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 was 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. There are some paper resources to check as well, including the Directory of Pro Bono Programs, published by the ABA Center for Pro Bono.


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.


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.