---::--- Findings ---::---
From Maryland's First Legal Resource

---::--- Volume 3, Number 4, Fall 2008 ---::---

 

A Publication of the Maryland State Law Library
In This Issue:

Library Launches Its First "Digital Collections"

By Steve Anderson

The Maryland State Law Library is committed to improving public access to its comprehensive collections of legal and government information. Consequently, the Library has embarked on a program to digitize those printed Maryland materials that are both relatively unique to the Library and frequently used by legal researchers. The Library is using PTFS Archivalware as its repository software platform.

The Maryland State Law Library would like to extend an invitation to "beta test" the Library's new Digital Collections. Two collections comprise this initial phase of the digitization program. First, the Library selected Maryland Rules Committee Meeting Minutes & Agendas for scanning because they are an essential source of background information on the development of the state’s court rules. Researchers now can search the full-text of more than 60 years of meeting materials (beginning in 1947) to find mention of the adoption of specific rules. Second, the Library added previously scanned copies of the Proceedings of the Maryland Judicial Conference. These reports, dating from 1947 to 1997, provide historical information on the work of the Judiciary.

The Library's future plans include the scanning of selected Maryland Task Force Reports. These reports are often helpful sources of information used to determine legislative intent. The Library will be examining this collection to identify which reports should be scanned first in order to make available the most relevant and useful ones.

The Library values feedback about this "beta test" from the legal community. Please contact the Library with your suggestions. The Library will try to incorporate as many recommendations as possible.


PIXELS

By Mary Jo Lazun

Integrating Digital Municipal Codes into a Print-Based World

The Library staff has embarked on a systematic project to provide comprehensive access to both current and superseded codes of Maryland's 158 municipalities. For many of Maryland's major cities like Annapolis, Baltimore, Rockville, the Library has always collected these codes and kept their superseded versions. But there are a number of smaller municipalities that have not been included in the Library's collection, in part because of logistical reasons.

At a recent meeting the Library staff agreed that part of its mission should include collecting and preserving all available local codes. As one staff member noted, " If anyone should do this, it should be us." Local codes are "published" in a number of ways. Many of the larger municipalities use a third party codification services like Municode.com, General Code Publishers or American Legal Publishing to assist them in developing, updating and publishing their codes. These codes are usually available both online and in print and are systematically updated. The Library recently expanded its collection to include published codes from Denton, New Carrollton, Leonardtown, Myersville, Laurel, Aberdeen, Hampstead, North Beach, Oakland, and Rock Hall.

Many smaller cities simply self-publish their codes on the city's web site. Library staff recently completed reviewing these web sites and printing these codes. The Library will be using a variety of tools, including web site monitoring software, to let us know when an updated version of these code are available. Staff will then print out the latest version and add the previous version to our superseded code collection. For the smallest municipalities, those that do not have web sites or do not publish their codes online, the Library will be contacting their representatives to obtain their codes.

To check for the current version of municipal codes--both in print AND online--and to see what superseded versions the Library has in its collection, go to the Library's Gateway to Maryland Law web page and click on the link City and Municipal Codes.


Public Reference Service E-mail: What You Didn’t Know We Do

By Rudolf B. Lamy

Many, if not most, of the professionals and paraprofessionals in the Maryland legal community think of the State Law Library as a resource only for judges, lawyers and law firms. What they sometimes miss is the work that the Library does for the general public. Much of that work is done through the Library’s e-mail reference and referral service.

The Library's Reference Desk answers approximately 200 e-mails from "John Q. Public" every month. Questions come from students, self-represented litigants and family members seeking information about domestic relations, contract, traffic and consumer law. Many of these requests are well-written and to the point. Others require just a bit of interpretation by the Reference Staff to elicit the intended need of the requester. All-in-all, many are basic questions and are not in any way extraordinary in either form, content, or research requirements. However, it is their content that will often catch the eye and provoke comment.

Sometime during the 1st Century B.C.E., the Roman poet Virgil wrote, “I have known sorrow and learned to aid the wretched.” The Reference Staff at the State Law Library often deals with day-to-day questions such as: “Where can I find a lawyer to take my case for free?” “How do I file for small claims?” “Can I get a lawyer for traffic court?” “We cancelled the wedding; can I get the engagement ring back?” There are other commonly asked and mundane questions as well. They encompass all the everyday ordinary legal questions. But, the Library also hears from Virgil’s “wretched” as well, and all too often.

The year 2008 brought the Library well over 100 questions about divorce; approximately 50 about child custody; 34 about child support and at least 8 about the emancipation of minors. Then there were the 111 requests for information pertaining to disputes with landlords and 37 about evictions. There were also 28 concerning criminal records and another 26 regarding debt collection. If we also consider questions directed to the Peoples Law Library website, which is maintained by the Library, we find, not surprisingly, that the requests regarding foreclosure have become one of the most common asked of the Reference Staff of late. (Peoples Law Library users visited the website's Foreclosure Assistance Resources page nearly 7000 times in the last year.)

Six days a week the reference staff at the Maryland State Law Library answers e-mail sent by people from many states and many countries. Of the 200 that we receive each month, there are roughly 10 to 20 that will generate extra interest from the staff due completely to their difficulties with spelling, grammar, format, or punctuation. Of the rest, a fair number are a tragic testament to the sorrows that the general public suffers on a regular basis.

Library Staff does its best to steer people to appropriate resources. Within parameters, we provide direct answers to many questions. If we cannot readily or ethically provide an answer, we refer the questioner to a relevant information or service source. We always try to respond with either an answer or a referral within twenty-four hours.


Book Review: "Foreclosure Survival Guide: Keep Your House or Walk Away With Money in Your Pocket”

By Carol Carman

New in the Library is a book that we hope no one ever needs to utilize, but which in today’s economy we are afraid might get heavy use. The title in question is the “Foreclosure Survival Guide: Keep Your House or Walk Away With Money in Your Pocket” by bankruptcy attorney Stephen Elias. It is one of the newest titles in the Nolo series of books that aim to “translate legal jargon into plain English” and at the same time give “the best information available.”

The book explains foreclosure in general terms at first, providing much more detailed information in later chapters. It discusses various options to stay in your home such as refinancing, reverse mortgages, and Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy procedures and how they differ. It also gives instances where it might be best for you to give up your house but how to stay in it for as long as possible to save money. And it warns against scams and con artists. Another chapter discusses when and how to fight foreclosure in court.

The author offers helpful tips throughout the book and in a dedicated chapter points the reader to resources beyond the book itself. There is also an extensive glossary, an index, and a table for each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, giving specifics of their foreclosure laws.

For a general, easy-to-understand discussion of foreclosure, this is a worthwhile publication. Attorneys may find it helpful if they are new to foreclosure representation issues, but the book's most significant contribution to this topic will be helping homeowners understand legal procedures and the options available to them.

Circuit Court Law Library Connections: Thoughts on Outreach Services

By Catherine McGuire

Merriam-Webster defines “outreach” as the extending of services or assistance beyond current or usual limits (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition). The common perception of outreach incorporates teaching, materials production, and even marketing. Much of what law librarians have traditionally considered part of the job can be defined as outreach: pathfinders, legal research instruction, bibliographies. It’s the promotion, rather than the production, that turns these traditional items into outreach efforts – not just producing the material, but making it as broadly available as possible.

A search of Google for other law library outreach programs shows few formally-established ones among the academic and public law library community. An assessment of offerings includes the following:

  • Pace Law Library and Indiana University at Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law include in their outreach efforts a newsletter, a blog, research instruction, tours, lectures and research guides.
  • The University of New Mexico Law Library, which also serves the public as a state law library, includes visits to libraries, presentations and workshops, and the licensing of legal databases for public use to four branch libraries.
  • The Wisconsin State Law Library provides consultation and assistance to county law libraries throughout the state.
  • The Minnesota State Law Library has a fully operational County Law Library Program (providing onsite visits, newsletter, annual training conference, manual for county law library managers, consultations) and Law Library Service to Prisoners program.

The Maryland State Law Library’s program, like the Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, also provides consultation and assistance to county (Circuit Court) law libraries throughout the State. And like Minnesota, the Maryland program provides an annual conference, and provides backup for the State’s Library Assistance to State Institutions (LASI) service, assisting in filling requests from Maryland’s inmate population. The Maryland program compiles and maintains recommended lists of publications and policy statements for Maryland Circuit Court libraries. Additionally, the Maryland outreach program provides and administers grants to those libraries; holds training programs for public library reference personnel and Judiciary personnel; develops print and web-based research guides; and participates in a wide variety of conferences, trainings, and educational seminars upon request. Looking at the above list, it is interesting to note the commonalities – education/training events and print (or web-based) research guides. These are traditional areas of librarian activity generally, but now, they are being incorporated into the concept of outreach. No matter the size of the library, outreach efforts are likely already a part of the library’s regular functions. Outreach is about presentation, marketing, finding a need and filling it. It is about implementing the common duties of librarianship, with an eye to amplification – not just writing that research guide, but finding out who would benefit most from it, offering it to interested individuals, even offering to do a walk-through presentation of it for a small group. It is part of a library’s everyday business, whether called "outreach" by name or not. Take a look at your own library and you will find that you have been doing outreach all along.