I’m an attorney, and one of the things that attorneys are encouraged (in some states,required) to do is pro bono work. “Pro bono” means “for good” and is generally representation of a low-income person or a non-profit organization without payment. Libraries are generally a community function and librarians generally serve communities (but see my most recent post, on independent information professionals). There’s less of an opportunity for librarians to do the same sort of “pro bono” work. Volunteering isn’t really the same thing.
But I think, nevertheless, that there are real opportunities for pro bono librarianing. I came to this conclusion while at a conference of the Law Library Association of Maryland about Access to Justice. As an attorney, I had always thought about access to justice as a lawyer thing, not a law librarian thing. It makes sense, though, that librarians would have a role in access in justice.
Why? Because librarians are all about access to libraries and access to information, and both of these are absolutely critical to access to justice. And both of these are areas in which librarians–and, of course, library students–can make a difference.
I would love for the comments section here to become a discussion of ways in which we can support the cause of access to justice as librarians. I’m sure that there are many ideas beyond those that I’ve thought of. To begin, here are my ideas, which are filtered through a local (District of Columbia) lens:
1. Prison library and homeless shelter library support. Here in DC we have a detention center that has a law library (possibly in name only?) and no general library.* And a huge family shelter that is home to many families and many problems. There are opportunities here for advocacy, for work within the public library system, even for the creation of an organization to support these needs. (Also see this on a volunteer prison library in Manitoba.)
2. Online legal information resources. Maryland has a People’s Law Library for the general public to find legal information. You could create a similar resource for another jurisdiction, or contribute information to one that exists already. (The Maryland folks are considering offering pro bono hours to attorneys who contribute articles.)
3. Librarians without Borders. By coincidence, I read about this organization while at the access to justice conference. My other suggestions are very local-community-focused; this is global-community-focused. You can donate money or even go on a trip (note that this link is for the 2014 trip, which has past).
4. Digital literacy. We all know that there is a digital divide, and even among people on the have-access side of that divide, there is a skills divide. Yet more and more, the information people need is online. Supporting digital literacy is something well suited for librarians and library students and will support access to justice.
For more information about Access to Justice, see:
- National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo School of Law
- American Bar Association’s Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives
- D.C. Access to Justice Commission
*This was discussed at a hearing of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on March 19, but the hearing video isn’t available to link to as an authoritative source.