This fall, Pro Bono Net is producing four national training webinars for public and public law librarians about free, online resources for people with legal needs. The Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series kicks off this Thursday, Sept. 13, with an overview of the legal information needs among low-income Americans and why libraries are essential partners in access to justice.
Additional topics in the series will include training on free legal information and self-help tools developed by the nonprofit legal aid community, referral resources for patrons looking for a lawyer, and successful models for legal-aid library collaborations to connect people with legal information.
Pro Bono Net is producing the series in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN), and with funding from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program. The series builds on groundwork laid by the 2010 Public Libraries and Access to Justice Conference hosted by the National Center for State Courts, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, and the Legal Services Corporation.
Why a training series for libraries? Today, legal aid programs are serving more clients with fewer resources and courts are struggling to help more people access self-help assistance. At the same time, many low-income individuals are turning to libraries to access online information, complete legal forms, and seek assistance with problems that have a legal dimension. According to a 2009 American Library Association study, “More people…are turning to libraries to file unemployment forms, apply for Food Stamps or find other government information or services. Eighty percent of libraries report helping patrons connect with government information and services online.”
For libraries, statewide legal aid websites available through LawHelp.org are essential tools in helping patrons understand the nature of their legal issue and how to access services. Through statewide websites, libraries are able to offer their patrons credible, attorney-reviewed, state-specific resources. Many statewide websites also provide court information, self-help forms, and multilingual content for LEP library patrons.
For legal aid programs, library systems provide a network for information dissemination that legal services programs simply cannot match on their own. Libraries are often the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their community. Many libraries also provide computer training, help navigating websites, and printing options, all of which benefit patrons with legal needs. Librarians also can help ensure that those who are not able to be served by legal aid are aware of self-help resources and alternative services.
Why is Pro Bono Net involved in this area? As part of our program support, Pro Bono Net works to increase awareness of and access to LawHelp.org, LawHelp Interactive and related resources, facilitate collaboration and involvement by new partners, and support innovative, replicable models for bridging the justice gap. As free, equitable access points to information, government institutions, and computing resources, libraries are key partners in that effort.
The webinar series is free, and attendees are welcome to join for the entire series or attend individual webinars on topics of interest. Please help us spread the word to libraries in your area!