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Narrowing the Justice Gap

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While criminal justice issues have been increasingly in the public eye, lack of access to civil legal information and resources is a less well-known challenge that results in people appearing in court without lawyers in critical life matters such as eviction, foreclosures, child custody and child support proceedings, and debt collection cases. According to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), more than 64 million Americans are eligible for civil legal aid, yet civil legal aid providers routinely turn away 80% of those who need help because of a lack of resources.

LSC is considering how it might increase access and awareness of civil legal information and resources through public libraries. A planning grant is supporting research and input from a diverse advisory committee to inform the development of a training curriculum for public librarians. I was pleased to join Public Library Association President-Elect (and Cleveland Public Library Director) Felton Thomas at the advisory committee meeting with others from state law libraries, university law libraries, legal aid providers already partnering with public libraries, and OCLC to learn more about the justice gap and how libraries may play a role in helping people find the legal information they need to narrow the justice gap.

Fortunately, a significant body of work already exists, including a series of webinars for librarians developed by LSC and ProBono.net; a Public Library Toolkit developed by the American Association of Law Libraries; the Law4AZ initiative developed and delivered by the State Library of Arizona; and collaboration among the Hawaii State Judiciary, the Hawaii State Public Library System, and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii to expand court forms available online and support librarian training and public seminars.

I’d be glad to hear from readers about their own experiences in this area and/or what you’d like to see in any future training or resources that may be developed. Shoot me a line at lclark@alawash.org.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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