BANGOR, Maine — Barbara McDade, director of the Bangor Public Library, learned a long time ago that librarians should never give legal advice. Yet, people facing legal problems often seek advice at libraries before they call an attorney.
Next week, McDade, Juliet Holmes-Smith, director of the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project, and Kathleen Caldwell, Web site coordinator for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, will attend a conference in Austin, Texas, designed to help librarians and legal aid organizations work together to help people find the legal information they need at public libraries.
“The conference will provide librarians with training so we can lead people to online and other resources where they can help themselves,” McDade said Tuesday.
About 75 percent of Mainers now represent themselves in court, according to the state judiciary’s annual report. A survey last fall conducted by Maine’s six legal services providers showed that those organizations were able to serve just 24 percent of the people who sought and qualified for their services.
“Libraries are often the first stop for people planning on representing themselves when faced with a legal problem,” said Holmes-Smith in the press release issued Tuesday. “We hope this training will help us create our own process to educate Maine librarians, and ultimately library patrons, on court systems, procedures and legal aid opportunities available to Maine, as well as how to navigate the Web-based legal information resources available online.”
The team from Maine is one of 15 chosen out of 42 across the nation to participate Monday and Tuesday in the National Training on Public Libraries and Access to Justice.
Participants will discuss strategies such as how to locate the best content and tools, how to talk about the content with library patrons, and how to work with legal partners.
The conference proved to be timely, according to McDade, since a new subcommittee of the Justice Action Group — an organization composed of Maine judges, lawyers, social service providers and representatives from advocacy groups — began working on a statewide project in October to improve access to justice through the state’s public libraries and the statewide Web site created by Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
The training is being provided through the National Center for State Courts and the Center-hosted Self-Represented Litigation Network in cooperation with the Legal Services Corp. Funding for the training has been provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.