Sometimes, what patrons really need is more than you can give.
The best thing to do is to admit this. You can help lead a
patron to a source - you can even read that source information
to a patron - but you should not interpret the information.
You cannot interpret what the legislature what trying to say
with that confusing statute, and you cannot give someone
legal advice on what to do in their situation...you can
only suggest sources that will answer their questions. Sometimes
though, people's questions are so complicated, that a single
source, or many sources won't help them out. They may need legal
advice, or more in-depth information than your library may carry.
In this case, there are other resources you should be familiar with to
help your patrons, including local legal and library referral options.
- Become familiar with the services of your state Bar Association. Sometimes they
may have programs where people can meet with an attorney for free
or they may have a referral service where people can meet with attorneys
for a reduced rate.
- There is a listing of legal services programs, and lawyer
referral services on the
American Bar Association web site. Some paper resources to check are
the Directory of Pro Bono Programs, published by the ABA Center for Pro Bono
(312-988-5789) or the Directory of Legal Aid and Defender Offices in the United
States and Territories published by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
LEGAL AID/LEGAL SERVICES
- Check out which services there are for low income patrons. Do you
have a Legal Services or Legal Aid? What type of clients will they
take? Keep a listing of phone numbers by the reference desk of available
legal aid/legal service centers.
PUBLIC LAW LIBRARIES
- Don't forget to use your public law library as a resource. They may
have some specialized materials that may answer your patrons questions.
Since librarians are generally a very congenial group, also don't forget to
call for help with reference questions that you may not be able to answer.
The American Association of Law Libraries
is the national organization for law libraries, and they publish a AALL Directory & Handbook,
which includes a state by state listing of member libraries. This directory is
available at the AALL website.
last updated August 14, 2006. Please send comments and suggestions to Lee Warthen