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.