Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan received the prestigious Law Library Advocate Award from the Government Law Libraries Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) at its annual conference in Chicago earlier this week. The award recognizes Ryan’s efforts to promote, support and improve the Harris County Law Library.
Under Ryan’s leadership, the Harris County Law Library has become a nationally recognized, 21st century library with improved access to legal information for both lawyers and Harris County residents.
“I am honored to receive this award on behalf of everyone in Harris County who worked so hard to improve services to our local lawyers and residents,” Ryan said.
The Harris County Law Library, established in 1915, is a public library open to both lawyers and non-lawyers. Approximately 63,000 patrons visited the library in 1998. By 2010 the annual gate count had fallen to 32,073, despite the fact that Harris County has the busiest court system in the state with more pro se (self-representation) filings than any other Texas county.
In 2011, at the direction of the Commissioners Court, the Law Library became a part of the County Attorney’s Office. Work then began to develop a more focused mission and higher profile in the community for the Law Library.
In 2012, Mariann Sears, formerly the Research Services Manager for the Greenberg Traurig law firm, was hired as Library Director. Commissioners Court then approved the move of the library from the 17th floor of Congress Plaza to the more accessible first floor, where it opened in January 2013. The redesigned facility includes research computers and a copy center, as well as conference space and offices for volunteer attorneys.
By 2014, the Law Library was back to its 1998 gate count, recording more than 60,000 patron visits per year. The Library has continued to improve by redesigning its website, launching a social media presence and planning a variety of programs for attorneys and self-represented litigants.
The Houston Chronicle said in a November 30, 2012 editorial that the County Attorney’s Office deserved “high praise” for taking the initiative for bringing the Law Library back from the brink of closure. “It falls on elected officials to ensure that access to justice isn’t merely something that happens before a judge, but that every party can get at the documents and expertise that make sense of the legal matrix in which we live,” the Chronicle wrote.
Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice of the Colorado Supreme Court received the award last year. Other recipients include Robert Bell, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and William Lavery, Chief Judge of the Connecticut Appellate Court.
The American Association of Law Libraries is the leading professional organization for law librarians and legal information professionals with more than 4,500 members located throughout the United States and countries around the globe.