2020 at the State Law Library: Year in Review

December 31, 2020


It's doubtful that anyone will remember 2020 fondly. The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruptions across all spheres of life, and we're still grappling with the effects as we head into 2021. At the State Law Library, we spent the better part of a year focusing our efforts on connecting Texans with legal information and resources to help navigate the pandemic's impact, and we pledge to do the same in 2021. Here is a rundown of the SLL's projects and efforts in 2020. 

As is to be expected, most of our projects and efforts this year involved providing information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-COVID, the SLL completed a major overhaul of our Digital Collection in an effort to make browsing our e-books and databases more user-friendly. When the pandemic came to Texas in mid-March, the SLL closed our physical building and shifted to a fully remote operation. Our librarians continued to answer reference questions and field requests for scans of materials via email and by phone. At the end of 2020, our physical building remains closed, but we continue to be available remotely to assist with your legal research. 

COVID-19 & Texas Law Research Guide

As more and more areas of Texas created emergency orders to stay at home to avoid spreading COVID-19, we received a barrage of questions about what Texas law has to say about the pandemic. In mid-March, we created the COVID-19 and Texas Law research guide to help people understand the myriad of disaster declarations, stay-at-home orders, mask laws, and quarantine and isolation laws in their area. Over time, we've added more and more topics to this guide, including pages for Housing, Courts & Legal Aid, Business & Employment, Consumer Issues, Family Issues, and Civil Rights. At the time of this writing, our COVID-19 guide has over 717,113 views. We're continually adding information and resources to this guide to keep a current account of the legal landscape in Texas during the pandemic, and we will continue to expand this guide in 2021 as things unfold.


If you haven't already browsed the Legal FAQs section of our site, you may want to head on over to take a look at the most common questions we receive about Texas law. Throughout the year, we received a variety of common questions about various aspects of the pandemic and Texas law. One question that seemed to be on everyone's mind was the following: 

Can I carry a weapon while wearing a mask?

We received hundreds of questions about whether or not Texas law prohibits a person from carrying a gun while wearing a mask, making this our number one question (with a bullet!) of the year.

Chat Collaboration

With the library's doors closed, we wanted to add an additional method of communication to help our patrons find answers quickly. This led to the addition of a chat program in April. We began this program by making it available a few days a week in the afternoon to test the interest level in using chat, and quickly received a steady stream of inquiries about all aspects of the law. We expanded the program's availability to 5 days a week and continue to staff it in the afternoon.

We also teamed up with the Harris County Law Library at the end of April to offer reference assistance through chat and tackle our patrons' burning Texas legal research questions. This chat program can be found on both our site and the Harris County Law library site.  To this day, our chat program continues to be heavily utilized and is the most direct way to talk to a librarian. To chat with a librarian, look for the "Chat now!" speech bubble icon in the bottom corner of the page during our regular chat hours of 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m., 5 days a week.

Library Spotlight

Another addition from 2020 is the introduction of our Library Spotlight blog! We've had the Library Spotlight in place for several years to highlight various library resources, but this year we decided to repurpose the Spotlight as more of a blog. Alongside announcements about traditional library business like holiday hours or service outages, the Spotlight now features posts on legal news & developments, Texas legal history, reference roundups that recap popular legal topics, and "annotating the news" posts that help pinpoint specific laws or legislation that you may see discussed in news stories. Additionally, this space features updates on upcoming legal clinics or hotlines.

We've also made it possible to subscribe directly to new Spotlight posts to keep abreast of current library information and read about legal developments in Texas. You can have new Spotlight posts sent directly to your inbox by adding your email address to the mailing list form and checking the "Spotlight blog updates" box. If there are any topics you'd like to see covered in the Spotlight, please feel free to let us know!

The Year in Statistics

One of the best ways to look back on the library's work is through the data and statistics we've tracked. Our library assistant Raivynn Smith put together an incredible data visualization project for their Data Storytelling class at the UT iSchool. This project covers data on our services through March and October in both 2019 and 2020 and includes visualizations for turnaround time for reference question responses and our patron satisfaction rate. Also included is a look at data from our Landlord/Tenant guide and the COVID-19 and Texas Law guide. Big thanks to Raivynn for their work on this project!

That's all for us in 2020! Stay tuned to the Spotlight for updates on what we have in store for 2021, and have a safe and happy New Year. 

Bill of Rights Day

CDC Order Extended Through March 31st, 2021

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