Re-opening in the Time of Covid-19: The Adventure of Hawaii’s Supreme Court Law Library

By Jenny Silbiger, LISP-SIS

The Hawaii Supreme Court Law Library’s colorful history dates back to the Kingdom of Hawaii, when in 1840 King Kamehameha III promulgated the Kingdom’s first constitution. The king created the three branches of government, including the Judiciary and the Supreme Court, and by extension the Supreme Court Law Library (SCLL).  We’re not sure just when SCLL opened its front doors, but in 1851, the legislature set aside $1000 to fund the library. 

Fast-forward 180 years later, SCLL now faces the challenge of operating and delivering public services in the context of a global pandemic, alongside libraries throughout the Pacific and across the mainland.  For us, this meant an abrupt transition to a telework schedule effective March 20, 2020, and when cases decreased—oh how I miss the days of 0 or single digit case numbers–returning physically to the building on July 1, 2020.

Back in March, we didn’t know what to expect, so we put a temporary hold on the mail, contacted our vendors that we’d be in touch with billing/payment at the end of April/early May, naively thinking we’d be in a somewhat ‘business as usual’ place after a month. (Oh the wishful hopes!)  Unfortunately, library staff had a hodge podge of home devices to use to connect from home, including a daughter’s laptop, a phone, a tablet, and personal computers.  Working with our IT department, I was able to get all staff VPN access via their Judiciary computers, and staff went into the office to pick up and bring home their equipment.  We held weekly zoom meetings to stay connected and once we were settled with the right equipment in our respective homes, we became much more effective to complete our work.  This first phase of our work-at-home/stay-at-home order was fully focused on the health and safety of my staff.

While library services for Judiciary personnel remained mostly uninterrupted in our new telework environment, we realized we needed to develop better methods to provide services to the public.  Working with our vendors (Lexis, Westlaw, and Lexis Digital Library), SCLL began offering remote access to online legal resources to our legal community and the general public.  Our public services librarian developed our Virtual Reference Desk (VRD) and launched it on April 3, 2020 (modeled after the wonderful Harris County Law Library).  Our VRD is optimized for mobile devices, provides access to the aforementioned resources as well as community and legal COVID-19 specific resources, and the public can contact the library with a single click.  Within the initial four days of launching our VRD, our public services librarian and I fielded 100+ reference email interactions, which totally energized us.  We also put a moratorium on any library service fees related to document delivery and legislative history research, pulling on our digital archives when legislative history requests came in.  And finally, rounding out our virtual resources, on June 1st, following the lead of our colleagues at the Texas State Law Library, we began offering Live Chat, Monday- Friday, 1pm – 3pm.

Due to a decrease in COVID-19 numbers (some days we had 0 new cases), our Governor lifted our Stay At Home order, moved to the “Safer at Home” and then to the “Act with Care” restrictions.  This meant that SCLL staff returned to the building on July 1st, 2020, holding our first in-person staff meeting.  We were physically open to Judiciary staff only, offering curbside checkout to members of the community as needed, and continued to leverage our virtual services to the public. 

First in person staff meeting on July 1, 2020

Our first priority upon return in July was finishing our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) needs analysis in our workspace, something that I had begun doing with our Judiciary planning analyst, prior to the start of our teleworking in March.  However, due to stringent state budget restrictions, there were no funds to do much purchasing.  Using cardboard, plastic sheeting, and a can-do attitude, we came up with safety measures that helped staff feel more comfortable.  One of our favorite PPE is from our Judiciary History Center’s exhibit detailing the timeline of western presence in the Hawaiian islands.  We’re using some of the exhibit pieces in the staff office area and some stand in our law library, providing PPE barriers at the reference desk. 

Also, remember how we stopped the mail in March?  About mid-May, some of our staff began going into the office to manage the deliveries (the initial one amounted to half a USPS postal truck), and then once staff was fully back on July 1st, we could really tackle catching up with deliveries.  July was then finished off by putting our office and library space back together, so we could organize it and physically make it ready for visitors.

On August 1st, SCLL “opened” to the public, by appointment only.  With social distancing guidelines in place, requiring masks and hand sanitizer, we currently allow members of the public to come into the library, one hour at a time.  We have a limit of five public patron appointments a day, so as to be able to service our Judiciary staff and keep to no more than six people in the library in any given time (including staff).  As a further precaution to protect both staff and the public, the Judiciary has contracted with the National Guard, which conducts initial screening and temperature checks before anyone can enter the building.  The first week we were open, nearly all library appointment slots were filled, with some folks calling in ahead of time, others calling the day of. 

COVID check in at the Reference Desk

We are so happy we’re able to work toward fulfilling our mission of providing law library services to the Judiciary and c­­ommunity as best as we can, even in the midst of our global pandemic.  At the same time, we remain vigilant and careful moving forward, as unfortunately, cases are currently spiking in Hawaii, and we expect more stringent measures to be put in place. 

One of the things that keeps me going is that I know we are not alone, and looking around at our fellow amazing colleagues across AALL, I’m inspired by how we continue to learn from each other and share ideas.  Like Greg Lambert says in his _In Seclusion_ podcast, we may be in (various states of) seclusion, but we’re all in this together.

Sending love and aloha to our fellow colleagues here in Hawaii and across the sea, dreaming of the day when it’s safer for everyone to be out and about in the world, and wishing you a safe and healthy rest of your day.

Post Script:  Due to the Governor’s and Mayor’s (City and County of Honolulu) orders that were just released on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, which is resulting in a two week stay at home/work at home order, the Hawaii Supreme Court Law Library has temporarily ceased our in person appointments starting Thursday, August 26th.  Appointments are planned to resume on Monday, September 14th, pending further state and county guidance.  

Something that has helped me and that I’ve also shared with my staff–in terms of coping with all the changes–is to “be like water.”  While I’m not an expert Tao Te Ching philosopher, I resonated with the idea that water shifts and bends, flows and changes forms as it moves about in the world, facing different obstacles or sometimes no obstacles at all.  Water can carve paths into canyons, carry us in its waves, astonish us with its strength (and sometimes destruction), or can calmly reflect the sky.  What would water do in the face of barriers and challenges?  So as we respond to the pandemic, I’m doing my best to be like water, and every day I’m thankful to my staff who have been flexible and are being like water even at this writing.

About the author: Jenny Silbiger is the State Law Librarian of the Hawaii State Judiciary.

Reopening Our Libraries: Ramsey County Law Library

By Pauline Afuso, LISP-SIS Chair

The Ramsey County Law Library in St. Paul, Minnesota has been open to the public since June 15, 2020.

The front room of the Ramsey Public Law Library.

I read Geraldine Cepeda’s report on reopening, and I almost want to repeat part of her experience word for word – we closed in mid-March, and the Courts closed, too, except for essential hearings.  We continued to provide help via phone and email, then the physical space reopened in June.  However, unlike Guam and many other libraries, we didn’t develop a reopening plan in phases, rather, we constructed one plan to keep staff, patrons, materials, and the physical space clean, safe, and open.  Once we had this plan , we put everything in place, and then waited for the Courts to reopen.  Here is our story.

Staff and patron safety

Staff safety is very important because our numbers are small – there are just three of us.  Each of us has our own space, so we can social distance safely and still work.  We all wear masks because the Governor issued an executive order mandating everyone to wear a mask inside public buildings (similarly, the Chief Judge also issued a court order for masks to be worn in courtrooms).  In addition, the library purchased plexiglass barriers for the service counters, as well as gloves and extra cleaning supplies.  Our Director also consulted with the County, and we have protocols in place on what to do if a staff member is sick or if a staff member tests positive for the virus.  So far, all three of us are virus free.

To ensure a clean library, each staff member is responsible for regularly wiping down public areas, particularly the computers and printers, tables, door handles, the copier and public phone, staplers, pens, and also the bottles of hand sanitizer we have throughout the library.  The county shut down public drinking fountains, and we have just one unisex restroom for the public.  Given the size of our library, we allow seven patrons in the library at a time.  (We used to have tourists visit the library to see the view from the 18th floor as well as the beautiful art deco architecture, furniture and light fixtures in the library, but these tours have been suspended for now.)  The library is only open to those needing to do legal research or have business with the courts.  All visitors need to check in at the front desk, and like staff, all patrons must wear a mask.  Right now, our numbers are fairly low, so we are not limiting access by requiring appointments. 

Library materials and services

Since we opened our doors in June, patrons have been dropping off library books that were checked out last February(!).  To make sure they are safe, library staff are quarantining the books for a few days before reshelving them.  We are doing the same with books that get dropped off in our book return on the ground level, as well as books used by researchers in the library.

One casualty of the pandemic is the class we used to teach at the county adult correctional facility.  We had just started a legal information program for soon-to-be-released inmates this past January.  It gave us a chance to put a human face on the law library services and to encourage them to ask questions.  It is too bad that the program has been stopped; I think it will be a long time before we are allowed back in the facility.

In contrast, our legal advice clinics are still viable, though not as busy compared to before the peacetime emergency.  For safety reasons, we have converted the clinics to phone consultations only.  Our volunteer lawyers are eager to meet with clients and talk to them over the phone (though one attorney said he missed the human interaction of meeting clients in person).  We anticipate that the clinics will continue to be phone consultations well into the fall, if not for the rest of the year.

We are also partnering with the Court to provide space and technology to help self-represented litigants (SRLs) with remote court appearances.  Using a library purchased IPad and wifi, SRLs can attend their hearing in our conference room.

Still unresolved: patrons who can’t wear a mask

The state and county both have mandates that everyone must wear a mask if they are inside a public building.  For users who can’t wear a mask for health reasons, we will help these patrons by providing curbside pickup for books, emailing/mailing forms at no charge, making photocopies while the patrons wait outside of library.  This memo from the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University gives examples of ways libraries can make reasonable accommodations for patrons who cannot wear a mask.

At this time, we haven’t yet had a patron who needs to use the library resources in the library (e.g., access to computers for filling out forms or for Westlaw research) but who cannot wear a mask because of health reasons.  We are currently working on a plan to provide a socially distanced workstation to allow unmasked users access to a computer and printer.

So far, reopening to the public has gone smoothly.  The factors that have contributed to a quiet reopening are the light, in-person court schedule, the ability to have phone consultations for our clinic, and the general cooperation of our patrons.  I hope that your library reopening goes well.  Remember to wash your hands and to wear a mask. 

About the author:  Pauline Afuso is a Law Library Senior Associate at the Ramsey County Law Library.

Pursuing Justice Together

By Jenna Pontious

The Forum on Increasing Access to Justice was bursting with engaging panels and relevant information. The Forum focused particularly on low-income and Indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the difficulties those communities face in accessing both legal and health information. The Forum, sponsored by Legal Services Corporation, featured two panel sessions, the first on organizations delivering legal services to Indigenous communities during the pandemic and the second on the business community’s role in increasing access to justice.

The work of the executive directors and staff from civil legal services organizations in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah is critical to the communities they serve. From the panel, we learned how they are implementing creative solutions to continue to offer service to vulnerable communities. Stephanie Hudson, Executive Director of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services shared that her organization had been providing mobile legal services, driving to community members and that had stopped once the pandemic hit. She is now looking into still providing mobile services, while protecting the health and safety of staff and community members.

The business community panel answered the question of why businesses are concerned and involved with access to justice in the USA. Ivan Fong, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of 3M provided the best answer to that question: if people lose faith in the justice system, it undermines democracy and affects trust in corporations. The speakers representing corporations spoke further, telling the virtual audience that access to justice is good for business profit-wise, but stressed that it was the corporation’s duty to provide access and free legal help to their employees and the communities they do business in.

There is a lot of work we as information professionals have to do to increase access to justice for our customers and communities. Representative Debra Haaland (NM-01) in her opening remarks asked us to start spreading the word. Find opportunities to talk to family, friends, UPS delivery persons, and others about the gap in access to justice, particularly in low-income and Indigenous communities. You can ask your congressperson to support bills that further access to justice, such as Representative Haaland’s Digital Reservation Act . New ABA President Patricia Lee Refo declared this moment as an opportunity to pursue justice together to enable access, and I look forward to finding ways to continue the pursuit.

Resources shared during the forum:

Alaska Legal Services Corporation

DNA-Peoples Legal Services

Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.

Oklahoma Indian Services

Indian Health Services Storymap tracking COVID infections

Navajo Epidemiology Center Coronavirus Resource Hub

World Justice Project

3M’s statement following the murder of George Floyd

Apple’s statement following the murder of George Floyd

Clorox’s statement following the murder of George Floyd

Home Depot’s statement following the murder of George Floyd

Bill Neukom of World Justice Project’s Op-Ed in the Seattle Times

About the author: Jenna Pontious is the Reference and Instruction Librarian at the Riverside County Law Library.

Reopening Our Libraries: The Guam Law Library

By Geraldine Cepeda

The Guam Law Library is no stranger to calamities — from super typhoons to earthquakes to flooding.  But on March 17, the library faced an unprecedented event:  closure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The governor of Guam essentially shut down the government (except for essential services), and the chief justice followed suit, allowing only essential court hearings to be held in-person.  The Guam Law Library Board of Trustees advised closing the library completely.  The library’s three-person staff were sent home, hoping and expecting to return in a couple of weeks.

Boy, were we wrong!  The library stayed closed to the public for a total of 12 weeks.  During that time, phone calls to the library were forwarded my personal mobile phone, while another employee fielded email inquiries.  I worked with our Westlaw representative to hold free CLE’s for attorneys and send newsletters about other online CLE opportunities.

To keep employees engaged, I started holding weekly videoconference check-in meetings and even created a “work plan” with three primary goals:  watch at least five training videos; review the website for outdated information and dead links; and review existing policies.  Honestly, the plan didn’t work out too well.  (One employee didn’t watch a single video, the others watched just two or three.)  But I couldn’t let my frustration and disappointment weigh me down.  By early May, I switched my focus on work-from-home plans to return-to-work plans, as I researched and wrote the library’s reopening plan. 

The library’s reopening plan was a phased approach:  Phase 1: complete closure; Phase 2: employees return to work; Phase 3: open only to Guam Bar Association members only, with restricted hours, social distancing, and occupancy limits; Phase 4: open to the public by prior appointment, with restricted hours, social distancing, and occupancy limits; Phase 5: resume full operations.

Since June 8th, the library has been open to the public, but with several restrictions.  Face masks must be worn by both patrons and library staff, and thankfully, we’ve had almost no push-back about this policy.  Library hours are limited, as the first and last hours of the workday are reserved for cleaning.  To adhere to social distancing, a maximum of six patrons are allowed in at one time.  Also, while bar members can walk-in, public patrons must make an appointment and give at least one hour’s notice before coming in.  The library’s operations have changed, but we continue to be relevant to attorneys and the judicial branch, by offering the attorneys and their clients the use of library’s conference room for video conference hearings. 

We don’t know when the library will go back to pre-COVID-19 operations, but we can do our best to keep our employees and patrons safe. 

About the author: Geraldine Cepeda is the Compiler of Laws for the Supreme Court of Guam and Executive Director of the Guam Law Library.

Welcome Message from the LISP-SIS Chair

By Pauline Afuso, LISP-SIS Chair

Hello everyone, and welcome to LISP 2020-21!

I am Pauline Afuso and I’ll be your Chair for the upcoming year.  I’m a reference librarian at the Ramsey County Law Library in St. Paul, Minnesota.   To be honest, I’m a pretty boring person – I like dogs, hockey, reading.  If you want to know more about me, you can read my interview with Puron.  For now, I’m happy to be a member of LISP.  Today, I want to welcome you all to a new year of LISP and introduce to you the new Executive Board.

But before I do that, I want to take a moment to say thank you to departing Executive Board members Artie Berns and Jessica Almeida.  We were so productive under their leadership!  Artie implemented a more efficient way to update our Public Library toolkits and Jessica has revived the SR-LISP blog and letting everyone know about the great things our members are doing.  Kudos and thank you to both!

This year, your leadership team includes me, and three other fantastic librarians:  Catherine McGuire, Past Chair, Sarah Larsen, your incoming Chair, and Lisa Heidenreich, our new Secretary Treasurer.  Let me tell you a little bit about them. 

Catherine McGuire is the Head of Reference and Outreach at the Thurgood Marshall State Law Library in Annapolis, MD.  If you didn’t know her already because of LISP, perhaps you’ve seen one of the programs she’s done for WebJunction or for AALL about access to justice and training for public librarians.  At the Annual meeting, you’ll recognize her because of her welcoming smile and her Annual Meeting Three-Ring Binder.  

Sarah Larsen, our incoming Chair, is the Outreach Services Librarian at the Minnesota State Law Library.  Sarah, with Catherine and Sara Pic (who sadly is not on our Executive Board – yet!), was also a part of the excellent WebJunction Civil Legal Justice program.  She coauthored an article, “Minnesota’s Not-So-Blazing Trail to Women’s Suffrage (and Beyond)” for the Official Journal of Minnesota Women Lawyers.  Sara is also an enthusiastic fan of Minnesota sports, particularly the Loons (but not the Vikings). 

Lisa Heidenreich is the Interim Director of the Law Library at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and she is a graduate of Mitchell Hamline as well.  Little known fact:  I met Lisa when she interned at the library I worked at while she worked on her MLIS degree from the University of St. Catherine.  Lisa is a fan of the local sports teams, and she always enjoys watching the Twins, the Loons, and the Saints, and I think I’ve made her a fan of the Wild, too.   

Usually, at the Annual Meeting, get together informally at an ice cream social and get to know each other.  Since we can’t do that this year, I thought a good way to get to know us is to play a quick game called, “Two Truths and a Lie.”  Each Board member has submitted three statements.  Can you identify which are true and which are booooooooooogus?  Here we go!

Catherine McGuire:

  1. I once sold a short story to a youth magazine.
  2. I was the high-scorer on my middle school math team.
  3. I once had two pet lizards named Izzie and Lizzie.

Sarah Larsen:

  1. I foster kittens until they’re old enough to be adopted.
  2. After I graduated from college, I worked as a counselor at a French immersion camp.
  3. I was allergic to chocolate until I was 25.

Lisa Heidenreich

  1. I own a small sailboat that I keep on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. 
  2. I know the full lyrics to every Beatles song.
  3. I have never had a Facebook account.

Pauline Afuso

  1. I was born in Honolulu, HI, but was raised in California.
  2. I have seen the musical Forever Plaid 25 times.
  3. After library school, my friends and I started an informal club called, “Rollerblading Librarians, Unlimited.” 

I’m excited, yet still a little intimidated and trying to lead you all during this time of uncertainty.  But with the help of the Executive Board and you, I think we’ll have a good year. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!  Stay healthy, wash your hands, wear a mask! 

AALL Recap: Law Library Neutrality in a Time of Political Upheaval

By Catherine McGuire, LISP-SIS Immediate Past Chair

Nobody would dispute that we live in times of upheaval that have taken law libraries into concerns beyond what we could ever have imagined. But even before 2020, law libraries have been managing upheaval, in ways that have pushed belief in institutional and professional neutrality to the limits. The AALL Virtual Conference session on July 16th, Law Library Neutrality in a Time of Political Upheaval, was conceived before COVID-19 appeared in China, before the deaths of George Floyd and others sparked protests and intense discussion, but was almost prescient in its content.

Nicole Dyszlewski (Head of Reference, Instruction, and Engagement at Roger Williams University School of Law), moderator of the program, opened the session by describing her journey from critical librarianship to neutrality.  Starting with concerns about patron privacy and technology, she moved to a recognition of the implications of working at a private law school closed to the public, to the BLM and anti-racism conversations. She posed an initial question to attendees: “If I act in a neutral way, am I helping to continue the status quo?”

Speaker Todd Melnick (Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law) provided an intense analysis of librarianship, highlighting in particular the underlying core values of the profession: access, confidentiality and privacy, and democracy. Librarians, he stated, have an obligation to uphold ethical principles on a higher level than professions such as bankers, financiers, accountants. Like the medical profession, librarians have a social responsibility to work for the advancement not of themselves or their institutions, but for the greater society. We must not, he said, be neutral about equitable access.

Speaker Sarah Lamdan (Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law) took the conversation further and into more specific territory. Focusing on neutrality and library vendors, she recounted a recent-past arc through which online research, formerly taught by librarians, has moved into the sphere of product vendors, and questioned the impact this, and other vendor concerns, has on search practices, publicity and commercialization of library practices, and privacy. Aligned with this arc has been a change in vendor business models, which she described as morphing more into data analytics. She posed the question of how much involvement librarians should have in the business practices of our vendors; whether we should act as gatekeepers to ensure privacy and freedom; and whether and how we, as a profession, could push back in those practices. What she calls “vendor creep” may, she said, be interfering with our neutral stance.

Nicole concluded the session by posing a series of questions to the speakers, asking, among other queries, how we ensure all voices are heard equally; what roadblocks prevent us from speaking out; how we can ensure we are doing all we can to diversify the profession; and what discussions we should be having with our vendors. For comparison purposes, Nicole juxtaposed how librarians lobbied against the Patriot Act post-9/11, and how librarians are acting (or not) now. She concluded that, though the conversation scares us, it’s important that we have that conversation and communicate with each other.

If you registered for the AALL Virtual Meeting, you can watch this program on demand by visiting  All programs will be made available to members for free January 2021. 

AALL Recap: Bringing Legal Research to Rural Communities

By Dajiang Nie, LISP-SIS

During this year’s AALL virtual conference, I enjoyed the opportunity to attend “Bringing Legal Research to Rural Communities,” a panel where four librarians explained access to justice crisis in rural America and explored how to build and leverage partnerships between law library and other stakeholders, in order to provide quality and reliable legal information to residents of rural areas.

The program moderator, Tammy Pettinato Oltz (Assistant Dean for Law Library and Information Services, University of North Dakota School of Law), noted, “about 20% of the population lives in the rural community, whereas only about 2% of lawyers actually practice in the rural community.” North Dakota has a robust public library system. While many rural residents do not have access to legal resources, they have access to local public libraries. She discussed her idea to share Casemaker access with public libraries, so residents of rural areas can access legal information through local public libraries.

Speaker Thomas Sneed (Library Director and Associate Professor of Law, Washburn University School of Law) had firsthand experiences of the access to justice crisis in rural community, since he had practiced law in the rural areas. His library launched a rural externship program in partnership with a local foundation. This program provides summer externships with rural legal practitioners in the foundation’s service area. The foundation provides financial support for this program and the law library offers students with state-specific legal research courses.

Amy Emerson (Assistant Dean for Library and Information Services & Assistant Professor of Law, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law) introduced the Legal Research Clinic offered by her former institution Cornell Law School. Though students in this rural-area-targeting clinic identified some challenges, such as cultural competencies, communications, internet access, proprietary materials, and confidentiality issues, the clinic successfully served hundreds of clients and was featured on local radio and television shows. The clinic’s most significant achievement was the formal community partnerships they were able to establish.

Sue Ludington (Law Librarian/Program Supervisor, Lane County Law Library) shared Oregon County Law Libraries’ legal information services for rural residents. Oregon County Law Libraries provide public patrons with not only on-site and virtual legal reference services, but also an extensive document delivery service, including an innovative and low-cost virtual document delivery via email and snail mail. It saves staff time and labor, and reduces postage and supplies costs. The “Lawyer in the Library” Legal Help program at Deschutes Public Library gives patrons ineligible for legal aid free 30-minute virtual consultations. Another well-received program is the virtual Legal Education Programs of Columbia County Law Library with legal aid attorney participation.

For more information on this program or to view it on demand, visit Please note conference registrants have access to the on demand content.  All content will be accessible in January 2021.