Local News

Friday, Aug 20 2010 12:22 PM

Law Library partition plan draws criticism

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The Kern County Law Library is located on the third floor of the Kern County Superior Court building at Truxtun and Chester avenues.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Just a small sampling of books in a row that are available to the public at the Kern County Law Library.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The Kern County Law Library, a public resource that has books and computers where members of the public can go and do free legal research.

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BY JOHN COX, Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A plan to limit access to a section of the Kern County Law Library has prompted complaints that members of the public will soon have a harder time conducting legal research there.

A glass wall recently went up in the library, located on the third floor of the county Superior Court building on Truxtun Avenue. Soon only lawyers and library workers will be permitted behind the wall, the library's board of trustees decided earlier this year.

Library officials say lawyers need that area to themselves because other people tend to make too much noise, and because lawyers require a level of privacy that others don't.

Some non-lawyers who use the library for personal legal research object, saying that cutting off physical access to a part of the library containing federal reference material will make their work more cumbersome, since they will have to ask busy librarians to retrieve certain books for them.

"If it's the wrong book, you'll wait 20 minutes for them to get another book," said retiree Gregory Stiefel, who uses the library to do research.

The partitioned area makes up about a fourth or a fifth of the 4,000-square-foot library, established in 1891 by the Kern County Law Library Association.

Funded mostly by legal filing fees, the library offers free use of computers, access to law books and other resources.

Law Librarian Annette Heath described the upcoming change as a matter of restricted seating, not restricted access. She added that members of the general public will sometimes be allowed in the partitioned area, and that the westernmost part of the library was selected because people rarely consult the books there.

What's more, she said, library staff are about to move around bookcases to make room for additional public computers in the larger portion of the library, which she said has seen a sizable increase in activity over the last couple of years.

Using the library for research earlier this week, Bakersfield lawyer Andrew Haut said that he was unaware of the plan to restrict access there, but that the area does become loud and distracting sometimes.

Another library user, Kerry Fritz, who is not a lawyer, said he sits in the partitioned area precisely because it is quieter than the rest of the library. He complained of losing that quiet once the change takes place in about another month.

"It's going to be a lot louder for the public," he said.

Library trustee Raymonda Marquez said the board never intended to separate people from resources, and that public concern about the partition may become "fodder for discussion" by the board.

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