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Supporting courts, community and legal aid self help practitioners

Court and Spark: Lost in Translation

Thursday, February 14, 2008

  • By: Robyn M. Moltzen
  • Organization: The Sacramento County Public Law Library

Law libraries and the courts must have clear communication between each other in order to provide adequate service to users. Even though the two institutions are often in
close physical proximity to each other, sometimes even located within the same building, there is a vast, empty vacuum between them. Upon exiting the court line,
facilitators' office, or self-help center, a person will have a clear understanding of what instructions they were given by court staff. Not surprisingly, when they arrive at the law
library, what they think they were told to ask for is indeed something entirely different and often does not exist. The Sacramento County Public Law Library and the
Sacramento County Family Law Facilitators office lovingly refer to the physical space between us as the "Sea of Forgetfulness", since people often forget what they were told
as they walk between our respective locations.
In one of our typical bi-monthly meetings at the law library, public services staff was brainstorming on ways to help alleviate this issue of "forgetfulness". In our ensuing
discussion, we were trying to think of solutions that would take the burden off of library and court users by having the library and court staffs take more responsibility to ensure
that the exact referral or suggestion was communicated. During our brainstorming, it was mentioned we needed some physical connection between the agencies. Someone
stated that we needed a pad similar to what a doctor would use, so that boxes could be checked, a "prescription" written out, and physically given to the person to take away
with them. Library assistant Natalie Head stated "a legal prescription" - thus our Legal Prescription Pads were born!
After collaborating with the courts, we have since created a customized Legal Prescription Pad for the different referring agencies, including the Family Law
Facilitators office and the VLSP Civil Self-Help Center located in the Sacramento Superior Court. We also have a generic "prescription" pad that we use for other agency
referrals and for marketing purposes when we give a presentation, or attend a luncheon,
etc. Our prescription pads include our logo, hours and location, check boxes for suggested
supplemental materials or books, and most importantly, it includes "ask a librarian for more information on…" and provides enough free space so that the referrer can put a
brief description of what they were suggesting the user research once they arrived at the law library. Also, for our customized pads, it lists the referring agency, so that we
can track who is using our Legal Prescription Pads, and how often. The law library is currently keeping statistics on how often the prescriptions are used
and what the most often asked questions are. Our librarians will use this valuable information to create Legal Resource Guides, sample pleadings, 24/7 reference scripts,
and other documents as necessary. We are hoping that in collaborating with the courts and other referring agencies, and through continued use of our "Legal Prescriptions" we
can turn the "Sea of Forgetfulness" into just a small trickle.
Editor's Note: Court and Spark is a place where "our court and county librarians are motivated to contribute musings on, experiences with, or real life accomplishments in,
strengthening the recognition of their library as a full and honored partner in the process of self representation, where the Court staff, the librarians and the library user
overlap, and where expectations are met or exceeded."

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