Those who provide law library services to prisoners must have a unique set of talents, providing extensive research insight but also a sense of tenacity and compassion. Jean Anderson is remarkably adept at showing how it’s done. She has provided help through the state’s Law Library Service to Prisoners program for the past five years.
After a brief stint as a correctional officer, she harnessed her interest in law by earning a degree in political science and a Master of Library and Information Science. An internship led her to the Minnesota State Law Library, and she felt her experience and passion fall into place.
“My interest in the law, my comfort level working with offenders and the internship all came together,” she recalled. She most enjoys the variety of research tools and materials she must draw on to get answers — she has to pull information from state and federal laws, and delve into criminal, civil, family, and tribal law.
“What I find the most challenging is finding legal information that is written at the appropriate educational level of the person making the request,” she said, noting that the majority of offenders have poor literacy skills. But Anderson enjoys finding elusive answers, and jokes that she’s like a “dog with a bone” when it comes to hard-to-find materials.
“Providing reference services to inmates is a form of guerrilla reference work,” said fellow outreach librarian Susan Trombley, adding that sometimes Anderson sees 10 inmates per hour, all with reference requests, in addition to fulfilling written requests. But Trombley noted that she addresses each inmate with professionalism and focus, despite the harried schedule.
“Jean has superb people skills that help the inmates feel comfortable with her,” Trombley said. “Her ability to respect each inmate’s humanity helps make her not only an excellent librarian, but also an excellent human being.”