I was recently accepted to present research on law librarianship and self-represented litigants at a library and information sciences symposium next year. I’ve already started reading more academic research on legal self-help centers and law libraries, but I also like searching for background info in older news articles and archived web content.
That’s how I stumbled on this older article from The Daily Report highlighting the tireless work of law librarian Laureen Kelly in Albany, Georgia. The article does a great job showing the emotional stress that can come along with being a public law librarian, and the desperation that many self-represented litigants go through while trying to find affordable legal help.
The family spent about 45 minutes in the library, including most of what would have been Kelly’s half hour off for lunch. She even gave her purple grapes to the little boy, taking time to wash them first.
Kelly said the family was typical of the people served by the law library, one of the busiest of about 10 legal help centers funded by court fees and run by local governments.
Law librarians like Kelly are working to fill the gap between the need for legal services and the lack of access to attorneys, particularly in rural communities like those surrounding Albany in deep South Georgia, according to Michael Monahan, pro bono director for Georgia Legal Services.
Rural communities are hit especially hard by a lack of access to legal assistance, and it seems Kelly’s library in Albany gets visits from neighboring Georgia counties. In addition, the article points out that the local legal aid organizations were already overloaded with cases, so the rejected would-be clients flock to the law library for free help and resources.
My plan is to try and speak with Kelly to see if this need has increased, decreased, or remained stable throughout the years since this article was written. It would also be interesting to find out whether any tools or resources have been developed to ease Kelly’s workload (the article notes that, like many county employees, she has not received a raise since she started working for the law library). Unfortunately, it sounds like legal aid lawyers aren’t the only underpaid and overworked law grads.