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Guidelines for Legal Information Service to the Public


These guidelines define the optimum level of information assistance and access to legal materials that may be provided by library reference staff to non-lawyer users of the State Law Library. These guidelines are not intended to provide staff with an excuse not to provide assistance. It must be kept in mind, however, that legal and ethical codes prohibit librarians from giving legal advice or opinion, or interpretation of primary sources of legal authority. Therefore, due care and good common sense must be used when providing meaningful information assistance to the public.


The law library staff will provide information and access to materials in the collection to non-lawyer patrons to the fullest extent possible, using good judgment in deciding the amount of time and effort that can be devoted to any one patron.

Staff should first advise non-lawyer patrons that ethical and legal guidelines preclude them from interpreting the meaning of sources of legal authority or ascertaining their relevance for the patron's particular need. Also, staff should not perform legal research nor offer legal advice to this user group.

Staff should attempt to identify the relevant issues involved in a reference inquiry without being drawn into the patron's specific problem(s).

Staff should never give a patron the impression, in a reference situation, that "this is the law", without qualifying the authoritativeness of the answer.

Reference Assistance: In-Person and By Phone

Staff will give preference to patrons in the library over telephone inquiries.

Typical services extended to non-lawyer patrons in the library may include, but not be limited to:

Telephone reference should be handled with a high degree of sensitivity to the increased chances of miscommunicationi or misunderstanding or neglecting, on the part of the patron or staff, to provide a pertinent piece of information.


Access: Arranging, collecting, and providing resources and workspace where information may be sought.

Information Service: Includes direct personal assistance, directories, or signs, exchange of information pulled from a reference source, dissemination of information in anticipation of user needs, use of information referral resources, and direct end-user access to an information system via telecommunications hardware and software.

Interpretation: Explaining, clarifying, or translating a piece of information that is unclear to the person asking the question.

Legal Advice: Giving legal counsel or recommendations.

Legal Research: A study of the legal authorities, whether case or text, for the purpose of supporting a proposition.

This policy approved by MSLL Committee 5/6/91

Updated: June 23, 2008

Maryland State Law Library
Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building
361 Rowe Blvd.  Annapolis, MD. 21401
Phone: 410.260.1430 | Toll Free in MD. 1.888.216.8156 | Fax 410.260.1572
Open to the public
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