Law on the Frontlines: Legal Reference for Public Libraries

Law and legal reference constitute a specialized area of knowledge and resources. The best way to be comfortable with a specialized area is to deal with it often, an opportunity not always presented to the generalist in a public library system. It is possible, however, to develop ability in this area through training and practice.

Traditionally, training on legal reference has focused on the classic materials of law - cases, statutes, regulations, law textbooks, and the formal process of legal research. Some of the materials referenced herein include these classics. The guidance and materials provided in these pages, however, focus less on classic legal research, and more on how to address the questions about challenging situations brought to the public library by everyday patrons. The information is structured to help the generalist at a public library to recognize and respond to questions about and for law.

The information contained in these pages partners with live training offered around the State. For interested library systems, face-to-face training is available upon request. Recordings of past trainings can also be accessed on-demand.   

Elements 1 through 5 will help develop in reference staff the ability to:

  • conduct an appropriate legal reference interview
  • respond to a legal question with confidence that the information is good and helpful, and does not constitute advice
  • identify relevant and pertinent referrals from the broad spectrum available

Element 6, Topics, focuses more deeply into a topic within the law, and helps develop:

  • recognition of a possible law-related question
  • understanding of the terminology related to a particular topic of law
  • deeper knowledge of the contents of resources for a particular topic of law
  • awareness of referral resources that may be topic-specific, rather than generally applicable

Element 1: Access to Justice and the Public Library

Element 2: Managing the Legal Reference Interview 

Element 3: Descriptive Resources

Element 4: About the Law

Element 5: Choosing and Making Referrals

Element 6: Topics

  • Family Law - coming soon
  • Landlord and Tenant Law - coming soon
  • Employment Law - coming soon
  • Debt Collection Law - coming soon


Last revised 02/26/2020