Passing the book- rather than baton - in the Madison County Law Library

Amelia Flood Jun. 9, 2011, 2:00am


When Kay Pile became Madison County's first law librarian in 1994, the white washed room people enter now was an "awful" brown-colored former County Board room where traffic court often met.

"I just remember it being brown down here," Pile recalled in an interview Monday with The Madison County Record. "It was just brown and awful. For a pretty awful space, I think they did a pretty good job."

The law library under Pile's watch has evolved from informal stacks of books kept on the fourth floor of the Madison County courthouse to a room filled with ordered shelves of legal resources and a Legal Self Help Center for public youth.

After more than 18 years of work for Madison County, the bulk of it as law librarian, Pile will retire June 17 and will pass her duties on to Betsy Mahoney, the county's current head of the Legal Self Help Center.

"She's going to be a great new librarian," Pile said of Mahoney. "It's another kind of era in
law librarianship."

Madison County's first law librarian looks back

Pile initially worked for law firms and later the Madison County Jury Commission before coming to the library.

While she did not have a library background, Pile said she was coming in to the work at a time when the kinds of legal resources and how people used them was changing.

She began work with software that was the forerunner to what is now WestLaw and expanded her knowledge of the county's legal resources from there.

"Every day it is something new," Pile said of the work as she sat surrounded by boxes of volumes of Illinois statutes.

Pile said working with the public and the attorneys who use the library has been her favorite part of the job.

"We just try to help people find what they need," she said. "You become more confident but there's always an off the wall request that can come in. The answer is here and we just have to find it."

She is proudest of the Legal Self Help Center that opened in 2007.

Pile worked with Joan Spiegel, the head of the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, to secure the grant that made the center possible.

She cited the support of Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis and Circuit Clerk Matt Melucci in making it possible.

Upon her retirement, Pile said she plans to enjoy time with her family and her garden.

"I'm going to be the Queen of Yoga," Pile joked.

She said she would miss the library and her regulars.

"It's been very, very nice," Pile said.

New librarian hopes to raise library profile

Betsy Mahoney, Madison's soon-to-be law librarian, knows she has a big roll to fill.

"I just hope I can be half as beloved as Kay is," Mahoney said in an interview with the Record Tuesday.

The Edwardsville native will be taking over as law librarian six months after returning to Madison County to run its Legal Self Help Center.

Mahoney hopes that she will be able to raise the library and self help center's profiles with the public, she said.

She recalled one of her first clients, a man who came to the self help center seeking information about a custody case.

"He was just so shocked there was a law library he could use," Mahoney recalled. "He was just so excited that there was a place he could come and get forms and research because he couldn't afford an attorney. It was really one of those gratifying moments, knowing I really helped someone."

Mahoney has some experience with legal programs at libraries.

As a graduate student in the library science program at the Indiana University at Bloomington, Mahoney worked at a public library that hosted a "Lawyers in the Library" program aimed at helping patrons.

"I just really enjoyed being able to help those kind of people because it's really difficult to find that kind of legal information when you don't have an attorney," she said.

Mahoney said the changes in legal resource forms and new tools for research excite her.

She praised Pile for her help in learning the legal ropes.

"Kay's been a great teacher and a great aide here," Mahoney said. "It's been an exciting learning process."

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