For local librarian Nathan Pedersen, procuring rare books for private collectors in such far-flung locales as North Carolina, Vermont, Massachusetts—and even the country of Scotland was just not satisfying enough.
"I wanted to work in a position where I had more opportunities to do public good. I wanted to do something with a bigger impact," he says.
The journey toward that goal led the native Minnesotan to move to Bend in 2011 to take a library job at Central Oregon Community College, where he worked a year before becoming a community librarian at the Deschutes Public Library's Downtown Bend Library. There, he oversees the county's law library and has been integral in starting up the Lawyer in the Library program, the first of its kind in Oregon.
The free legal consultation program was born through a partnership between the Deschutes Public Library and the seven-member Deschutes County Access to Justice Committee, on which Pedersen serves. "I had heard of similar programs in California, so I pitched the idea and the committee was very receptive."
Each Wednesday beginning at 5 pm, anyone can sign up at the second-floor reference desk downtown for a 30-minute session with a volunteer lawyer. Those who don't make the cut that evening are moved to the front of the line for the following week. Pedersen says as many as 25 people might show up for the eight spots available. The half-hour sessions run from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, and the program is moving toward an online signup system for 2018, according to Pedersen. "We wanted to use the library's good standing and reputation in the community where people could come together to help reduce barriers to justice."
Pedersen says it took a year of preparation and surveys to get the program up and running. It kicked off in October, and through the first eight weekly sessions, there have been 73 participants served by six volunteer attorneys. So far, 26 cases have been related to family law, 13 to housing, eight to employment law, four to consumer issues, three to domestic violence and three to civil rights.
Those who have accessed the program are often "in a difficult and emotional situation that's time-sensitive," Pedersen says, adding that he's seen tears of joy result from the free service.
He says the program is intended "to serve people left with very few options, people who can't afford attorneys. It's a great way to be able to help people in that capacity. People can take the next step they didn't realize was there before." Following their consultation, participants can be referred to Legal Aid Services of Central Oregon or other legal avenues, Pedersen says.
He is quick to add that the program is open to anyone regardless of income level. "The law enters all of our lives at different times. It's just open to anyone—I think that's the strength of it." Pedersen says he'd like to see the program eventually expand to Redmond and La Pine.
Pedersen, 36, earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his masters in library science from the University of Colorado, Boulder. His wife, April Tucholke, is a novelist originally from South Dakota.
When he isn't surrounded by books, Pedersen says his interests lie in Vespa motor scooters, traveling and trail running. He says he loves Bend's access to running trails in the lush Cascades as well as through the barren scrub brush of the high desert. And he might enjoy an Oregon craft IPA after a run, he adds.
There are also a few other things to take up Pedersen's spare time. He represents the Central Oregon region on the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee, which identifies and promotes historic trees around the state. He actively participates in the speaker series, History Pub, at McMenamins. His current term as board president of the Deschutes County Historical Society expires in January, giving him a little more breathing room.
And he acknowledges, "I do a fair bit of writing." He most recently co-wrote the book, "Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything," along with Lydia Kang. It's a book he describes as "a morbid romp through history."
Next week, Spotlight takes a look at the Lawyer in the Library program through the perspective of a local attorney.