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Friday, May 4, 2012

For the Love of a (good) Law Librarian

The other day I was confronted with a situation in my profession which, at one time, was an oddity (but is, seemingly, becoming more common).  Seems a county law librarian had quit her position as the Director and in her place the board of trustees (who are usually a bunch of judges and hereinafter identified as "BOT") installed a person who had previously served as a mere clerk at said law library.  No legal education to speak of.  No experience leading a law library.  Nope - just grabbed a warm body (so to speak) and now she's a director of a law library.

What is the problem with this?  I'll tell you what the problem is.  The problem is that this person doesn't know the difference between an annotated code and a non-annotated code.  She doesn't know the ALR (American Law Reports) from CCP (California Code of Civil Procedure).  She couldn't find her way out of the S.Ct. (Supreme Court Reports) to find the CJS (Corpus Juris Secundum) if her life depended on it.  Of course all of these abbreviations stand for standard legal resources but what does the BOT care?  They just want a babysitter of books!  Who cares that the rank and file of the public know even less than this newly installed director does about law.  Who cares that the people of that county don't know a code from a regulation.  Who cares?!  Well, the BOT should, that's who.

For instance, say a person were to come into the law library looking for a motion to set-aside a default judgment.  A seasoned law librarian would immediately take that person to (or suggest they look at) California Forms of Pleading and Practice (Lexis) or California Civil Procedure Before Trial (CEB) or Younger on California Motions (West) as well as have them take a gander at West's Annotated California Codes (if, in fact said person was in California).

If, on the other hand, all you had was a mere babysitter of books, your patrons (i.e. users of library materials) would soon be lost and frustrated because most people (and many attorneys are included in this mix) don't know the index from the table of contents.  In no short order library patrons will stop coming to the library because they can't find anything.  Soon, because no one goes to the law library any more, the judges will close the library and pocket the money in their collective pension funds (that or the state will find a way to waste in on some inane program).

Another reason the BOT should care is that without Law Librarians who know how to help pro se litigants (i.e. persons representing themselves), you're going to have increasing clogged courts dealing with people who really, REALLY don't know what they're doing.  The result, of which will be increasingly frustrated opposing counsel, frustrated judges (who will have to teach pro se litigants what is going on), frustrated court clerks (who have to check the same poorly filled out forms over and over), and a ill trained court staff having to teach the basics to we the people all because the Law Librarian was taken out of the picture.

Yep, eliminate the law librarians (i.e. the people who are actually available to help "we the people" find legal resources) and soon enough free law libraries will be a thing of the past.  The only way people will be able to get anything done is by relying on an attorney and hoping they don't get taken to the cleaners. Replace law librarians with persons who have no legal acumen and law libraries will soon become dusty, old monuments to stodgy judges and attorneys who thrive on an ignorant population (to be fair, not all attorneys are nasty but if they all were great, there wouldn't be so many lawyer jokes).

So, if you want your public county law library to go the way of the dodo, do nothing and let the judges and stodgy politicians have their way.  If, on the other hand, you value truth, justice, and the ability to coherently strings two sentences together, stand up and take a stand against oppressive, stodgy judges/politicians and demand that they provide a public county law library (and law library staff) that can act as a bell weather against ignorance and complacency.

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