A cream-colored book on a shelf in the Coconino County Law Library in the courthouse is so wide it has clear tape holding it together.
Dated 1912, it contains the session laws for the state of Arizona in the first legislative session after it left territorial status and became a state on Feb. 14, 1912.
"That one is our first set of laws," explained Gretchen Hornberger, who has been the sole librarian at the library for 10 years. "Probably most are adopted from territorial law. I guess they had a lot to do that year."
A PEACEFUL PLACE
A big blue book nearby on marital and domestic relations is probably the most-used book in the law library, Hornberger said.
"It's peaceful here, but most of the people who come in are in crisis," she said. "A lot of people who come in here are pretty stressed out. I hope they leave feeling more peaceful."
Other law books getting a lot of use in the library through the years are the "Navajo Nation Code," the thick blue "Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law" and a green binder of "Hopi Tribal Ordinances."
In the last few years during the economic downturn, a softbound book, "Arizona Foreclosure," has been popular.
"This one has been getting a lot of use by attorneys and the public," she said.
Hornberger, 38, said she has mostly learned on the job. She recently did get her library degree through distance learning at the University of Arizona.
"It was daunting, but I've learned a lot over the years," she said.
Most of the visitors to the library are lawyers, people representing themselves, people with a legal question, court staff and judges, Hornberger said.
Walk-ins are welcome during weekday hours when the library is open.
"They can walk in, or they can call me, or go to 'Ask the Librarian' on the website," she said. "I get back to them within a day. Sometimes we have the answers, and sometimes we connect them with the resources they need."
FEEL LISTENED TO
One of the best resources offered at the library are the packets on legal subjects that are assembled by staff, such as the packet on divorce, with step-by-step instructions.
"We're here for the average person representing themselves, and the working professional," Hornberger said. "We have about 75 packets, and we have these all in Spanish."
Perhaps 8,000 county residents use the library each year, she estimated.
Through online services, folks in the farthest reaches of the county, like Fredonia, Leupp and Page, can avail themselves of library help.
"We do have what I consider a branch library online," she said. "They can fill in forms online, print them out and mail them in."
Also in the library are work areas where a computer, a printer and a copy machine make dealing with legal issues easier.
Hornberger said she knows "what's out there" and can answer many legal questions.
Mondays tend to be the busiest time in the library, she added.
By appointment, people can also reserve a free half-hour of legal advice from a professional.
"People hit a lot of brick walls," she said. "When they come here, they feel listened to."
INVESTED IN JUSTICE
Hornberger, who is from Cincinnati, said she was attracted to Flagstaff during a road trip at age 19, a trip inspired by viewing the 1991 movie, "Thelma and Louise," which ends with a final dramatic scene at Dead Horse Point near the Grand Canyon.
"I left in the middle of the night," she remembered of her road trip. "I just fell in love with the way everything looks here."
She moved here in 1999.
Hornberger said she loves her job as a law library specialist.
She said the county and the community have been very supportive of the library and her role in it.
"I have the ability to be creative," she said. "They say, 'Just go do it; come up with ideas. We're behind you.'"
She said she would like it if everyone all over Coconino County would feel comfortable getting in touch with her if they need help.
"I'll work with them," she said. "We want to remove barriers, whatever that barrier may be, and resolve their legal problems."
As the only librarian in the law library, she is up to the task.
"You have to do everything, but I don't have to do the cleaning," she said with a laugh.
Although her new degree might qualify her for other library jobs, she's staying put here.
"It's something new every day, and I really like working with the public in this way," Hornberger said. "Law is interesting. I feel really invested with the justice system in our country. I feel it's an important part of our democracy."
Betsey Bruner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2255.