Even as legal research materials continue to migrate to online platforms, the Evansville legal community has rallied to save its county law library.
The future of the William H. Miller Law Library, which dates back to the early 1900s, was in doubt after its longtime librarian Helen Reed died unexpectedly in the spring. Data kept by Reed showed lawyers were no longer using the library as they once had but when closure became an option, they advocated to keep the venue open.
Last week, the Vanderburgh Law Library Foundation board assured the facility will continue by hiring Kathleen Weston as the new librarian. Her first day will be Sept. 5.
“I’m very excited to see where this goes,” said foundation board president Yvette LaPlante.
In researching all that Reed had been doing, the board realized the late librarian was providing tremendous assistance to the pro se litigants who were coming to the law library. Weston is expected to continue that role so along with being the librarian, she will also carry the title of pro se coordinator. She will help unrepresented parties find the materials they need and direct them to local attorneys as well as legal aid services who can offer advice and representation.
Pro se coordinators were among the proposals put forth in 2016 by the Indiana State Bar Association’s Future of the Provision of Legal Services Committee. Describing the rise in unrepresented litigants a crisis, the committee recommended coordinators either be attorneys or certified legal interns and be available in the courthouses to help the pro se parties navigate the system.
Weston is not an attorney or a paralegal but she has experience working in student law clinics. From 1998 to 2005, she was the law clinics administrator at William Mitchell College of Law (which has since become Mitchell Hamline School of Law) and from 2005 to 2012, she was the law clinics office administrator at the University of Minnesota.
A native of Evansville, Weston is currently a library assistant at the Willard Library in Evansville and will complete her master of library science degree in 2018.
To determine the future of the law library, the foundation surveyed those who used the library and members of the legal community. Also, it held a public meeting to solicit more feedback.
The foundation board learned the community considered the law library a valuable resource. “I was really surprised at the number of attorneys who said, ‘I don’t use (the library) but we can’t close it,’” LaPlante said. The lawyers view the facility as helping not only the general public but also the legal community.
Through the outreach effort, the foundation board may also have identified some partners for future initiatives. The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana expressed an interest in holding a monthly clinic at the law library for pro se litigants and the pre-law and political science programs at the University of Southern Indiana want to explore ways they can work with the library.
Funding for the law library will continue to come from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court and the library foundation.
The law library, located in the City-County Courts Building in Evansville, is a non-circulating library with a collection of about 22,000 volumes and another 6,000 volumes on microfiche. Some online resources are also available.