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Moving a law library, maintaining accessibility

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What could have been a tragic end to a law library in central Indiana at the end of 2009 will be a new beginning in 2010.

The Marion County Law Library, which had been located in the City-County Building, closed its doors due to budget cuts Dec. 31. But in early 2010, some of the materials from that law library will be moved to the Central Branch of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library just a few blocks away in downtown Indianapolis, 40 E. St. Clair St., the court announced.

The IMCPL will be more convenient to most users, said Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch, who has been a key player in the decision to partner with IMCPL. Judge Welch has served as the supervising judge for the county's law library and currently serves as the civil term chairperson.

Library patrons will not be restricted to the operational hours of the City-County Building, which is closed on weekends, and will have easier access to parking in the library's underground garage, she added.

The central library's regular hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. The courthouse law library hours were 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Judge Welch said it was through a friend of hers on the library foundation board for IMCPL that she was able to get in touch with chief executive officer Laura Bramble and discuss possibilities for the law library. That happened in October 2009 when she first learned the court's budget wouldn't cover the library.

The partnership will include access to the law library's materials at the central branch, as well as training for librarians to have an increased awareness of the Indiana Supreme Court's Web site for pro se litigants, which will be accessible via computers at the various library branch locations.

When it comes to updating materials, which will be costly depending on what will be updated, Bramble said the library will work with the court in the future to determine the best way to do this. She said the library might ask members of the library foundation for their support, as well.

Those who reference the materials at the public library will also have access to brochures, free Internet access via a computer and wireless Internet connection, printer and copier services, and a copy of a DVD specifically for pro se litigants.

Bramble also planned to work with Judge Welch on access to courthouse staff, knowing that the law library's librarian would be able to call others in the courthouse for help with forms if there were any questions that came up on a regular basis.

Part of the training for IMCPL librarians will include knowing the difference between helping someone and unauthorized practice of law, Judge Welch and Bramble both said.

"We're not lawyers, so we can't help them fill out their forms," Bramble said, "but we can help them find the forms online."

She added that librarians at the branch libraries will also need a basic understanding of how the Supreme Court's pro se Web site works, but added many of the librarians already know due to past requests for help from patrons.

For those who go to the City-County Building looking for legal materials or are already there for a case, Judge Welch said there will be a pro se center with pamphlets and other materials for pro se litigants.

She said the typical pro se litigant who used the law library had a family law issue such as divorce, paternity, custody, or child support, and that information will still be accessible at the City-County Building but more materials will be available at the public library.

There are also other law libraries in the area, including Ruth Lilly Law Library at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis, which is open to the public but most of its materials must be viewed in the library (http://indylaw.indiana.edu/library/); and the Indiana State Library at 315 W. Ohio St. in Indianapolis also has some reference materials that might be valuable for legal research.

Around the state, other county law libraries continue to operate.

The Vanderburgh County Law Library was recently praised in the Evansville Bar Association's November 2009 newsletter by EBA President Shawn Sullivan.

Sullivan wrote about using the library when he recently needed to look up the 1933 version of a statute to compare it to the current one.

That information wasn't available through his firm's online resources, but he was able to find it at the law library with the help of law librarian Helen Reed, who has been with the library since 1985.

He added that the law library was one of the EBA's original goals when it was established in 1911, and that dues from the EBA's members still support the library by helping to fund the Vanderburgh Law Library Foundation, founded in 1982.

The St. Joseph County Law Library's budget was slashed a few years ago by the county, but the library is still open. St. Joseph County Bar Association executive director Amy McGuire helps run the library, but she is limited to what she can do because of her other duties and because she is only there part-time. The library is open the same hours as the courthouse.

McGuire said she still sees a number of pro se litigants use the library's materials, but that the library also serves as a meeting place for lawyers, and she has seen lawyers and court staff visit the library to look up information during trials.

She added that when the budget was significantly cut a few years ago, the materials could not be updated. But after hearing a number of complaints, she and attorneys on the bar association's board decided to raise the membership dues to cover updates for the most-used materials.

She has referred patrons to Notre Dame Law School's library, which is also open to the public.

While Bramble said she was sad to hear about the law library closing in Marion County, she said the partnership was a natural fit because library patrons were already asking reference librarians for help with legal issues on a daily basis. In fact, reference librarians would frequently refer patrons to the law library at the courthouse.

"It has given a lot of great service to the residents of Marion County, and there is a great need for this service," she said. "We'll get a substantial portion of the collection and it will help our patrons. ... No staff will be devoted only to those materials, but ... in the future, Judge Welch and I will be working together to enhance the library staff's ability to handle questions and to help the citizens who need that sort of help."

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