ROGERS CITY – Even the do-it-yourselfers sometimes need help.
A computer station set up recently at the Rogers City library will give people walking through the unfamiliar legal landscape a digital place for forms, to-do lists, and answers to questions.
With such assistive technology comes a person who is trained to accompany people who are not comfortable with computers or who prefer not to travel alone.
The librarians pursued a partnership with Michigan Legal Help – a nonprofit organization that supports people in civil legal matters – when they realized that their area was no longer a place where so residents can come forward for that help, said Nicole Grulke, Presque Isle County reference librarian. Rogers City Library branch.
Grulke and another employee, designated as “navigators,” attended training to help guide residents through a website provided by Michigan Legal Help.
Library staff can’t provide legal advice, but they can give residents the guidance and support they need to navigate their legal issues, Grulke said.
“It’s like having a personal assistant to help you,” Grulke said. “It’s just an extra set of hands to help you get where you need to be.”
The self-help computer station, formally known as the Presque Isle County Legal Self-Help Center, occupies a desk in the center of the library. A privacy screen protector blocks the computer monitor from anyone who is not using it.
A few residents have checked out the station, which has been operating for several weeks, but staff hope more users will get the word out about its existence, Grulke said.
Librarians working on the front floor of the library said last week that people would come to the library for help finding legal documents. In the past, this meant going into a big book, making copies and hoping that early patrons didn’t tear out the pages.
Now, librarians can point patrons to a desired document and help publish it, staff said.
People come to the library to find all kinds of legal documents, from lease and sale agreements, power of attorney forms, and divorce papers to wills, personal protection order petitions, and bankruptcy documents, staff said.
Funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Legal Services Corporation, the website walks users through Michigan legal procedures related to employment, housing, personal safety, debt, public assistance, and other issues.
The website has contact information for social service organizations, lawyers and courts.
Without a self-help website, a search engine like Google may link to the forms people need – and those people may end up on a wild goose chase, eventually using outdated, out-of-date forms. or the government needs to do more to fix it, Grulke said.
Michigan Legal Help’s website guides users to correct, Michigan-specific forms that will get people the results they want, he said.
The library has partnered with the county courts, directing residents to the self-help station knowing they will get the help they need and return with the proper paperwork, Grulke said.
Anyone can access the website at home, but the library station offers access to the website to people who do not have internet access or cannot seek legal help at home for other reasons .
Just as important, the library station comes with librarians who are willing to answer questions and be there to help, Grulke said.
“If we don’t know the answer, we’ll find it,” Grulke said. “We’re human search engines, I guess.”
Residents from nearby counties can access the station during library hours, and a trained librarian can be a navigator on weekdays.
Northeast Michigan residents can also find Michigan Legal Aid stations in the lobby of the Alpena County courthouse and the Alcona County Library Harrisville branch.
Offering help and legal self-help is a necessity for libraries, where librarians look for needs in the community and try to meet those needs, Grulke said.
“We’re here for the community to be a safe place, whether you’re 8 or 98,” Grulke said. “We are here to help you, to the best of our ability.”
For Michigan legal self-help, visit michiganlegalhelp.org.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.