On my In Seclusion Podcast miniseries this week I’ve talked with government law librarians from across the country to see how they are continuing services through the shelter-in-place rules, and how they are preparing to reopen as states start to ease these restrictions. The common emotions are a mix of frustration and determination. One of the traits of librarians, especially those who serve the public directly, is that nothing should get in the way of access to justice and the open availability of government resources and information to those people who need it to protect their personal freedom and their property. But this pandemic is different. Whereas libraries have been seen as a safe haven for our communities, the physical closeness that comes with public libraries is now a threat to those communities. Unlike many businesses that can simply take a computer home and operate with little limitations, public libraries serve a group who struggle with technology, may not have technology at all, or may not even have a home to use the technology. All of these factors are discussed with the six law librarians I interviewed this week.
Monday, May 4th – Serving the Public’s Legal Information Needs During a Pandemic – Joe Lawson, Harris County Law Library
May 1st began phase one of the reopening efforts for the State of Texas. Governor Abbott’s order specifically lists libraries as one of the businesses which can open at a 25% capacity rate (and social distancing), but not all libraries are ready to open right away. I talk with Joe Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library about how he and the staff in Texas’ largest metropolitan area are preparing to open later this month, and how they are providing vital services to the courts, the bar, and the general public.
One of the bright spots of this pandemic, when it comes to the legal industry, is that many of us are realizing that the important thing we provide is tied to our services rather than our physical location. Law Librarians have been saying this for well over a decade, and now other parts of the industry are realizing that we are much more than an office in a tall building. Today I talk with Amy Small, Assistant Director of the Texas State Law Library, who is coordinating efforts across the state to provide services to a public who is in need. Amy sees the future of her services as being focused on how do we create services that focus on providing help to those who are far away.
Holly Riccio and I have a lot in common. We are both former Presidents of the American Association of Law Libraries, and we have worked in a variety of different types of law libraries over our careers. At the beginning of 2020, Holly became the Director at the California Judicial Center Library. In her five months there, half of her time has been spent working remotely. We discuss how the courts she supports have changed how they conduct their business, and how that has changed how her library changed their support for the courts.
The State of Georgia was one of the last states to restrict movement and one of the first states to announce plans for reopening for business. I talk with DeKalb County Law Librarian, Sarah Mauldin, about her experiences over the past two months as her county went into lockdown, and is now looking to gradually reopen.
Lucy Curci-Gonzalez is the Executive Director, and Emily Moog is Research Librarian for the New York Law Institute (NYLI). Late last year, NYLI updated its business continuity plans to include the possibility of a pandemic shutting down access to the physical location. This helped the staff and leadership navigate through the effects of the pandemic which hit New York City especially hard. Now they have created seven guidelines to help lead them back into the eventual reopening of services for the institute’s members.