Guidelines for General Materials



This page will give suggestions for publications of a more general nature. These are not meant to address specific state or federal questions, and should be used in conjunction with the state or federal materials (depending upon the question asked) that you have.

The minimum materials of a general nature that a public library should carry include a legal directory, some type of legal encyclopedia, several high quality self-help legal books (including one on legal research), and any research guides you can garner from local public law libraries or legal service offices. Also, if there is a legal research guide specific to your state, you should purchase that as well, not only for for your patrons, but for pointers to any good state specific practice materials.

A set that would be very nice to have, but more expensive would be a forms book set. These are discussed in the state section of this toolkit.

Costs are classified as follows: $=under 100, $$=101-250, $$$=251-500, $$$$=501-1000, $$$$$=1001+, and unless otherwise noted, cost information relates to the new, print version.


TITLE: Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th ed. St. Paul, MN, 1990. West Group.

This is the standard in the legal field. Many of the definitions are annotated with citations to cases and states.


NOTES: Remember that although this is annotated, your patrons should not take those annotations as the state of the law under a particular definition because the cases/statutes listed may not be from a court/state that governs their situation.

TITLE: Law Dictionary for Nonlawyers. Daniel Oran. 3rd ed. St. Paul, MN., 1991 West Group.

DESCRIPTION: This is a compact, unannotated dictionary geared towards the lay person.


OTHER DICTIONARIES ON THE INTERNET: There are a coulple of legal dictionary on the internet, although not Black’s Law Dictionary. Try or


DESCRIPTION: There are two main legal encyclopedias, American Jurisprudence 2d, and Corpus Juris Secundum. Both may be cost and space prohibitive for a public library. Another option may be West Encyclopedia of American Law published by the Gale Group.


INTERNET: There is a law encyclopedia at the Electric Law Library site and also another at the Nolo site, but they don’t have as comprehensive of treatment as the bigger paper sets.

CD-ROM: American Jurisprudence is available on CD-ROM from the West Group.

RESEACH NOTES: Legal Encyclopedias are by nature a general type of source, and a patron may still need to consult the primary sources (be they federal or state) to make sure that there aren’t more specific requirements they may need to meet that aren’t contained in the encyclopedia.


DESCRIPTION: Self-help legal books can be a lifesaver to a public library reference librarian. An appropriate self-help legal book will put valuable information in a clear, easy to read format, and give citations to the primary sources of cases, statutes, and regulations.

There is a excellent publisher of self-help legal books that you are probably already familiar with called Nolo Press, Their books are reasonably priced, and mostly written by attorneys who will point out what parts of a situation a patron can handle on their own, and for which parts they may need to consult an attorney. Topics cover everything from Estate Planning to Dog Law. There is one specifically on legal research. They also have a stolen book replacement policy, due to the popularity of their books.

A good reference to help you select self-help legal books is Law for the Layperson: An Annotated Bibliography of Self-Help Law Books 2nd ed. Jean McKnight, Rothman and Co. 1997. It divides the self help books by topic and state, so you can easily see the available materials for your area.


DESCRIPTION: The best known directory for finding attornies is Martindale Hubbell. It separates attorney listings by state and has a volume on areas of practice. It has a section for corporate listings, and bar organizations.

COST: $$$$

INTERNET: Martindale Hubbell is available on the internet at Currently, searching is free (click on Lawyer Locator) and you can search by practice area or geographic region, which is very nice

West’s Legal Directory is another directory for attorneys that is available on the internet.

RESEARCH TIP: Patrons often are looking for ratings of attorneys. The Martindale Hubbell has a ranking system where it ranks attorneys according to legal ability and adherance to professional standards. Check in the front of a hard bound volume to see the explanation of the rankings. This ranking is not available through the internet. The Best Lawyers In America ($$) is also an excellent source to refer patrons who are looking for ratings of attorneys. For ordering information send email to Woodward/White Publishing at or call (803) 648-0300.

Martindale Hubbell does not list every attorney – so if your patron has a question whether someone is a member of the bar, it would be better to check a local attorney directory or call the local bar association.


DESCRIPTION: There may be a legal research guide available for your state. The title would be something
like Guide to Georgia Legal Research and Legal History or The Connecticut Legal Resarch Handbook. A public law library near you could tell you if there is one published for your state.


INTERNET: There are a few places on the internet where there are research guides. These are generally written by legal reference librarians, and cover a wide variety of topics. Try those located at the American Association of Law Libraries site; Northern California Association of Law Libraries:, or at University of San Diego at . As well, NOLO Press ( has some great topical legal guides listed under the heading Legal Encyclopedia.


DESCRIPTION: Sometimes it is helpful to have some hints about the best materials to carry as a public library – which is one of the reasons this toolkit was created. In addition to the sources listed in the Collection Development section of this toolkit, don’t forget the helpful book listed earlier called Law for the Layperson: An Annotated Bibliography of Self-Help Law Books (Rothman), listed under the book section of this page.

INTERNET: Whenever you are trying to select materials for your collection, it is helpful to have a handle on the publishers in the area. There is a acquisitions site on the internet that lists internet sites for legal publishers. It is at

RESEARCH TIP: Don’t forget to utilize the reference desk at your public law library. Call the reference desk and ask them for their recommendations as to what types of materials patrons use the most. They will be able to make state specific recommendations.