In Oregon, all 36 counties are statutorily required to “operate a free law library that is convenient and available at reasonable hours; or provide free law library services at one or more locations that are convenient and available at reasonable hours” (Or. Rev. Stat. § 9.815). County law libraries have been around for more than a century in Oregon; however, what those libraries look like today and the depth of services or resources they offer vary dramatically statewide. In rural and small counties, especially, there may be limited (or nonexistent) resources, physical space, and staffing. Despite the challenges, many counties outside the Portland metropolitan area are striving to meet—and succeeding!—the legal information needs of both attorneys and non-attorneys through non-traditional service models, targeted outreach, staff training, and other endeavors. As a result, these libraries are helping to further “access to justice,” a national movement to ensure that everyone, regardless of economic means, has equitable access to the justice system, which includes legal protection, legal awareness, and legal counsel (United States Institute of Peace, 2009).

Oregon county law libraries have a long, well-established history of skillfully providing legal research information, reference assistance, and referrals to the public, lawyers and non-lawyers alike. More than ever before, small and rural county law libraries are discovering and devising innovative ways to make big impacts on their community’s legal information needs. Nevertheless, significant room remains for growth and improvement. It is hoped that this article inspires some readers to investigate the public law library services currently offered in their own county, to evaluate the quality of those services, and to brainstorm ways in which the services could be improved or more widely appreciated and supported.

Author Biography

Sue Ludington has been the Assistant Law Librarian at the Washington County (OR) Law Library since 2013. She earned her MLIS from the University of Washington in 2002, and entered law librarianship after 10 years in public libraries as a teen services librarian. She is a strong advocate of the access to justice movement and is passionate about empowering library workers from diverse backgrounds to confidently serve the legal needs of their patrons. When not librarianing, she enjoys hiking, crossword puzzles, beer, local politics, and live music.

Note: Sue has recently accepted the Law Librarian position for Lane County, Oregon. She will leave Washington County at the end of February 2018 to embark on this exciting new challenge!

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© 2017 Sue Ludington



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