What is a Law Library?
Law libraries are institutions that collect legal information in various formats. There are many different types of law libraries; some are open to the public and some are not. Some law libraries have large print collections of cases and statutes while others rely on electronic resources. In either type, you may be able to find just the information you are looking for.
Materials in a law library
What is any library's collection will differ depending on the goals and target users of that institution. In the U.S., some things you may find include:
- State statutes, cases and other local regulations
- Other states' statutes and cases
- Federal statutes and cases
- The rules of different courts
- Practice guides for different areas of the law
- Forms to be used in court
- Treatises and summaries of different areas of the law
- Indexes of cases on different topics
- Law journals (magazines)
- Electronic resources and databases
Public law libraries
Law libraries that are open to the public can be found in courthouses, law schools or through state agencies. These libraries often offer the following services:
- Reference help. Either on the phone or online, you may be able to contact a librarian before going to the library who can tell you about local laws or about what the library has that may help you.
- Research assistance. Some libraries have a policy allowing their librarians to conduct limited research on your behalf. Most libraries will provide assistance such as suggesting materials for you to search, etc. Some public law libraries will allow you to peruse the materials, but don't allow their librarians to make suggestions.
- Copying/printing. Most libraries will allow you to photocopy or print selections of useful materials for a price. Be aware that copying an entire work probably violates copyright and may not be legal. Also, some libraries put a limit on the number of pages you may copy. Consult the librarian about the library's policy.
- Workshops. Some public law libraries may offer occasional workshops on legal topics. These are usually free events featuring experts in various areas. Make sure you check to see if you need to sign up before attending.
- Pro bono events. You may luck out and find a law library that puts on pro bono events where local attorneys offer their time for free legal consultations. There is usually a system to decide who get to see the attorney which may require a sign up or an application.
How to find a law library
You can sometimes find a local law library through Google. Try typing in "[your city] law library" or "[your county] law library". You can also try the State Library for your state to find law libraries in the United States.
If you can't find a convenient location by searching online, try contacting a university law library. A librarian at there would be able to tell you where to find a law library near you. Your public library may have some idea as well.
If you need a specific book and you know that title, you may be able to take advantage of your local library's interlibrary loan program. This program allows libraries to borrow materials from each other, even if they are in different states.
While it may seem intimidating at first to find a law library and go there for help, there really is nothing to be worried about. Law librarians are like most librarians in that they are there to help you find the resources you need.