgirl comics.
The AACPLL is happy to announce that the law library is now fully staffed. The Blog will pick up again now that the workload can be shared.
Brianne Phillips is a new librarian and acquired her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland in December of 2017. Before library school she earned a BA in English literature, and a double minor in creative writing and classical studies. Her current educational pursuit is learning to speak and read in Spanish. With experience working in both public and academic libraries in Maryland, Brianne is looking forward to serving both circuit court visitors and staff in their pursuit of information and the overarching goal of supporting the democratic values of our nation. She also enjoys the close proximity of her new workplace to the multiple ice cream shops in historic Annapolis. Her favorite flavor (currently) is caramel bananas foster.
Jean Stephens came to the law library in February to help people looking for answers to legal questions. In a prior life, she managed the K-12 marketing program for audiobook publisher, Recorded Books, LLC, in addition to operating her own online book-selling business. She graduated from St. John’s College and did post-graduate work in literature and journalism at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. A reader and a writer, Jean is still giving in to the lure of academics at recent seminars on Racine’s. (Fortunately, her husband Charlie lightens things up with an occasional infusion of Me TV or a doo-wop rendition of an old standard!.) Very impressed at the enormous print and online resources of the library, and the human expertise of the lawyers and staff, Jean is enjoying the chance to learn how to support this vibrant community. Britannicus and Sapolsky’s Evolution of the Mind
A tweet by Tinkering Librarians @tinkeringlib on August 23 caught my eye with its link to this article Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses on Atlas Obscura, a website exploring hidden spots around the world.
In the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library we hope that no one ever takes anything from the law library without asking but when anything goes missing, the curse I first saw in Mel Hirshman’s Maryland Bar Journal column (July/August, 1994, p. 52) comes to mind. Mel Hirshman was Bar Counsel for the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission for almost 30 years. This column , “By Special Request (Sad Information From Our Law Librarians),” reported on the problem with books missing from Maryland law libraries. It included the curse found on the door of an ancient monastic library in Barcelona, Spain:
For him that stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy and let there be no surcease to his agony til he sink in dissolution.
Let bookworms knaw his entrails in token of the worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final judgment, let flames of hell consume him forever and aye.
So next time you are tempted to “borrow” something from a library permanently, beware of the library curse.
What a nice surprise to see Bonnie Sullivan’s post about law libraries on Facebook. Her comment on this article is proof that Bonnie Sullivan, executive director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is a champion of libraries and recognizes their value to the legal community.
The article referred to, Law Librarian? Try Chief Knowledge Officer: Our annual survey shows that in an era of digital change, the job of law librarian is evolving rapidly written by Mary Ellen Egan for the The American Lawyer on June 30, 2017
While this article focuses more on the changing roles of firm law librarians, I can certainly say the role of court librarians is changing as well. Who we serve, how we work, and what we do has changed dramatically. Court law libraries are the foundation in providing access to justice through access to legal information.
In the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library, I have seen the number of non-attorneys using the library increase to the point that close to 80% of questions we get are from non-attorneys or self-represented litigants (SRLs). We still assist attorneys and the court but how we do that has changed as well. Attorneys are more likely to need assistance with technology. Librarians help with formulating a search on Westlaw or Lexis; show how to email an attachment; or to use a copy machine. The use of technology is an important tool for meeting the needs of the non-attorney, too. There is so much information on the Internet – not all is trustworthy or reliable. Librarians are able to direct users to the sites that will provide the right information. We often find that someone has found “the law” online that turns out to have nothing to do with Maryland. Librarians can now curate information online for use by special user groups. See the AACPLL FAQs as an example and the Maryland People’s Law Library. Technology has allowed the library to expand self-help programs. Our foreclosure program offered through MVLS suffered from a lack of volunteers and/or clients. Now, using a webcam, Google Hangouts and scanned documents; we always have MVLS staff on hand, remotely, to assist those in need of help with the foreclosure clinic.
Librarians have always helped with legal research but now find that they often must perform a triage to find out what library customers really need. This means knowing what programs and services are available outside of the library. Librarians need to be able to match the what is needed with the best resource to meet the needs of each user whether print or online.
Partnerships with our Maryland legal service providers like MVLS, Legal Aid, HPRP and the Pro Bono Resource Center are essential in bringing services to those in need, in addition to legal information. Partnering with the public library allows us to reach more people by taking advantage of the multiple locations and longer hours.
Librarians often hear “why a library when it is all online.” The fact that so much information is online in so many ways is precisely why librarians are needed more than ever. Maryland court law libraries are always finding new ways and services to meet the needs of all in need of legal information and referrals, now and in the future.
“Libraries Transform” is the theme for National Library Week in 2017.
First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support. All types of libraries – school, public, academic and special – participate.
The Anne Arundel County Public Law Library would be a “special library.” How does a law library transform? The answer can be found in the library’s Strategic Plan: