Law Library of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

This special blog post was written by law librarian, Elena Gonzalez. Ms. Gonzalez visited our library in July and also attended the annual conference of AALL in Baltimore. This post tells the unique history of their special library, its tenacity to stay open, and the courage and dedication of one librarian against all the odds!


Greetings. As other states and territories of the United States of America, in Puerto Rico, the Department of Justice is one of the most important agencies of our governmental system.  In order to give you some perspective of the history of our agency, herein we include some useful information.

picture of Palacio Rojo with open courtyard
“Palacio Rojo”, Old San Juan

The origin of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico can be traced to November 25, 1897; date in which the “Secretary of Grace, Justice and Government” was instituted through the Article 45 of the “Autonomic Constitution of Puerto Rico” under the Spain regime. After this, under the military regime of the United States in Puerto Rico, on February 6, 1899 the General Order No. 12 was emitted.  Among other measures, the same contemplated a reorganization of the government, creating the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico as we know it nowadays.   To this date, the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico still exercise the same authority as the Department of Justice and/or the Attorney General Office of the United States, and various States of the Union.

This is one of the first Headquarters of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico. It is called the “Palacio Rojo” (Red Palace), located in Fortaleza Street #50 in Old San Juan. As a fact, the “Palacio Rojo” have been renovated several times over the past decades and is still used as a space for government offices.

After this brief introduction and related to one of our main topics for today, as you may know, on September, 2018, Puerto Rico suffered one of the most catastrophic events in our history; first Irma and then Hurricane Maria destroyed the product of many years of hard work. The Department of Justice of Puerto Rico was no exception.  Our main facilities were seriously damaged and after more than 10 months, we haven’t been able to fully recover from all the damages.

Regarding the subject of matter, the Law Library of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico was located in the ninth floor of a very centric historical building near Old San Juan and in approximately two weeks, both hurricanes took it apart.  Since we lost our main office facilities, our Law Library has been disarticulated.  Our Law Library was damaged to the extent of non-existence.  All of our books, equipment and publications with historical and irreplaceable value as the Opinions of the Attorney General of Puerto Rico, printed since 1902;had to be relocated in order to preserve them and at this moment we have no space to offer adequate services to our employees.  Notwithstanding, this has not stopped our compromise in giving excellent services to all our employees. After a few months without power and communication, the Library started giving services through a tablet and the Librarian personal cellphone.  Other law libraries on the Island started recuperating slowly, providing us their support and inter library services.

exterior of the Miramar building
Miramar Building – Department of Justice destroyed by Maria

There is no way to escape and prevent all kind of damages from hurricanes with the fierceness of Irma and Maria. The emergency plan is there and we can follow it step by step. But at the end, there is no way to anticipate the magnitude of the damages and how to deal with them. As an island in the Caribbean region, we have always been aware of our yearly hurricane season.  Nevertheless, most of the previous hurricanes usually had the tendency to miss the Island or deviate its path. To this extent, we were not expecting the devastation caused by these hurricanes.  As a result, we have identified the need of adjusting all our emergency plans to take additional measures in order to be more prepared in the eventuality that something like this happen again.

exterior of building at facilities located in Hato Rey
New facilities located in Hato Rey

The Law Library of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico received its first book in 1956.  That was the beginning of the development of our law collection. According to the declaration of all library rights (adopted in June 18, 1948), the Library’s mission is to provide historical and actual information to every person without any restriction based on origin, age, personal history or points of view. It was not until year 2004, that the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico incorporated by law, the importance of having all bibliographic resources together in order to provide a reference tool to all officials, lawyers and personnel of the agency, Article 41 of Act No. 205, of August 9, 2004 as amended.   This Act also established the need to offer the Law Library services to every other government agency, every member in the legal profession and the Puerto Rico’s community in general. In order to continue providing references services after the Hurricane Maria, in compliance with the Law, we need to build a new library. The Department of Justice of Puerto Rico is going to be relocated in a very modern building with great facilities.

The following picture represent the sketch (“croquis”) of new space for the new Law Library:

proposed layout of new library facilities

As a Law Librarian of Puerto Rico, it is my responsibility to continue providing services to our law community. To this extent, we have started a program named: “Adopt a Library – Puerto Rico after Maria”. The AALL have provided me the opportunity to assist and exposed the situation to all my colleagues, offering me a complimentary registration for which I’m extremely grateful.  Consequently and to continue my mission, I came to Baltimore with a full list of our actual needs. If you want to help us with our Project you can contact me: Elena Gonzalez through my phone number (787-306-1858).  My email is: fmeh2002@yahoo.com or elenagonzalez@justicia.pr.gov.

 

 

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