State Law Library promotes public access

The State Law Library in Jackson offers the public free access to an extensive collection of legal works with a catalog available on the Internet.

In observance of National Library Week April 1-7, State Law Librarian Charles Pearce invites the public to use the Law Library. Lawyers, judges and students are the most frequent patrons. Pearce wants to increase Law Library use by the average citizen.

"There is a misconception out there that this is a library for the bar or the court. We are open to the public," Pearce said. "The Law Library is a public institution. We are here to serve anyone who has interest in a legal subject."

Among volumes of law written for lawyers are also collections that explain law for laymen, Pearce said. One set that gets frequent use is Law in a Nutshell, a multi-volume set that includes topics such as child custody and divorce and employee rights.

Pearce cautioned that someone with a legal problem should not substitute research for legal advice. Library staff members don't interpret the law for patrons.

Court of Appeals Judge Leslie Southwick said, "People with a legal concern who are not sure yet whether they want to hire a lawyer can find a wide range of material that explains different areas of the law."

Southwick said the State Law Library is underutilized. "I do think it is a daunting prospect for a lay person to use a law library," Southwick said. "There is a mystique about it."

A staff of four with a total of 64 years of law library experience can assist patrons.

Information Services Librarian Kenneth Raigins, former head of the Legislative Reference Bureau, has a law degree with a graduate degree in librarianship. He is skilled in locating information when a patron may have only a vague notion of the subject.

"Sometimes people can't tell you exactly what they need," said Michelle Hudson, a reference librarian at the Eudora Welty Library. Raigins "is just so patient," Hudson said. She directs some inquiries about legal subjects to the State Law Library.

Geraldine Bell is the first contact for patrons at the front desk of the Law Library. She directs telephone inquiries, assists with photocopy requests and manages the collection of law journals, newspapers and other materials that require constant updating.

Librarian Liz Thompson catalogs materials and maintains the library's online catalog. One recent project included updating law reviews and bar journals and putting the list on the library's web site. She is describing all of the library's old Mississippi codes and will make this available on the library's web site.

Pearce, who joined the State Law Library as its head 15 months ago, has worked for the Department of Archives and History and the Mississippi College School of Law library. He was librarian for the law firm of Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes for 13 years.

The State Law Library's catalog is searchable via the Internet on the Mississippi Supreme Court's web site, courts.ms.gov. To get the library catalog, click the Law Library icon.

The State Law Library is located on the second floor of the Gartin Justice Building at the corner of West and High streets in Jackson. It is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The State Law Library is the smallest of three law libraries in the state. Pearce said the libraries of Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson and the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford have more extensive collections.

Pearce is working to improve the State Law Library's collection in tight budget times. Pearce has combined charity and commercialism to plug the holes. He is asking publishers to give books to the library. In return, a publisher may display the book, along with a price tag and promotional material on that volume, for a month in the library. After a month on the promotional table, the advertising comes off and the book goes on the shelf.

Book publishers spend money promoting their products at conventions and seminars. For the price of a book, Pearce said he will give them display space.

"I'm not trying to force anybody to buy their books. I'm trying to provide information about new books and have new books going into our collection without having to buy them," Pearce said. Since September, the venture has added $2,600 worth of materials to the collection.

Pearce said it's a novel approach. He hasn't found another law librarian who has tried it.

Pearce is also looking for book donations, especially old Mississippi Martindale-Hubbell volumes. Jackson attorney Joel Howell recently donated his collection of Mississippi volumes of the Martindale-Hubbell directory spanning the early 1980s to the early 1990s. The books had been in an attic. Martindale-Hubbell is a directory of lawyers that includes biographical information.

The State Law Library has archival treasures in its collection. Pearce counts the 1803 volume of Tucker's Blackstone in the rare books collection as a prize. It was one of the most important legal treatises of the 1800s.

But years of budget constraints have taken a toll on the 205,000-volume collection, Pearce said. Some everyday workhorse volumes are close to being antiques and are of little value in applying modern-day law.

Pearce has identified 50 topic areas and is working to update and expand the collection.

"Now we have one of the best comprehensive loose-leaf sets on civil rights," Pearce said. "One of the things I'm proud of is a comprehensive, multi-volume set on education law."

With WorldCom, a telecommunications leader, located in Clinton, Pearce wants to expand the collection dealing with telecommunications law.

"We are trying to become more relevant to what is going on here and other parts of the state," Pearce said.

Computer capabilities changed legal research. But Pearce said digital data will never replace the printed page. Some documents aren't available on computer. For instance, some state regulatory agencies' rules aren't on a web site, but must be reviewed on paper.

"There is a lot of talk that online research will replace libraries," Pearce said. "People are just kidding themselves if they think they can find all the answers. There are certain things that you have to go to print to find. Libraries are going to be around for a long time."

For more information, call court Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452.