Helping SRLs Navigate Evictions in Massachusetts

By Sara Monalea McMahon

The eviction moratorium has created an abundance of questions from self-represented litigants (SRLs), and as a public law librarian I am writing to highlight some of the resources that we have here in the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries (TCLLs).  At the Trial Court Law Libraries, we have multiple ways that SRLs can reach a librarian for access to information and resources as they navigate a housing court or eviction case.  There are 15 library locations throughout the Commonwealth that SRLs are welcome to visit, where we have both print materials and online legal databases available to help litigants find information.  Additionally, we have online reference services for patrons, including email reference and chat reference which is available on our website under “Ask A Librarian”.  Using these electronic services, SRLs can communicate with a librarian about any questions they might have, and we will do our best to answer these questions by providing information.

The second valuable resource I would like to highlight is our “Law About” pages, where librarians have compiled the relevant laws and resources that we have for different subjects.  Our “Law About Eviction” page, linked here, provides the relevant laws and various electronic and print materials that are available to help SRLs navigate the eviction process.  Another “Law About” page that is available with helpful resources is our “Law About Covid-19”.  The “Best Bets” section of that page has the latest laws, regulations, and Trial Court orders about eviction.  Additionally, there is a “Housing and Utilities Resources” section with more relevant information for SRLs who are navigating a housing or eviction issue.

In addition to the TCLLs, the Trial Court of Massachusetts also offers Court Service Centers (CSCs).  Currently the Court Service Centers are available to SRLs only virtually, but CSC staff will help fill out forms and provide information on court rules, procedures, and practices.  They help SRLs on a first-come/first-serve, and are available from 9:00am to noon, Monday through Friday.

It is important to keep in mind that the pandemic has been especially challenging for those facing a housing crisis.  As librarians, we are uniquely positioned to help those SRLs by providing them relevant information and resources.  I’m happy to be a part of AALL where we can share with each other the tools that will strengthen our communities.

About the author: Sara Monalea McMahon is the Head Law Librarian of the Hampshire Law Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

OER, A2J, and Law Librarianship

By Brian Huffman, LISP-SIS

Even before I presented at CALI in 2016 on “OER in Legal Education” the concept of authoring an open educational resource (OER) has appealed to me. I advocated for it locally during a presentation at the annual Hawai’i Library Association conference in 2014 on “Open Textbooks: Advocating for Change.” At my CALI presentation I asked attendees to create OER for their classes. I promised to do so myself and can now say I have lived up to my promise.

I am as strong a supporter of Access to Justice (A2J) as I am OER. I have been active in the Access to Justice movement in law libraries for over a decade. I suppose I get this innate enthusiasm for A2J from my previous experience as a volunteer lawyer and my years as a county law librarian in public law libraries. Other facets of my involvement in A2J include national presentations, professional organization committee work, and coordination of services as a law librarian.

I was thrilled when offered the chance to write a chapter on A2J in an open access format. The book, Introduction to Law Librarianship, came out in August. It was created on an open-source platform called Pressbooks. This is the same platform we use at the University of Hawaiʻi for our OER materials. The chapter is titled Access to Justice. The chapter discusses key players in the A2J movement, highlighting partnerships and curated resources. It also covers various models of delivery law librarians can provide and concludes with a discussion of issues that have been on the horizon for the A2J movement.

I hope future and present law librarians get some benefit from my chapter and will become interested in Access to Justice and the important work law librarians provide for the disenfranchised. Librarians should strive to even the “playing field for the disadvantaged by removing barriers to access, such as income, literacy, mobility, and language, for those individuals with civil legal needs.”[i]

About the author: Brian Huffman is the Electronic Services Librarian at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Law Library. Brian is a past Chair of LISP-SIS. He lives in Honolulu with his lifelong partner, Amy, and their wire fox terrier (Mortimer) and a cat (Klaus). He enjoys bicycling, baking, and writing fiction.

[i] “Law Libraries and Access to Justice: A Report of the American Association of Law Libraries Special Committee on Access to Justice,” July 2014.