November 2012

“Librarians [are] very natural navigators.  That’s what they do, they help people figure out what resources they need to use, what medium they may need in order to move forward.” -Stacie Colston Patterson, Illinois Legal Aid Online.

November 2 marked the last of Pro Bono Net’s Libraries & Access to Justice Webinar Series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources.”  This webinar focused on five collaboration models throughout the country, including the technologies they use, the partners they engage, and what they’ve learned along the way.

Collaborations and Programming

Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator at Illinois Legal Aid Online, presented four partnership programs forged between the legal community and public libraries in Illinois.  This includes legal self help centers, which can be found in 99 of the 102 counties in Illinois, 80 of which are housed in public libraries. Another program, “Law at the Library” brings attorneys and judges through the Chicago Bar into Chicago Public Libraries for seminars on specific legal topics, which are then streamed and archived by Illinois Legal Aid Online. The final two programs focus on training librarians and cyber navigators (part time employees housed at libraries throughout Chicago to help patrons use library computers) on the online legal resources available to patrons, providing training opportunities for library staff, and additional collaboration opportunities.

Janine Liebert, Librarian for Programs and Partnerships at the LA Law Library spoke about four models used to collaborate with legal aid agencies.  These include topical legal information sessions in public libraries, answer clinics with self help centers in the libraries, traditional legal clinics, and access to justice via technology.  The subjects they cover vary widely and are responsive to the needs of their patrons, and have recently included debt collection, consumer law and veterans’ benefits.  These collaborative models provide access to legal information and referrals for patrons, serve as a focal point for joint outreach for legal aid agencies and libraries, serve as a means for early intervention for some patrons (allowing them to access mediation or deferred action programs), advocate the public library’s role in access to justice, and support the courts by providing self-represented litigants with information.

These services also include internal trainings, such as a recent CitizenshipWorks training the LA Law Library hosted for more than 50 public and law librarians.   Tony Lu, CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator, discussed this initiative and how librarians can use CitizenshipWorks.org to help residents become citizens.  CitizenshipWorks is an initiative that assists those seeking citizenship in understanding and navigating the naturalization process.  The Los Angeles Public Library system, in partnership with local naturalization service providers, is creating “Citizenship Corners” in each library branch; incorporating computer terminals featuring CitizenshipWorks into these Citizenship Corners will allow library patrons to use interactive tools to learn about the naturalization process, learn about their eligibility, and find legal help  In addition, libraries in Los Angeles are beginning to partner with citizenship service providers to conduct group processing workshops using CitizenshipWorks in their computer labs, where groups of people can be served by volunteers to complete their naturalization applications.


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