Helping Library Users with Legal Questions

Practical Advice for Research, Programming, and Outreach

by Deborah A. Hamilton


An important tool for librarians who want to help solve the "justice gap," in which many patrons are representing themselves in court and need help with legal research.

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Cover image for Helping Library Users with Legal Questions

September 2020

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 135
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Reference and Information Services and Tools/Reference Tools, General
  Librarian's Instructional Role/Information Literacy and Instruction, College Level and Above
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Learn how to assist library patrons, including self-represented litigants, through legal research instruction, programming, and outreach.

According to the National Center for State Courts, in 76 percent of civil cases in the United States at least one of the parties represents him- or herself. As more people represent themselves in court, more are coming to the library to seek answers to legal questions.

Do you ever feel panicked when someone asks you a legal reference question? Are you are not sure where to look for information or how much information you can provide? What can libraries do to assist self-represented litigants? Deborah Hamilton began her career as a law librarian with no formal legal training. Now, not only does she help people with legal reference questions, but she also provides legal programming and outreach to the community.

Learn the difference between legal information and legal advice as well as how to connect with community groups who provide legal services. In this book, Hamilton teaches librarians how to teach themselves about legal research and resources, as well as offering practical ideas for types of legal programs and outreach that they can proactively offer patrons.


  • Get ideas for legal programming and outreach to assist patrons with legal questions
  • Know where to find free legal resources and how to research legal questions
  • Understand the difference between legal information and legal advice
  • Learn where to look for and how to connect with community groups who provide legal services
  • Understand the justice gap and the challenges that patrons face when they represent themselves
Author Info

Deborah A. Hamilton is the strategic services librarian who oversees the law collection at Pikes Peak Library District. She has served as president, vice president, and secretary for the Colorado Association of Law Libraries. She sits on the board of directors for the Pikes Peak Justice and Pro Bono Center, a nonprofit that provides free and low-cost legal services, and is a member of the Access to Justice Committee for Colorado's Fourth Judicial District. She has published in The Relevant Library: Essays on Adapting to Changing Needs and The Complete Guide to Using Google in Libraries: Instruction, Administration, and Staff Productivity (Volume 1).

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Reference and Information Services cover imageRecommended Reference Books for Small and Medium-Sized Libraries and Media Centers cover imageServing Those Who Served cover image

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