A Brief Note on Librarianship & Information

The library school semester officially started this week, and I’m already swimming in textbooks and articles to read. I switched to part-time status in order to give myself more time to absorb the huge onslaught of information, while also maintaining a healthy work-school-life balance.

As I was reading the Hack Library School blog this morning, I came across a quote that really stood out:

“…librarianship is not about facts, about knowing everything about libraries and information. It’s about a way of thinking about information, a way of processing it, and organizing it, and pulling it together.”

I found this to be really encouraging. Often when I help students at my main law library job, they assume I already know everything there is to know about every single state & federal law and regulation. While this is flattering, it certainly isn’t true! But through librarianship, I am learning how to carefully and systematically approach all the varied types of reference questions and offer guidance that fits each unique situation. That quote is 100% correct, in my view – librarianship is the art of processing and organizing information.

Looking forward to another LIS semester!

Law Libraries in ICE Detention Centers

I’m in the middle of my summer internship with the Law Library of Congress. Among other duties, I’ve been working on compiling immigration law resources. I came across this article, and thought it had some interesting tidbits. From the Centre Daily Times (Pennsylvania):

Standards of care

ICE has created detention standards that state the basics of care needed at every facility housing detainees. Some of the standards include access to medical care, telephones, language translation services, and a law library.

According to Wadhia, access to a law library is important for non-citizens to prepare their cases, as they often have to navigate their cases alone.

“Eighty-four percent of all detained immigrants navigate the removal process without a lawyer,” Wadhia said. “It is a lot harder to get legal assistance and help when you are incarcerated.” In Pennsylvania, reports by Trac immigration have shown a history of an overwhelming majority of people who are detained proceed to immigration court without representation.

ICE Detainees

I took a look at the Access to Legal Material section of the ICE Detention Standards, and learned that most self-represented ICE detainees are on their own in the law library. I found no clear mandate requiring an actual law librarian on the premises. If the detainee needs assistance, the facilities are tasked with “establishing procedures to meet this obligation.” This language implies a large amount of variation in enforcement across the 200+ ICE detention facilities, an issue also exacerbated by two other sets of standards in addition to the one mentioned in the PA article above.

The above policy is part of the 2000 National Detention Standards. It explicitly encourages detainees to assist other “illiterate or non-English speaking” detainees, but places no official responsibility on ICE employees or affiliates to provide direct law library assistance. I, for one, would be proud to volunteer at an ICE detention center and provide law library assistance, but these facilities are notoriously secretive about their practices and who they allow inside.



Round-Up: What I’m Reading

Can a dormant proposed constitutional amendment come back to life? from the National Constitution Center

The Law and Police Searches from Et. Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library

Why Prison Libraries Matter for Inmates, Jailers, and Book Donors from ilovelibraries, a publication of the American Library Association

An Academic Librarian-Mother in Six Stories from In the Library with the Lead Pipe

Legal Matters: Landlord may have legal knowledge, but verdict can still go tenant’s way from the Carroll County Times

Dovey Johnson Roundtree, defense lawyer and civil rights warrior, dies at 104 from The Washington Post

How can we fight to reduce bias? 6th circuit judge shares her thoughts (podcast) from the ABA Journal’s Modern Law Library




Illinois Legal Aid Online Debuts Re-designed Self-Help Center Pages

Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) recently re-designed their directory of legal self-help centers. Site users in need of legal help should now be able to better understand what each center does and doesn’t offer.

The ILAO network includes 173 legal self-help center (LSHC) locations in 99 counties, and they organized the information on the site in a way that can be replicated in other states. An ILAO report notes that they started the redesign last year by conducting user studies on what matters most to potential LSHC users – wonder if this means it was all self-represented litigants or if there were other user groups as well.

Either way, the site’s organization looks great – click the pic below to visit:


started this work by conducting two users studies in 2017 to determine what matters most to potential LSHC users. This study showed that users were interested in the following (listed in descending order of importance):

  1. Referrals for local legal help;
  2. Paper court forms;
  3. “Lawyer in the Library” programs;
  4. People to answer general questions about going to court;
  5. Computers;
  6. Wireless internet; and
  7. Brochures or packets with legal information.

The study also showed that users consider the location type (library, courthouse), type of resources offered, hours of operation, website, phone number, address, and map of location when looking for a LSHC. ILAO used this information to re-design our LSHC homepages using a hotel-style amenities model – which provides potential customers with an easy-to-understand list of a hotel’s features – and makes it easy for users to see what types of resources are available at each self-help center before they visit the center in person. Each LSHC location page features the following standard information (for example, see the Palestine Public Library District LSHC page):


  1. Icons that represent the services available at that location, with brief descriptions of each
    service next to the icons;
  2. Address, hours, phone number, and website;
  3. A clickable map that links to directions and other geolocation help;
  4. A list of amenities that are not available at the location;
  5. An option to share the page via social media;
  6. A list of “common legal issues” (which link to resources that local stakeholders have identified as common for that location);
  7. Information to indicate the cost of printing or scanning and, if the location has navigators, the hours that navigation assistance is available; and
  8. A legal self-help center description.

The ABA Legal Fact Check Site is Pretty Awesome

The ABA Legal Fact Check** website takes current events (mass shootings, Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, presidential/congressional speeches/quotes/tweets, the #metoo movement, flag burning, etc.) and uses cases and statutory law to “separate legal fact from fiction”.

ABA Legal Fact Check


I think it’s a fun take on the bizarre issue of “alternative facts”. I’ve advised my family and friends to use it next time someone tells them it’s treason to not support a president *eyeroll*.

I also think websites like this are a great way to package legal information for non-lawyers. There’s no bulky legalese – it’s written in plain language with an informal tone. As fast as information travels, it’s comforting to have a home base where “facts” are vetted through cases and statutory law.

**I found this through the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) listserv.

Round-Up: What I’m Reading

How Do We Engage with Ideas that Make Us Uncomfortable from the RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Digital Divides and Justice Gaps from Ex Libris Juris, a blog publication for the Harris County Law Library

Legal Reference for Public Libraries from the Maryland State Law Library

2013 National Self-Help in Libraries Survey by the Self-Represented Litigation Network’s Library Working Group

Law Libraries Serving Self-Represented Litigants from the 2015 Trends, National Center for State Courts e-Collection

The Sustainable 21st Century Law Library: Vision, Deployment, and Assessment for Access to Justice by Richard Zorza


Resource Highlight: Arizona’s Handbook for Self-Represented Litigants

I came across this helpful guide through the Self-Represented Litigation Network‘s listserv. I think it’s well-written, concise, and clear, so I wanted to save a copy here on the blog.

I’m actually not sure if any actual law librarians worked on this, but I’d imagine it’s incredibly useful at legal self-help centers. I really like that the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona keeps their online PDF version protected behind a “Terms and Conditions of Use” statement.

Click the photo below to access the handbook:


Yale, Cornell Law’s A2J Lawbrarians Launch Global Online Access to Legal Information Project (GOALI)

The Global Online Access to Legal Information project (GOALI) will provide universities, nonprofits, judges, and others in low- and middle-income countries access to law journals, e-books, and databases with a focus on international law, human rights, humanitarian law, and labor law.

Recipients within the 115 selected countries have not had previous access to these materials, and this is the first time licensed legal content will be available to these institutions in developing countries. GOALI currently provides access to more than 10,000 legal titles from 60 different publishers. The Yale and Cornell Law librarians will be in charge of curating the content and training users.

From Law.com:

The initiative, Cadmus said, “will promote access to justice by removing the economic and technological barriers to proprietary legal information in developing economies around the world.”

Students, researchers, judges, librarians, policymakers, and labor groups may request access to GOALI. If they are approved and come from a low-income nation, as defined by the UN, they will get free access to GOALI content. Users from middle-income nations pay a nominal fee.

I’m excited to see academic law librarians working on improving access to justice and legal information for low-income communities!

More info on GOALI


Madison County Law Library (IL) Receives Grant to Expand & Coordinate Services for Self-Represented Litigants

The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Civil Justice Division recently awarded grants to eight circuits, including Madison and Bond counties. The larger Madison County will be using the $15,000 grant to expand their services into Bond County.

In addition to adding computer terminals, Madison County’s A2J lawbrarian Angela Warta will be coordinating between seven counties in Illinois to help the growing number of self-represented litigants in the state. Warta will be bridging communications and partnerships between Illinois courthouses so they can swap ideas, create new tools and resources, and establish programs for assisting self-represented litigants.

It’s really inspiring to see law librarians working with courthouses, lawyers, a2j commissions, and government agencies to come up with best practices for serving self-represented litigants. Read the full article on The Telegraph.


Harris County Law Library Expands Services for Low-Income Houstonians

I’m a proud Houston native, so I was especially thrilled to read this announcement.

Joseph Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library, shared a press release announcing extended “Library Booth” hours for self-represented litigants. The booth is staffed by local pro bono attorneys. Full press release below:

HVL Announces Expanded Pro Se Program at County Law Library
Houston Volunteer Lawyers (HVL), a service of the Houston Bar Association, has announced the expansion of its pro se assistance program at the Harris County Law Library, located at 1019 Congress in downtown. Beginning today, the “Library Booth,” as it is commonly known, will be open five days a week, from 9:00 a.m. until noon and from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. The booth previously was open only during the morning hours. Pro se litigants will be served on a first come, first served basis during the hours the booth is open.
The Library Booth provides legal information to individuals who are representing themselves, primarily in family law matters such as divorce and custody modification. In 2017, the program helped 1,457 people.
“Because of the incredible demand for assistance to self-represented litigants, we are pleased to offer expanded opportunities for help,” said Alistair Dawson, president of the Houston Bar Association. “We believe the extended hours will benefit the courts and the administration of justice, as well as the pro se litigants.”
Along with a senior HVL staff attorney and a paralegal, attorneys on rotation from different Houston law firms volunteer their time to help the pro se litigants. HVL also is looking into expanding other aspects of its pro se divorce program, including monthly divorce clinics and paid internships to assist pro se litigants with completing documents and forms such as petitions, final decrees, civil process requests and civil answers.
In addition to the Library Booth, HVL has an office on the 17th floor of the Civil Courthouse, 201 Caroline, to answer questions from pro se litigants from 8:30 a.m. until noon and from 1:00-2:00 p.m.
Houston Volunteer Lawyers is a service of the Houston Bar Association. The HBA, with nearly 11,000 members, provides professional development, education, and service programs for the legal profession and the community.