Raymond W. Fox Law Library
A Model for Intergovernmental Cooperation
Today, the Raymond W. Fox Law Library provides current and comprehensive legal materials that meet the legal research and information needs of library users. That such a unique service exists within the walls of a public library, reflects an enduring tradition of the library forming mutually beneficial agreements and partnerships with community stakeholders for the purpose of increasing access to information. Kalamazoo’s Raymond W. Fox Law Library models this kind of innovative, intergovernmental cooperation. In fact, this vital, community asset is such a novelty, that other public libraries across the country have inquired about its operation over the years. Meeting the information needs of the county’s ever-increasing
pro se litigants (non-attorneys) has become the law library’s core focus over the past decade, as it becomes ever more clear, that local residents navigating the court system benefit from its usefulness. The county continues to assist with materials and databases costs. KPL contributes library staff, technological expertise, and a state-of-the-art facility. The County Bar Association collaborates with KPL on programming ( Ask a Lawyer) designed to assist those who cannot afford legal representation.
Raymond W. Fox County Law Library, 2022
By the Fall of 1997, negotiations between KPL, Kalamazoo County and the Kalamazoo County Bar Association had resulted in a plan to move the courthouse law library to the Central library branch. The library had the space to house it, and the staff capacity to provide library patrons and attorneys with the technological and research knowhow. It would be the county that would provide funding for the book collection and database subscriptions. These discussions took place as the library was renovating their downtown building, making the timing beneficial to all parties. The biggest challenge facing the county law library’s court location centered around its lack of evening hours, which negatively impacted working citizens who were representing themselves, but who could not access the library during the day. It was becoming clear to the county bar association, that many in the community could neither afford a lawyer, nor qualify for legal aid services.
But, not every community stakeholder was pleased however with the county’s decision to move the library into a smaller facility. The Trial Lawyers Association argued against the move, citing the new location’s meager size, also stating “the consensus of our organization is that the current library reasonably meets the minimum requirements of providing the necessary facility. It is in the courthouse and immediately available to eight of the county judges. Very importantly, it is available when necessary during trials and other hearings to resolve specific issues which come up.” A month later, the bar association joined with the Trial Lawyers Association, arguing that the smaller facilities would be an obstacle for lawyers conducting research. The crux of the problem was that a retrieval system had been envisioned by the library, by which a staff “runner” would need to continuously travel back and forth, bringing books out from storage to the researcher. By the end of October, a solution was found with the incorporation of movable shelving units, which housed the book collection and greatly improved the library’s spatial constraints.
On January 20, 1998, the county board approved the relocation plan after attorneys were assured that the entire legal collection would be accessible from the movable shelves. The law library officially re-opened in the lower-level of the Central library in June of 1998. It housed a staff desk, a table for patrons, computer, copy machine, and a variety of books, pamphlets, brochures, and magazines. Soon after opening, monthly free legal clinics, staffed by volunteer attorneys from the bar association, were held for county residents unable to afford the services of a lawyer.
Article written by Kalamazoo Public Library staff, Ryan Gage, May 2022
“County Considers Moving Law Library”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 June 1997
“Trial Lawyers Argue Against Moving Law Library”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 July 1997
“Law Library Move Under Way”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 May 1998