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Dougherty County Law Library
by Laureen Kelly, J.D., M.L.I.S.


(Laureen A. Kelly at the Dougherty County Law Library’s reference desk)

The Dougherty County Law Library provides legal information to the citizens of Dougherty County and 48 other counties in southwest Georgia as well as 13 other states. In the past, court law libraries primarily served members of the bar. Today, 90% of our users are lower and middle income people who are representing themselves because they cannot afford an attorney. Legal Aid has to turn away many people due to limited funding and income guidelines. The Law Library serves thousands of people each year who have nowhere else to turn.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a law creating its system of county law libraries in 1971. The law allows but does not require each county to create a law library. The county law libraries are funded by $5 from each filing fee, fine and forfeiture paid to the county courts. Dougherty County opened its law library in 1981. The first librarian, Mrs. Gladys Calloway, served as a solo law librarian until she retired in 2004. The current librarian, Laureen Kelly, began working as a solo law librarian but now has part-time staff and volunteers who assist with library duties.

(Dougherty County, Georgia Judicial Building)

In 2004 the Law Library was remodeled and began expanding services to self-represented litigants by offering legal forms packets with instructions as well as legal reference by a librarian who is also a licensed Georgia attorney. The State Bar of Georgia in 2007 gave the Dougherty County Law Library the William B. Spann, Jr. Award, which is given each year to a local bar association, law firm or community organization in Georgia that has developed a civil pro bono program that has satisfied previously unmet legal needs or extended services to underserved segments of the population.

The Law Library served an average of 17 users each day, 353 each month, and 4356 in the past year. We answer reference questions in person, by telephone and by E-mail. Last year 59% of our users had questions about their family law cases. The other 31% asked about a variety of legal issues, including: estate and probate issues, name changes, criminal law, real estate, appeals, landlord/tenant, traffic tickets, intellectual property, education law, tax law, business law, contracts, international law, election law and aviation law. In addition to answering reference questions, we provide research guidance, standard legal forms with instructions, a website, a Facebook page, classes and workshops and meeting space.

(Helping a library patron at the reference desk)

We have a comprehensive collection of Georgia primary and secondary law both in print and electronically through Lexis and Westlaw. Users can access multi-state and federal primary and secondary legal resources using Lexis. While many law libraries are reducing their print collections, we are trying to maintain as much print as we can. A recent user survey showed that 62% of our attorney patrons primarily visit the Law Library to use print legal treatises. Our lay users generally lack computer skills and therefore prefer print resources as well. Maintaining an up-to-date collection is extremely challenging for two reasons. First, the General Assembly has not increased county law library funding

Recently the Dougherty County Law Library was selected as a pilot project one-stop-shop law library/self-help center for Georgia. The Justice for All (JFA) project, in collaboration with the Public Welfare Foundation (PWF) and the National Center for State Courts, awarded grants to seven states in order to advance the goal of providing civil justice for all. The Access to Justice Committee (ATJ Committee) of the State Bar of Georgia submitted a winning application for Georgia. The PWF has committed $550,000, and Open Society is contemplating providing an additional $800,000 to ATJ efforts. The Georgia JFA grant amount will be $94,300. The ATJ Committee chose three projects to perform using grant funds: religious leader training, overcoming structural impediments, and a law library self-help center pilot project in Dougherty County.

(Library manager Laureen A. Kelly and staff member Michele Lawson)

The Law Library will soon be relocated from the second floor to a larger space on the first floor of the Dougherty County Judicial Building. Expanding and reconfiguring our space will allow us to create a self-help center embedded in the library. We plan to offer the following services as part of the pilot project:

Law libraries play an important part in overcoming barriers to access to civil justice. We hope to create greater confidence in the fairness, usefulness and helpfulness of the court system as we increase the efficiency of the local court docket. We want to give more people meaningful access to justice and to serve as a model that can be replicated in other rural areas.

Copyright 2017 by Laureen Kelly.

About the author:
Laureen Kelly has served as Library Manager and solo law librarian at the Dougherty County Law Library since 2004. Previously she was Reference & Genealogy Specialist at the Oconee County Public Library in Watkinsville, Georgia. She is a licensed Georgia attorney and practiced law in a plaintiff’s employment law firm, primarily handling pretrial litigation. She earned an M.L.I.S. from Florida State University, a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law and a B.A., Summa cum laude from Mercer University. You may contact her at 229-431-2133 or