Sunday, October 22, 2006

Success as a law librarian -- in the courthouse

Betsy’s list of the qualities needed for the successful academic law librarian applies to court house librarians. For a court house librarian, the emphasis may be different because court house librarians work within a public institution; we have a duty to promote the aims of the justice system. We do this by providing not only reference service, but by developing and maintaining a collection and instructing users in the resources available; and we do it usually within the twenty minutes allotted for trial recess. Court house libraries operate under the time pressure of the court rules and over-scheduled attorneys.

More members of the public are coming to the public access law libraries to prepare cases that do not fit within the standardized forms created for the most frequently issues for self-represented litigants. These users are issue driven and do not want to spend the time learning legal research. They want to be given the answer. Since it takes a set amount of time to describe how to use the West’s key digest system, reference productivity can only be increased by automating the more basic knowledge of legal reference. Public access law libraries need to be redesigned to help new users.

People hate being handed a book on legal research, but if they could touch a flat screen that led through the process of how to use the codes and digests, they would be thrilled. I have tried hand-outs and people toss them aside. Once a patron sees a librarian, they want personal service. Harsh as it sounds, I think we need to de-emphasize personal interaction in reference encounters.

Court house librarians need to develop more on-line guides that describe how to how the law library and rely less upon individual personal service. The problem will be designing these portals to appeal to users. AALL has some very good guides on its web site, but I have never seen a new patron with a print-out from that website. AALL is not an obvious source for litigants. I think these instructional portals will have to be on court websites; the courts take the access to justice initiatives seriously and would appreciate our contributions.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

It's always interesting to look at the issue from the point of view of a different type of library! Our students would also be thrilled with a touch screen portal. I don't know how well they would learn from that format. There are several online guides about how to do research, both through CALI and individual libraries. It would be interesting to test how much a student learns from these guides that can be transferred successfully to a practice setting! aha! a new research project for somebody!