Last June, I started observing and taking statistics on patron questions at
our courthouse library. My goal was to get an idea of how the library is
used by the courthouse, legal and lay communities. The questions that
required more substantive responses—some significant interaction such as
educating a patron on the types of legal information resources available—
gave me the opportunity to get a glimmer of the legal information needs of
The largest portion of such questions, 40%, were general in nature, e.g. not
related to any specific area of law. Examples of such questions include how
to generally research a legal issue or use an electronic database.
Significant question subject areas included family law (10%), real property
(6%), guardianship of minors (6%) and government law (6%). Interestingly,
the largest specific category was legal procedure (13%). Typically, the
questions asked in this area were requests for forms or for materials
explaining how to perform a certain procedure, e.g. filing a mechanics lien;
obtaining an emergency court date, statutes of limitations and how to bring
These numbers are not the result of a scientific survey. They also do not
distinguish between whether or not a questioner was an attorney or pro se.
(If I had to guess I would say the break down would be 40% attorney and 60%
pro se). I do think they raise an important point that many people using
the courthouse, and especially pro se’s are in need of instruction in the use of legal resources as well as the courthouse procedures.