The Third Branch
How we help at the State Law Library
By Carol Hassler, Web Services Librarian, Wisconsin State Law Library
Throughout the year, staff at the Wisconsin State Law Library (WSLL) field a wide variety of questions from judges, court staff, attorneys, and the general public. In a typical year, WSLL will answer more than 7,500 questions by phone, e-mail, in-person, or fax. We aim to answer all questions to the fullest extent possible, within the boundaries of providing legal information but not legal advice.
Over the past four years, 68 percent of questions came from members of the public and 32 percent from judges, attorneys or others in the legal profession. These numbers represent only WSLL statistics; the Dane and Milwaukee county legal resource centers generate their own large share of use. Our county locations are terrific places for local knowledge and contacts, and we in turn can provide additional resources to their users through our expanded collection and distance services.
We typically research and prepare an answer in 15 minutes or less. More complex questions can take more time, but our library treatise and database collections, extensive website, and the expertise of our staff help us to solve many of our questions quickly.
You can learn more about the types of questions the libraries receive by visiting our website (www.wilawlibrary.gov), which includes pages devoted to legal topics, tutorials, and guides to the library collections. In the past year 500,000 visitors to our website have viewed nearly 1.5 million pages, many of them drawn to our popular legal topics pages.
How do we come up with these numbers? WSLL library staff keep statistics for one week out of every month on the types of questions and questioners, and then we extrapolate averages. Recently, library staff also began to track how long it takes to form an answer and keywords for the questions we received.
Using staff-entered keywords, we created this tag cloud of the types of questions we have fielded in the past several months. The larger the word, the more questions we get on that topic.