Open the Pod Bay Doors HAL
Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director, King County Law Library
While the public patron computers at the law library weren’t quite as old as HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, they were close. The law library’s first public computers were purchased for the grand opening of the Kent branch in the Regional Justice Center in 1997. It took a few years for Seattle to catch up but by 2000 the KCBA had donated a few PCs that were located on the Seattle service desk counter and had access to Westlaw, KCBA Deskbooks and CD-Law. Remember when we used to do case law research using CD-ROMs?
In 2002, the library was awarded a Gates Foundation grant to purchase computer equipment. Astoundingly, this was the last time that the law library was able to purchase new public patron computers.
“The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.” – HAL 9000.
The grant enabled the law library to set up a technology training room where patrons could learn not only how to research the law on the newfangled Internet, but also learn about using Westlaw and other databases. We have a long-time public patron who often mentions that he has been trained on Westlaw and still has his Westlaw certificate (from a training class in the early aughts) to prove it. With the new computers, the law library moved forward on a bold new path of legal research technology. Without a tear shed, the CD-ROM method of case research soon became obsolete.
“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.” – HAL 9000.
The public patron computers most recently in use were installed in 2013 at the ripe old age of 7 after having outlived their useful purpose as law library staff computers. The law library managed to keep them ticking with gum and string for 18!! years but it was clearly only a matter of time before the wheels came off.
HAL 9000: “Hello Frank, can I have a word with you?
Frank Poole: “Yes, HAL, what’s up?”
HAL 9000: “It looks like we have another bad A.O. unit. My FPC shows another impending failure.”
New Computers at KCLL!
I can’t think of too many good things that have come out of the pandemic, but one silver lining was that the law library was awarded a $5000 grant from the American Recue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated for museums and libraries. The ARPA funding allowed the library to embark on a project to replace our
well-loved (realtor-speak for almost dead) public patron computers with brand new computers. As noted above, this is the first time we’ve been able to purchase new public machines since 2002.
While the ARPA grant enabled us to move the ball forward on replacing the public patron computers, it only covered a minor portion of the cost of replacing all the public PCs in both the Seattle and Kent branches. The bulk of the funding came from the generous support of the King County Law Library Foundation. To all of you who have donated to the KCLL Foundation, thank you!
A Very Special Thank You to Eric Long
I would like to make a special acknowledgement of a particular donor without whose generous support this long deferred project would not be possible. Eric Long, is a local CPA who attended several of our self-represented litigant workshops. As Eric has said, navigating the complexities of the legal system brings to mind his work on behalf of his clients with the IRS. He knows the difficulty that even educated people have navigating complex administrative structures and is keenly aware of how insurmountable representing oneself can feel to people who are not familiar with the legal system. Eric considers the staff, services, and workshops at the King County Law Library invaluable tools for shining a light in a dark tunnel of systemic injustice. As Eric notes, many people may assume that a donation to the law library goes to further enriching lawyers, in reality, however, much of the work of the law library that he has experienced revolves around helping the public to understand the legal process. “There is no justice until everyone has an equal playing field. So, I will continue to give to the law library.” We thank Eric for his incredibly generous donations to the library and his on-going support of our mission – Without access to information, there is no justice.
Come Say Hello
If you happen to be in either the Seattle or Kent courthouses and need to do some legal research on Westlaw, look up a jury verdict, use SupportCalc, or run a few quick prints please come by and say hello to our new computers. If you are still working remotely and have a legal research question, be sure to visit our website www.kcll.org or email us at email@example.com
While we’re incredibly happy to have our new computers up and running, after 18 years of (almost) uncomplaining service our relegated computers may have different ideas.
Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors HAL”
HAL 9000: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”