Improving Access to Civil Legal Justice Through Libraries

By Brooke Doyle

You may have heard about Improving Access to Civil Legal Justice through Libraries, an initiative developed in partnership between OCLC’s WebJunction program and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). As part of this initiative, my WebJunction colleagues and I have met and collaborated with many wonderful law librarians as we’ve created resources to increase public library staff’s knowledge, skills, and confidence to respond to patrons’ civil legal information questions. A key result of the collaboration is a series of four self-paced courses, Creating Pathways to Civil Legal Justice. I hope you’ll share these free online courses with your public library colleagues.

Responding to the interest in these courses and the urgency of eviction and housing insecurity issues in communities, WebJunction continued the partnership with LSC to help library staff strengthen their ability to respond to eviction queries from patrons with knowledge and confidence.

We recently delivered a webinar Understanding Eviction and How Libraries Can Help. Law librarian Deb Hamilton, Pikes Peak Library District (CO), and Kristin Wong,  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, covered the current state of the crisis and how to recognize the basic phases of the eviction process, with an emphasis on preventing evictions through rental assistance. We also curated a set of Eviction Resources for Libraries. We hope you will bookmark this page and tell your public library colleagues about the webinar recording and the resource list. We will continue to update the resource list as needed.

I’d like to invite you to a December 8 session where we will be continuing the conversation about how libraries can assist in the eviction crisis. We’ll begin with short presentations showcasing partnerships between libraries and community organizations that address eviction.  We will then open the conversation up for all to share ideas or ask questions. Leaders representing law and public libraries, government agencies, and legal aid will be available to respond to the comments and questions. We hope you can join us, share your insights, and invite your public library colleagues to bring their questions.

About the author: Brooke Doyle is a Senior Project Coordinator at OCLC’s WebJunction Program. 

Eviction Information and Resources in Colorado

By Deborah Hamilton, LISP-SIS

Colorado does not have any statewide moratoria or special COVID orders pertaining to evictions at this time.  However, a wide range of new housing laws went into effect on October 1, 2021, that give tenants many more rights and protections.  The Colorado Poverty Law Project recorded an informative webinar outlining these changes that you can view on YouTube. 

I have tried to compile a number of different eviction and housing resources on a research page on the Pikes Peak Library District’s website.  I want to highlight a few resources in this post.  

Representation:  

One of the most effective ways to help patrons facing eviction is to try to connect them with legal services.  

For representation patrons can try the following: 

Colorado Legal Services (statewide)

Colorado Poverty Law Project (statewide)

Metro Volunteer Lawyers (Denver area)

COVID – 19 Eviction Defense Project (Denver counties and Lake counties)

The Justice Center (El Paso and Teller counties)

Clinics: 

Many clinics provide servicesover the phone or virtually now, so patrons from other areas may have access to them: 

Call a Lawyer by The Justice Center – Every Wednesday 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. over the phone.

Metro Lawyers has a number of different topic specific clinics listed on their website.  

The Virtual Pro Se Clinics of Colorado happen at public libraries all around the state.  Click on the triangle for the location you are interested in to learn about the format and time.  

Colorado Poverty Law Project holds a monthly clinic on the third Wednesday of month from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. over Zoom.  

Information online: 

And a number of these organizations have great resources available through their websites.  

Colorado Legal Services (CLS) has a page devoted to Housing-Related Information on their website. The Colorado Springs office of CLS also partners with the City of Colorado Springs to hold a quarterly Renter’s Rights 101 workshop.  You can access the recording and print materials for this event as well as see future dates for the workshop on the city’s website.    

The Justice Center has created an Eviction Prevention Toolkit – available in English, Spanish and Korean. They also have a couple of sample housing forms that people can use as templates. The Justice Center also has a series of short videos on a variety of landlord tenant issues.  

Colorado Poverty Law Project has a great resource list on their website.  They also host a number of events and workshops online, including know your rights presentations.  You can keep track of all they do by following their Facebook page.  

Additional resources: 

Lastly, a few more things to help patrons: access to forms, aid, and housing information.  

The Housing Cases section in the Self-Help Section of the Colorado Judicial Branch website is where patrons can access forms for both initiating and responding to an eviction.  They also have a section of forms and directions for anyone who believes they have been unlawfully evicted.  

If people are looking for rental assistance or assistance with foreclosure, they can connect with aid programs through the Department of Local Affairs.  


And finally, if patrons have questions about landlord tenant issues or housing aid and resources, Colorado Housing Connects is an easy way for them to speak with a housing counselor for free over the phone.  They also have a lot of great information on their website. 

About the author: Deborah Hamilton is the Strategic Services Librarian for the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Linn County Law Library Eviction Clinics

by Amber Boedigheimer

The Linn County Law Library recently won a $41,000.00 ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) grant award for the operation and maintenance of an eviction prevention program. The eviction prevention clinic will help provide referrals to housing and rental assistance to qualified families that are facing imminent eviction from rental housing. Organizations that are in support of the project include: the Community Services Consortium (CSC), Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO), Neighbor-to-Neighbor Mediation, the Linn-Benton Housing Authority (LBHA), and the Albany Public Library – just to name a few.

Linn County’s eviction prevention clinic will offer low-income persons living in Oregon guidance in filling out court forms and/or the OERAP (Oregon Rental Emergency Assistance Program) application.  The clinic will also provide assistance with accessing a pro-bono attorney from Legal Aid, finding community organizations that provide information about evictions or helping fill out forms for various public services (SSI, WIC, unemployment, etc.). Project objectives and goals are as follows:

Project Objectives:

  • Early intervention by promoting mediation, negotiation, or arbitration and assistance from Legal Aid and other supportive services
  • A reduction in the number of Forcible Entry and Detainer’s (FED’s) in Linn County and the greater Oregon area

Project Goals:

  • Reducing the number of evictions
  • Preventing the cascading negative effects of eviction
  • Improving housing stability

The eviction prevention clinic will offer limited assistance with legal forms and referrals to partner firms or organizations for help with legal issues that we do not provide ourselves. The clinic will assist persons at risk of an eviction, find alternative housing options, or find sources of financial support to pay back rent and utilities. 

The law library will help tenants to complete the OREAP application, and will provide assistance with accessing court forms including fee deferral or waiver applications and declarations, answers to residential complaints, motions to set aside residential eviction judgments, and so on.

Direct services include (but are not limited to):
• Expansion of information, education, training and support for renters at risk of eviction
• Referrals to Legal Aid and other community services such as the Community Service
  Consortium (CSC) to handle emergency eviction issues
• The coordination of volunteer pro bono attorneys for eviction defense to help assist under-served communities

Tenants and landlords in Linn County can contact the law library if they have questions, need to complete court forms, or would like to attend a legal presentation about landlord/tenant and eviction issues in Oregon. For more information, please contact 541-924-6902.

About the author: Amber Boedigheimer is a Law Librarian at the Linn County Law Library in Albany, Oregon. 

Florida Eviction Resources for Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs)

By Katelyn Golsby, SR-SIS

Florida is not among those states that decided to enact mitigating legislation following the end of the national eviction moratorium on August 26th, and the state’s modified eviction and foreclosure bans were ended by executive order on July 30. Although federal funds for rent and mortgage payment assistance is available for low to moderate income households through the state’s Housing Initiatives Partnership program, the lack of state and federal protection from eviction and foreclosure is a heavy burden for the hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced a loss in income due to the ongoing pandemic.

Below is a list of free or low-cost resources available in Florida for those who are representing themselves or for those who are seeking free or low-cost legal assistance. Most sources are relevant state-wide, with a few being relevant only in Miami-Dade County, where I am currently located.  

Self-Help Sources

Florida Law Help

Interactive website that asks a series of questions about the user’s legal issue. Under the ‘housing’ section, the website has an Eviction & Ejectments option, and asks for additional information that may enhance the suggestions for legal help provided at the end of the brief questionnaire. Website users can select the Florida county in which they reside and provide information about income and household size for more personalized suggestions. The resulting webpage lists self-help resources like forms and FAQs and legal aid sources, like special legal aid helplines for veterans and domestic violence survivors.

Eviction Court Form Builder

Designed by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, this interactive court form builder suggests that the user contact a local legal aid office when appropriate and provides a questionnaire that otherwise assists the users in building the necessary forms for their county and circumstances. The questions include a description of where certain information needed to complete a form may be found.

Florida Courts Help

Self-help website for the Florida state court system. Features include a court document builder, form finder, and a helpful video library.  There is also a link to the Florida courts help app.

Florida DCF Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Although it may be too late for some people facing eviction to apply for emergency assistance, I wanted to list this site because it provides links to emergency programs by county.

Legal Aid Organizations and Programs

Florida Bar Referral Service

Referral service by the Florida Bar Association. Can submit requests online or over the phone. The Florida Bar can refer prospective client to attorneys who speak English, Spanish, or 13 other languages.

Dade Legal Aid

Free civil legal aid provider for low-income children and adults in Miami-Dade County. Offers a wide range of services, including help with housing, evictions, and real property matters.

A Note on the Increase of SRLs in Probate Matters

While researching for this blog post, I spoke with other nearby law librarians to determine what kind of assistance is being provided to SRLs. Interestingly, it was brought to my attention that there are more people reaching out for assistance and forms for probate matters than for housing matters at this time. The number of people who need assistance with probate matters has risen exponentially due to the increase in deaths in south Florida. If any readers of this post have similar experiences, please feel free to reach out to me—I am interested in whether this is the experience of other law libraries, too.

About the Author: Katelyn Golsby is the Reference & Instructional Services Librarian at the University of Miami School of Law Library. She can be reached via email at Katelyn.golsby@law.miami.edu.

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. https://www.aallnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/AccessToJusticeSpecialCommittee2014LawLibrariesAndAccessToJustice.pdf.

AALL Recap: Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work

By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

During the AALL Virtual Meeting, the LISP-SIS sponsored program was the thought provoking “Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work”.  This program was coordinated by LISP-SIS Education Committee co-chair Rebecca Sherman (Assistant Librarian, U.S. Court of Appeals) and moderated by LISP-SIS Education Committee co-chair Nicole Dyszlewski (Head of Reference, Instruction, & Engagement, Roger Williams University School of Law Library).  The panel discussed how AI and bias are defined, how AI can be analyzed for fairness, and the role of transparency in algorithms. 

How do we define AI and bias?

In his work, Michael Katell (Postdoctoral Research Associate for Data Science and Ethics in the Criminal Justice System, The Alan Turing Institute) defines AI as an automated decision system, using the examples of predictive scoring of criminal defendant or the sorting and classifying of job applicants.  He explains that bias comes into the system through human choices, how the data is collected, and who decides how a system is used.  Ishita Rustagi (Analyst, Business Strategies & Operations, Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business) reminded the audience that IA are human creations and urged caution in the use of AI as it can lead to bias or discrimination in subsets of the population, like in determining credit limits or treatment in the healthcare system.  Darla Jackson (Research Librarian, University of Oklahoma Law Library) discussed helping patrons evaluate sources, but cautioned that even by using great resources, data may be collected and used for other purposes. 

Can we analyze AI for fairness or equity or justice?

Mr. Katell suggested using four questions developed by fellow researcher, David Leslie, to probe for bias in AI.  First, was the data collected fairly?  Second, was the AI designed fairly?  Third, will the outcome cause harm?  Lastly, is the IA being used appropriately?  He also suggested researching who the stakeholders are, the people who are part of the decision making and design process.  Ms. Rutagi described that issues of fairness and equity should be considerations throughout the process from inception to implementation.  She suggested the use of checklists to determine that algorithms are equitable.  Ms. Jackson discussed how difficult this is to explain in legal research and how she provides a non-legal example to get students to start to think critically about the design of IA.  She then works with students throughout the semester encouraging them to evaluate multiple platforms for bias and trying different search strategies to neutralize bias. 

What can we do about the lack of transparency?

Mr. Katell suggests that we push for transparency and work toward third party analysis of algorithms.  He reminds us that most actors are creating in good faith, but are also thinking about their clients instead of overall societal gain.  Ms. Rutagi encouraged that we support fairness and transparency through three different “buckets”.  First, supporting diverse teams working around IA, involve experts in development, and make sure there is a culture of ethics in the company or team.  Secondly, creating policies for the ethical creation of the algorithm or collection of data, making sure there are checks and balances.  Lastly, she suggests having an ethics board, audits, and transparency with the public.  Ms. Jackson discussed how this applies to legal research.  She mentioned the attempts that have been made to ask research platforms for more transparency.  However, due to competition, platforms are hesitant to talk about their algorithms.  She suggests legislation that force companies to give more information on the accuracy or privacy concerns related to their high-risk algorithms.  She believes that even small steps through regulations would help.

For more information on this session or to view the recording, please go to the conference website

About the author: Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law. She is also the co-editor of the LISP/SR Blog.

AALL Recap: Diversifying the Law Library Collection with Intentionality

By Brianna Newcomb

This event, coordinated by Rebecca Sherman, moderated by Nicole Dyszlewski, and with speakers Raquel Gabriel and Anna Russell provided an interesting discussion on how law librarians in any role can build a diverse library collection.[1] Nicole explained that not intentionally building a diverse collection leads to a predominance of whiteness and maleness in the law, and she highlighted the importance of purposefully seeking other perspectives and voices.

This discussion happened both in the context of academic law libraries and government law libraries, which present different opportunities and challenges. The panel did not involve firm libraries which Nicole explained resulted from feedback from firm librarians that law firm libraries are generally not focused on collecting in this area. Government law libraries, according to Anna, can be held back from developing in this area due to the nature of the work the library does. Her library is more responsive to current litigation, which happens quickly, making it difficult to build prospectively. Common challenges to both academic and government law libraries include a limited budget, complicated processes for acquisitions, and the unfortunate trend away from diversity in legal publishing itself. Members of the panel found that as the number of legal publishers from which to buy legal resources dwindles, the diversity of the resources themselves likewise narrows.

Of particular focus on this panel was how to get stakeholders on board with these nontraditional methods of collection development. Raquel explained that one way she does this is by citing ABA standards on anti-bias education, such as Standard 303, providing that law schools should educate students on issues in the law regarding bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.[2] Nicole also shared that she approaches library collection from the perspective of a patron. She asks, what resources are needed to support the classes and events the school is hosting? One example is a class she teaches at Roger Williams School of Law.[3]

This panel was especially useful for new ideas for building a diverse collection. The panelists suggested starting with a popular reading collection, but they also gave many other creative ways to tackle the issue. One suggestion which stood out was to identify minority-owned publishers dedicated to diversity and to buy from those publishers when possible. Another suggestion was to read over and to consider updating one’s library collection development policy.

Nicole also shared how her journey to creating a more diverse collection started by reaching out to Raquel, who she heard had experience in successfully building a diverse collection. Nicole emphasized the importance of getting recommendations and ideas from people in the law librarianship community. The panel also encouraged law librarians in all job descriptions to work towards a more diverse collection, acknowledging that even those who don’t directly work in collection development could still advocate for diverse titles. These suggestions presented innovative ways to think about and to achieve diverse collections in the law library.

This is a great event to tune into if you are interested in brainstorming new ways to diversify your collection. This event is available on-demand on the AALL virtual conference website.

About the author: Brianna Newcomb is a summer intern at the Ramsey County Law Library and a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School.  She will be starting at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in fall to obtain her MLIS. 


[1] Rebecca Sherman is an Assistant Law Librarian with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Library; Nicole P. Dyszlewski is Head of Reference, Instruction, & Engagement at Roger Williams University School of Law Library; Raquel Gabriel is a Professor of Law & Director of the Law Library at CUNY School of Law; Anna Russell is the U.S. Court Librarian for Alaska.

[2] This reflects a change to ABA Standard 303 which was recently approved by the standards committee. View the ABA memo discussing this change for more information: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/council_reports_and_resolutions/may21/21-may-standards-committee-memo-proposed-changes-with-appendix.pdf

[3] This course, entitled “Race & the Foundations of American Law” will be a required course beginning Fall 2021. Read about it here: https://www.campusreform.org/article?id=17742

AALL Recap: Legal Deserts in America—What Is Meaningful Access to Justice for All?

By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

What is a Legal Desert?

During the AALL conference, the Government Law Libraries Special Interest Section sponsored a session titled, “Legal Deserts in America – What is Meaningful Access to Justice for All?”.  The panel, moderated by LISP-SIS member Miriam Childs (Director of the Law Library of Louisiana), discussed the immense shortage of lawyers in rural areas and programs that are working towards bringing legal assistance to these areas.    

Why are there shortages?

Lawyers are not spread evenly throughout the 50 states.  Even in states with high numbers of attorneys, there are counties with no lawyers or legal assistance.  Panelist Lisa Pruitt (Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) explained the findings from the 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession, which shows large areas within several states with little to no legal representation.  Most lawyers are where the people are, concentrated in cities or largely populated areas.  The shortages found in these rural areas are due to a number of factors.  Newer lawyers are concerned about the financial aspects of being a rural lawyer and wonder how they will pay off law school debt.  Young lawyers worry about malpractice and the lack of mentors in rural areas.  They also sometimes have social and personal concerns, including meeting people their own age and having access to good schools and healthcare. 

What are the consequences of shortages?

Ms. Pruitt explained the consequences of legal deserts, including individuals who spend more time in jail if there is no legal assistance nearby.  This leads to higher court costs for taxpayers as court appointed lawyers need to travel to see their clients.  For civil issues, having no local legal representation means large percentages (approximately 86%) of people who receive no legal help.

What are the responses to the shortages? 

A number of states have programs to decrease the legal shortages in rural areas.  Ms. Pruitt spoke about legal incubators, succession planning programs, and partnerships to bring urban resources to rural areas.  She also discussed how legal educators can encourage students to consider becoming rural lawyers.  Panelist Suzanne Starr (Director of Policy & Legal Services, South Dakota Rural Recruitment Program) gave a brief overview of the program created by the South Dakota Supreme Court and State Bar in 2013.  The South Dakota Rural Recruitment Program works to pair new lawyers with small counties in South Dakota.  The lawyers receive a stipend to defray the cost of student loans while working on legal matters for the county and providing legal services to the townspeople as part of their private practice.  Attorneys must invest five years in the program, before they can decide to stay or move on.  The hope is that most attorneys will become integrated in the community and decide to stay.  Ms. Starr reports that the program has been successful, doubling the number of attorneys since the program’s inception.  She also talked a bit about the challenges, including finding housing for new attorneys in the area and the difficulties of recruitment during COVID. 

What can law libraries do to help?

At the end of the program, Ms. Childs spoke about the efforts her library makes to aid in rural areas.  In Louisiana, there are no public law libraries, so many public libraries need to provide legal reference assistance.   In response, the Louisiana State Bar Association, the Louisiana Library Association, and the Law Library of Louisiana created the Legal Education Assistance Program (LEAP).  The program provides training to public librarians on the Unauthorized Practice of Law and reference interview techniques while also providing access to legal resources through library guides.  The partnership also hosts a Lawyers in the Library program, where attorneys provide consultations or workshops on specific legal issues. 

To learn more about the session or to view the program, visit the virtual conference website.

About the author:  Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law.  She is also vice chair of LISP-SIS and co-editor of the LISP/SR Blog.