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.

Resources to Combat the Eviction Crisis in Michigan

By Nicholas Norton, SR-SIS

As of early September, tenants across the country are once again facing the threat of eviction as the Supreme Court did not allow President Biden’s eviction moratorium to stand. [1] According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, approximately 103,456 Michigan residents face potential eviction in the coming weeks and months. [2]

In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer instituted a state level eviction moratorium early in the pandemic, however, there is no indication the Governor will put in place a new one. [3] Even without a state level eviction moratorium, the option for a Michigan resident to delay eviction remains if they apply for federal rental assistance. State court rules delay the eviction proceedings for tenants applying for the federal assistance, giving them more resources or time to pay rent due or locate alternative housing. [4]

Michigan residents interested in applying for rental assistance can apply on the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) website. [5] MSHDA outlines the following eligibility requirements for applicants:

CERA serves renter households that have incomes less than 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) who meet the following conditions:

  • Individual(s) in the household has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or has experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and
  • Individual(s) in the household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability by being past due on utilities or rent.

Michiganlegalhelp.org is a free legal information website run by the Michigan Advocacy Program. [6] Their website has many self-help toolkits for pro se litigants in Michigan courts, is written in plain language to avoid confusing jargon, and can generate legal forms for litigants. MLH’s website has articles related to the pandemic and housing issues, including applying for CERA funding and legal information related to evictions generally. [7]

Michigan libraries have also been creating resource guides to aid patrons facing housing issues during the pandemic. These include Fennville District Library, [8] Washtenaw County Community College, [9] and Kalamazoo Public Library. [10]

About the author: Nicholas Norton is the Research Resources and Inclusivity Initiatives Librarian at Cornell University Law Library.

References

  1. “Supreme Court’s decision on Biden’s eviction ban: What it means in Michigan.” Detroit Free Press. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2021/08/27/supreme-court-eviction-ban-michigan/5611539001/. August 27, 2021.
  2. “Household Pulse Survey Interactive Tool.” U.S Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/data-tools/demo/hhp/#/?measures=EVICTFOR&periodSelector=35. Accessed October 19, 2021.  
  3. “Michigan renters may face eviction after high court nixes COVID moratorium.” Bridge Magazine. https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/michigan-renters-may-face-eviction-after-high-court-nixes-covid-moratorium. August 27, 2021
  4. “Administrative Orders (COVID-19).” Michigan Courts. https://www.courts.michigan.gov/covid-19-news-resources/administrative-orders-(covid-19)/. Accessed October 19, 2021. 
  5. “COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA).” MSHDA. https://www.michigan.gov/mshda/0,4641,7-141-5555-533463–,00.html. Accessed October 19, 2021. 
  6. “About Us.” Michigan Legal Help. https://michiganlegalhelp.org/about-us. Accessed October 19, 2021.
  7. “Eviction and Other Housing Issues and Covid-19.” Michigan Legal Help. https://michiganlegalhelp.org/self-help-tools/housing/eviction-and-other-housing-issues-and-covid-19. Accessed October 19, 2021.
  8. “COVID-19 Resources.” Fennville District Library. https://www.fennvilledl.michlibrary.org/covid-19-resources. Accessed October 19, 2021.
  9. “Local Resources & Services.” Washtenaw County Community College. https://libguides.wccnet.edu/covid-19/local. Accessed October 19, 2021.
  10. “COVID-19 Legal Resources.” Kalamazoo Public Library. https://www.kpl.gov/law-library/covid-19-legal-resources/. Accessed October 19, 2021.  

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

Award Winning LISP-SIS Members!

Congratulations to the following LISP-SIS members:

Congratulations to Miriam Childs!  Miriam is the Director of the Law Library for the Louisiana Supreme Court. She was named one of the Fastcase 50 award winners because she “advocates for underrepresented groups and helps to create pathways to amplify their voices in the future.” 

Congratulations to Mariann Sears!  Mariann is Director of the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library in Houston, Texas.  She is the recipient of the Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Award, which recognizes someone who is “an outstanding advocate and has contributed significantly to the AALL policy agenda at the federal, state, local, or international level.” 

Congratulations to Amanda Bolles Watson!  Amanda is an Assistant Professor and Director of the O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas.  Amanda won the AALL/LEXISNEXIS Call for Papers Open Division with her article, “The Report of my Death was an Exaggeration’ – The Legal Treatise”.  The article will be published in the Journal of Law and Education this fall. 

Congratulations to Karen Westwood!  Karen is the Director of the Hennepin County Law Library, and she was selected as an 2021 Unsung Legal Hero by Minnesota Lawyer.  The award is given in appreciation of the hard work non-attorneys contribute to make the legal system successful for everyone.  Her outstanding work to increase the outreach of law library programs, not only for her library, but also for public law libraries in general is only one reason why she was chosen to receive this award.  

Congratulations to Linda Tashbook! Linda, who has been a law librarian at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law for twenty-three years, won this year’s award for service to the University of Pittsburgh Senate. The award recognizes her many years of service and leadership on the Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee and her establishment and leadership of the Mental Wellness Task Force which presents programming about mental wellness issues and provides advocacy to ensure that Pitt faculty and staff have access to the best possible mental health resources and services.

Congratulations to Joe Lawson! Joe is the Deputy Director of the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library. Joe received the Houston Bar Association (HBA) President’s Award for outstanding service as co-chair of the HBA Law Week Committee. This year’s Law Week featured a variety of events focused on the theme “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

Do you know a LISP-SIS member who has recently received an award?  Email Jessica at jessica.almeida@umassd.edu and we will feature the member on the LISP/SR Blog!

Coded Bias Activist Kit

By The LLNE Service Committee

Don’t forget to register for the June 11th screening and discussion of the acclaimed documentary Coded Bias. The event starts at 7pm EST:  tinyurl.com/xr5dm9wf.

The documentary “investigates the bias in algorithms after M.I.T. Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini uncovered flaws in facial recognition technology.”  The screening will be followed by a panel discussion at 8:30pm EST featuring LLNE President (and LISP Education co-chair) Nicole Dyszlewski (moderator), Sarah Lamdan, and Susan Nevelow Mart. 

The Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) Service Committee is highlighting resources in conjunction with the film.  The filmmaker, Shalini Kantayya, has compiled an activist toolkit for those interested in becoming advocates for “algorithmic justice.” If any LISP members would like to get involved, page 24 of the toolkit lists recommended organizations to which you can subscribe and make donations.

Another way to get involved is by signing the Universal Declaration of Data Rights as Human Rights, which was developed by the Coded Bias team. Upon signature, your name and zip code are sent to U.S. elected officials. The LLNE Service Committee is encouraging members to sign the declaration if they are interested in further supporting this cause.

For more information on Coded Bias, please visit https://www.codedbias.com/.

Reopening During a Pandemic: A Second Look

Reported by Pauline Afuso, Ramsey County Law Library, Sarah Bates, Second Judicial District Court Library (Reno, NV), Sarah Larsen, Minnesota State Law Library, Catherine McGuire, Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, Jenny Silbiger, Hawai‘i Supreme Court Law Library, Karen Westwood, Hennepin County Law Library

Last fall and winter, the LISP/SR blog featured posts from law librarians who shared how their libraries were reopening to the public after months of closure due to the pandemic.  As expected, there were similarities – extra cleaning, masks, social distancing.  There were some differences, too, such as requiring appointments, imposing limits on visitors, and providing remote services for patrons.

Months later, we are still in a pandemic, but now with new considerations:  vaccines, virus mutations, evolving executive orders relating to masks and indoor gatherings, new surges, and more.  We checked back in with some of these librarians to see what changed, what stayed the same, and what they are preparing for as we move forward in 2021.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

So many things have happened in the past year that there were bound to be some changes to policies and procedures.  As Catherine McGuire from the Thurgood Marshall State Law Library in Maryland said,

“I think all our procedures have undergone changes, from tiny tweaks to significant shifts.  We reopened on June 8, 2020, so quite a lot of time has passed, restrictions have been reimposed, and are now lifting again.  We learn more about the science of transmission.  And of course, the vaccine has been introduced.  The basics have stayed the same – we’re asking that visitors schedule with us ahead of time.  And the spacing of our public computers hasn’t changed, as they are set in a piece of furniture that can’t be broken up.  Until the distancing requirement is removed, I think we’re going to have to continue to schedule public computer time, since we can’t use all of the seats simultaneously.”

Pictures of the computer carrels at the Thurgood Marshall State Law Library with only three open workspaces.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, Jenny Silbiger reported a positive change:  After an inspection by the Department of Health, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court Library was allowed to double its capacity, as long as the patrons maintained their social distancing.  They have also added two more appointment slots to allow for even more visitors to the library.  Jenny’s main concern is for the safety, health, and well-being of her staff and visitors.  She very much appreciates the judiciary’s leadership with their support of flexible teleworking schedules and building access policies appropriate for the library.  She feels

“very fortunate that our case numbers are low in the islands, but because of our limited healthcare facilities (we are an island chain, after all), weʻre always keeping our eye out, and Iʻm glad we were closed for a bit during the second surge in the late summer into the fall of 2020.”

A view of the circulation desk at Hawaii Supreme Court Library with a blue tape line to remind patrons to maintain their social distance from library staff.

At the Ramsey County Law Library (St. Paul, MN) and at the Second Judicial District Court Library (Reno, NV), much of the policies are tied to the orders from the Court.  In Minnesota, the Chief Justice issued several orders over the last year, ordering the courts to hold hearings remotely where possible to minimize the number of people who physically had to come to the Courthouse.  The library adjusted its policies to follow the Chief Justice’s mandate to limit exposure at court facilities: the library has reduced the number of people who can come into the library at any one time (from 10 down to 5) and are limiting visits to an hour at a time. 

Similarly, in Reno, Sarah Bates reports that in November when COVID cases surged, the State of Nevada relocked down the courts.  Despite that, the Washoe County Law Library continues to assist patrons via phone and email.  They plan to open in-person research appointments, but that will depend on the Court’s approval.  They have converted their in-person Lawyer in the Library program to a virtual format using Zoom.  Sarah reports:

“I do not know if our Lawyer in the Library program will ever be an in-person program again.  Not only does keeping it online mitigate the risk of having a group of 25+ people gathering in the library, but it is much more convenient for our volunteer attorneys and many of our patrons.  At the very least, it will remain virtual for the foreseeable future.”

Sarah Larsen, Outreach Librarian for the Minnesota State Law Library, also reported on some changes that have occurred in St. Paul.  The main change is that staff will have the option to work from home one or two days a week.  They plan to continue to offer remote access for their clinics.  They have gotten feedback from both attendees and the volunteer attorneys that the convenience of the remote clinics is working well.  She added,

“We also changed how we provide the documents to our attorneys, and I think we’ll keep that as well. We used to print court documents on the day of the clinic and run them in to the attorneys.  Now, we upload the documents into a shared folder ahead of time. This cuts down so much on paper usage, and the attorneys seem to like to have this kind of access. I think we’ll probably continue doing this sort of thing as much as possible.”

The Hawai‘i State Law Library’s Lawyer in the Library program also successfully transitioned to remote conferences, and they also plan to continue to keep that format after restrictions are relaxed.  They might compromise and offer both in-person and remote clinics, but it is too early to say for sure. 

Some of the changes regarding staffing that were implemented during the shutdown will continue even after the libraries are fully opened.  In Maryland, Catherine said that even with service restricted to phone, email, and limited in-person appointments, they have had a usage increase of 25% over non-pandemic times.  She’s not sure if the increase in workload was caused because people can’t visit, or because they just managed to find the library while in lockdown by cruising around the internet.  They are looking to keep the increased reference staffing because they don’t see the workload decreasing once they are fully open, currently planned for the end of April.

In Hawai‘i, the Supreme Court Law Library was able to hire and onboard a new staff member.  It was a little difficult, as she was hired while half of the staff were teleworking from home, but Jenny reports that she is settling into her new position.  One of her responsibilities is to manage the laptop access station used for district court remote hearings. 

A view of the workstation used to attend court hearings remotely for Hawai‘i District Court.

But the prize for the biggest change since the start of the pandemic goes to the Hennepin County Law Library, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Karen describes how the law library has adapted since her article came out last December. 

“Greetings from Hennepin County Law Library in Exile!  As you may recall from my past writing on the pandemic experience here, we never did open to the public but have had staff in the building since last June.  This allowed us to access our print collection for reference, offer curbside circulation, and manage the print collection (checking in materials and filing loose-leaf pages).  A countywide email came out in January indicating in-person services would fully open September 7, at the earliest.  But, if I’m honest, as the vaccination numbers began to improve, I harbored hopes of reopening during the summer.

And then it became apparent that there was another elephant in the room jockeying for space with the pandemic.  The Derek Chauvin trial would begin in our building in early March, and an administrative decision was made to move all services not related to the trial to alternative locations.  We chose to move to another county building because the county will forward mail to this temporary location. This way we can still receive titles and check them in (although we are unable to file loose-leaf services). 

Our patrons have been understanding, and (as we all learned last spring) we can continue to provide a high level of service via phone and email.  But I worry that after more than a year of being closed, we’ll have enormous challenges getting folks to return to our physical space.  In addition, the defensive measures we see downtown and the extensive reporting on the trial feel like an additional weight during an already heavy time.

But here’s what I can also say – my local Minnesota colleagues have been more than generous, whether it’s providing materials that we can’t get to or offering us space if we want to work in their libraries.  They’ve reached out as the trial has gotten underway to offer help but also just to check in.  And my colleagues across the country have done the same. It’s been heartening to be the recipient of such compassion and understanding. We’re looking forward to getting back into our space and eventually reopening, but for now we carry on as best we can.”

Hennepin County Law librarian, Rich Harrington, stands near part of the reference collection we moved to our temporary space in March 2021.  These titles help us answer phone and email questions effectively.
The temporary home of the Hennepin County Law Library, in the shadow of U.S. Bank stadium.  These are some of the books and filings that have arrived since our move.  Note all the monitor “arms” – we are on a floor that previously provided shared workspace for social workers and other employees who came downtown only on occasion and would work at any open carrel or desk.

So stay tuned – we have a ways to go before we get past the challenges caused by the pandemic. Until then, as Karen put it so nicely, we’ll carry on as best we can.