Public Law Libraries

Public Law Libraries

Laurie Selwyn (Retired Law Librarian, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch482
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Background

Public law libraries have been defined variously as “government sponsored law libraries…[that] exist primarily to meet the needs of judges, lawyers, and government officials” (Panella, 1991, p. 6); libraries whose “…principle function is to serve a relatively open clientele” (Kent & Daily, 1975, p. 96); and libraries “…with a statutory or institutional mandate to provide the public and/or self-represented litigant access to legal resource material” (Selwyn & Eldridge, 2013, p. 2). The average person tends to think the public law library is the public library while the legal professional’s definition is likely to be that of a building or room housing “…a collection of legal resources purchased by a government agency or department for use by legal professionals, elected officials, jail inmates…” (Selwyn & Eldridge, 2013, pp. 1-2).

Law library history plays a major role in the way these libraries operate today. Although colonists kept government records in the form of ledgers and court documents as early as the 1700s (Murray, 2009, p. 141), law libraries did not begin forming until the 1800s. Originally established as anthenaeum, society, court or association libraries, they have evolved into libraries specializing in legal information on the federal, state, county, municipal, academic, public, and association levels (Brock, 1974). Available to the public, these libraries may be open to all residents in a particular jurisdiction or limited to those self-represented patrons with active cases in a specific court.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Public Law Libraries: Libraries providing access to legal resources purchased with public funds for use by the public, legal professionals, elected officials, jail inmates and government or agency employees.

Access to Justice Project: Established by the United States Department of Justice in 2010, this program works with the federal, state, local and tribal justice systems to provide the public with increased access to legal assistance and legal information.

Self-Represented Litigants: Those individuals representing themselves in a legal action without the assistance of an attorney.

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