In Fitchburg MA The Solution Is To Incorporate The Public Law Library Into The City’s Main Library

Fitchburg Law Library will reopen at city public library
By Alana Melanson, [email protected]
POSTED:   01/10/2014 06:36:04 AM EST

FITCHBURG — After being closed since May, the Fitchburg Law Library will reopen on Wednesday — but at the Fitchburg Public Library.

Sharon Bernard, director of the Fitchburg Public Library, said she’s excited about the partnership that will allow the 142-year-old law library to remain in the city.

Bernard said she and the library board of trustees had met with Law Librarian Peter Anderegg in May and the trustees quickly approved of the idea, and a proposal was sent to the state. She said an agreement was finally signed in October and the law library moved into vacant space on the second floor earlier this week.

“This will be the first trial court library that will be open in the evening and possibly on the occasional Saturday,” Bernard said. “We’re very excited to be experimenting with this and maybe it will be an example other communities might be able to use.”

The law library’s new hours are Mondays and Wednesdays, noon to 8 p.m., and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to take into account court sessions scheduled for small claims and Housing Court issues.

“A number of people in the community came together to keep this tremendous public resource open, and have helped us make the move to our new space in the public library,” Massachusetts Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence said in a statement. “We’d like to thank Mayor Lisa Wong, Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Representative Stephen DiNatale, and the trustees of the library for their efforts to ensure residents of north central Worcester County continue to have access to this important legal resource.”

DiNatale said he and Flanagan had met with Spence several months ago and advocated keeping the law library in the city by partnering with the public library.

“The library had space and it just made sense,” he said.

DiNatale was thrilled Thursday to learn that the partnership was indeed going to work out.

“It’s a great resource for the legal community, obviously, and it also provides a service to the average citizen that’s important,” he said. “If we can maintain that, all the better.”

According to Wong, the move is something that has been in the works for years, because the building the law library was formerly housed in, the old Superior Court building on Elm Street, has been slowly deteriorating for decades. The threat of closure helped to give momentum to finally pulling all of the pieces together to make it work, she said.

Bernard said the old location was not accessible to those who could not climb the stairs to the second floor, and it was not a welcoming place. She said her staff was always sending patrons over to the law library, and now they can access it from the comfort of the public library–and it may even help to bring higher usage to it.

Low usage was one of the reasons the Massachusetts Court System gave last year to justify closing the law library, saying Fitchburg had the lowest number of walk-in users of all of the state’s then-17 law libraries. The Bristol Law Library in Taunton, with the second-lowest user activity, was also closed.

The Fitchburg Law Library’s book collection includes a collection of statutes, regulations and court reporters, or books that collect every decision made by the Supreme Judicial Court. There are also treatises on law, guides to establishing facts in a case and public computers for accessing online material.

“The materials and the staff at the law library are both critical to helping people with very complex legal issues,” Wong said. “I don’t even think I know the hundreds of thousands of different legal issues people come across all the time, but it’s great to have this there so people don’t fall through the cracks.”

She said the city is providing space for the law library at no charge, and that the state trend appears to be slowly closing law libraries as staff retire. While the law library will retain its own separate staff for now, Wong said a longterm staffing solution may be to train city librarians to manage the law library.

Fitchburg City Solicitor John Barrett, who has his own law office in Townsend, said it’s unfortunate that there aren’t sufficient resources to maintain the law library in its own building, but he is happy nonetheless to see it stay in the city. Otherwise, he said, lawyers from all over this area would have to drive to Worcester to access materials they need.

“A lot of lawyers now can access a lot of legal information over the internet and through subscriptions to different libraries, but still there are some things you can’t get except at the law library,” Barrett said. “The staff at the law library, they’ve always been very helpful to me, so I hope that they will be able to continue to be presence and a resource for everybody in the area.

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