“Tinkering” with the Law: Imagining Law Library Makerspaces

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It’s been a while since my last blog post! I’ve been focusing on getting through my LIS program (I’m halfway done) and learning as much as I can in my job as an academic law librarian.

I’m currently writing a paper for my Library Management class on planning law library facilities as makerspaces. A makerspace, for those unfamiliar, is “a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools“.

The beautiful thing about makerspaces is that they exist to foster an entrepreneurial spirit. Users are encouraged to use their senses – whether it be touch, sight, hearing, etc. – to create something new or innovative in a low pressure or even playful environment.

Law libraries aren’t exactly playful, but I do believe there’s room for makerspaces. At law schools, many students have dreams of opening their own solo practice or starting a new non-profit. A makerspace could provide them with an incubator to begin creating their new business. Public law libraries could market self-help centers as makerspaces to empower pro se litigants and encourage them to learn hands-on how to approach legal issues.

I especially love the idea of a makerspace that encourages patrons to tinker with the status quo of legal systems and services. As the definition above notes, a makerspace doesn’t have to include high-tech tools. Possible equipment in law library makerspaces include bulk scanners for legal digitization projects, video equipment to film workshops or clinical student diaries, or other tools. Even a regular study room with a laptop, whiteboard, and dry erase markers can be transformed into a makerspace. There could also be fun ways to use traditional makerspace equipment that public libraries use; for instance, a law library makerspace could provide building blocks with customizable labels to represent different units of government or stakeholders in a legal issue. As long as the patrons are using that space collaboratively to create something, it counts! That “something” could be an idea for a new legal app, legal services clinic, or student pro bono effort.

A makerspace could provide a location for law library patrons to dissect the legal system, bit by bit, and rebuild it however they’d like. Powerful stuff! As a public-service-minded law student a few years ago, I often felt powerless in law school. I felt that little of the case law, statutes, and regulations I studied protected vulnerable or marginalized populations. My friends and I were often left to lament the inequality of the law on our own or in our respective student orgs. A makerspace could empower law students who felt as I did to take control of the law and shift their perspectives to one of adaptation and innovation, rather than frustration and helplessness. Non-lawyers at public law libraries may feel this way as well, but there could be a disconnect since they may not be taking courses to supplement and support the ideas being raised.

I’ll continue to think about this topic, and I’ll share my paper if it’s allowed!

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:

ILAO

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:

Photo

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.