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Public libraries: 30 years of providing legal information to the community

Thirty years ago, on 10 December 1991, Albury Library ‘opened its doors on law’ and became the first Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC) in a public library. 

The State Library LIAC opened the year before, in 1990. This unique centre was a joint initiative between the State Library and the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW. The aim of LIAC was to assist readers to access the Library’s extensive law collection, with help from specialist legal librarians. 

Although the new centre was wonderful for the people of Sydney, it was soon realised that a similar service was needed in public libraries. So, mini LIAC libraries were set up all over the state.  

Albury was the first to open in 1991. As quoted in the Border Mail — and still true today —  

Whether people like it or not, there are few areas of their lives not in some way touched by the law. By making available plain English materials about the law and the way it operates, your legal information access centre can help to develop a community which is more informed and better able to participate intelligently in decision making on matters which involve legal issues. 
(Opening doors on laws, Border Mail 11/12/1991) 

A montage of three black and white photos showing people standing in a library

Seven libraries followed in 1992 and 1993: 

  • Great Lakes Library Service (now MidCoast Libraries) 
  • Liverpool City Library 
  • Macquarie Regional Library 
  • Bega Valley Shire Library 
  • Broken Hill City Library 
  • Coffs Harbour City Library 
  • North West Slopes & Plains Cooperative Library Service (now Big Sky Libraries) 

Each library service was provided with a legal collection and supported by LIAC staff at the State Library and over the years many more libraries came onboard. 

Things have changed over the years. The colour scheme has gone from orange to green. The name has changed to Find Legal Answers. State Library LIAC staff work more closely with publishers and authors, publishing books such as Neighbours and the law and Rest assured: a legal guide to wills, estates, planning ahead and funerals to fill gaps in the published material available. LIAC partners with Legal Aid NSW and community legal centres to provide community legal education sessions at libraries. And the Find Legal Answers website was developed, making legal information available online and accessible at any time of the day.  

But 30 years on, one thing remains the same: NSW public libraries are still providing high quality legal information to their customers, using the plain English information available in the Find Legal Answers Tool Kit and website and by providing legal information, education and events. 

Happy 30 years to Albury CityLibrary! And thank you to all NSW public libraries for making Find Legal Answers such a successful and long-standing partnership.