July 15, 2010
Public Law Libraries Have Value As Well
I wrote yesterday about public libraries and the need they fill for the average person as a way of showing their value to budget cutters. Law libraries, especially public law libraries, probably have even less publicity for the roles they fill. I came across this article, At Tarrant Law Library, Most Clients Are Regular People, in the Forth-Worth Star Telegram. It profiles less the Tarrant County Law Library than the people who use it. If I read it correctly, there are about 15,000 pro se patrons per year using the resources there. My library is in downtown Chicago and though we are an academic library, we are open to the public. We get our fair share of pro se patrons using the collection. Not the amount they get in Texas, but I can relate to the experience the article describes.
Library Director Sharon Wayland is quoted as saying patrons without a lawyer "have high expectations when they come in the door. And then they get shot down. It's not easy." She is referring, of course, to the fact that the staff can't offer legal advice, which is what most pro se patrons hope to get. The article notes in several of the interviews that the unrealistic expectations of a pro se patron sometimes leads to "loud arguments." The volume of patrons we help in Chicago does not lead to that result here most of the time. Nonetheless, it does happen every now and then, and it's always based on a false expectation of what types of help we can provide.
The fact is, law is hard. Not just for pro se's, but for lawyers and law students, if the questions at the reference desk are any indication. And it seems even harder for pro se's when there's a filing deadline looming. I can empathize with the Tarrant County librarians mentioned in the article. The approach is to help them as best as possible despite the limitations on what that help may be. It's nice to see a non-legal publication describe, even in a short article, how a public law library helps the public. [MG]