Helping Library Users with Legal Questions
Practical Advice for Research, Programming, and Outreach
by Deborah A. Hamilton
July 2021, 193pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Libraries Unlimited

Paperback: 978-1-4408-7200-6
$60, £47, 53€, A83
Please contact your preferred distributor for pricing.
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-7201-3
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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.

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 themself. 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
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).


"This guide would be helpful to anyone who provides reference services, especially those new to legal reference."—Library Journal, October 1, 2021

"Anyone who wants to be a better librarian or who trains new reference staff on challenges such as these should get this book!"—Public Libraries, February 1, 2022

"Deborah A. Hamilton’s new book sheds light on the access to justice crisis in the American legal system and illustrates valuable strategies for how libraries can help."—Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship, December 31, 2021

"This excellent handbook is confidently recommended for any public library without specialized legal-research librarians on staff. Most academic librarians will find it a worthwhile purchase as well."—Booklist, March 25, 2022

"As the justice gap continues to grow nationwide, more and more people are seeking free or inexpensive but still reliable legal aid. From policy to practice, print to partnerships, Hamilton demystifies the elements of legal information services for public libraries and encourages us to establish or expand our already existing programs in ways that are appropriate, cost-effective, and sustainable and that will better meet the growing legal needs in our communities. I am looking forward to implementing her advice."—April L. Martin, Adult Services Librarian/Regional Manager at New Orleans Public Library

"Many librarians are conditioned to shy away from assisting people with legal research, but Hamilton’s book demystifies this important area of public service. Not only does she cover how to assist people with legal research, but she also covers why public libraries should provide assistance with legal resources."—John Spears, Chief Librarian and CEO, Pikes Peak Library District
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