Public librarians are faced with a myriad of questions. Some of these inquiries become tricky when they are medical or legal in nature. This post will highlight a few legal resources that may help you find answers for your patrons. Some may be familiar, such as Nolo.com and your local county court website, but hopefully there are others that will be useful. Sometimes patrons want the librarian to be able to definitively answer them, or tell them how to approach their legal problem. As you already know, the reference interview can reveal a complex legal situation that is too hard to answer and requires an attorney’s expertise. I work at a law library, and though we have more legal resources than public libraries, we cannot provide patrons with “legal advice” either. It’s best to be upfront about what the limits are, offer what help you can, or refer them to a law library or attorney referral service in your area. Here are some additional resources that can help:
- Google Scholar : Public libraries often do not subscribe to big legal databases like Westlaw, so this is a great way for patrons to find legal cases in the library and at home. Just click on the “Case law” button to ensure relevant material is found. You can also narrow your search to specific states and courts.
- U.S. Supreme Court Website: Is a patron interested in the Hobby Lobby case? It can be found here. Just go to Opinions > Latest Slip Opinions. Does a patron need a case from the United States Reports multivolume set? Volumes 502-554 can be found online, here. (Please note, only the print version is considered the “official” opinion.)
- Code of Federal Regulations: Some law libraries do have this in print, but if not, the e-CFR is available. The annual editions, from 1996-2014, are also available online.National Attorney Search: Martindale Hubbell has a nationwide attorney search, but also check on the state bar association website in your state.
- Legislative History: This can be a complicated process, and is done “to demonstrate the intent of the Legislature when it passed the law.”1Try these websites:
- Federal Legislative History
- California Legislative History
There are many more legal resources out there, but hopefully these provided you with some extra paths to try when assisting patrons with legal questions.
For further reading:
- California Legislative History, Sacramento County Public Law Library .
- Finding California Legislative History, USF School of Law Research Guide .