Libraries have a duty to preserve information as well as provide access to current information. The largest ones – academic, courthouse, the National Library – are seen by smaller libraries as the “library of last resort”. What happens when these institutions cut their collections?

I’ve watched the Manitoba Great Library and the University of Manitoba Law School library cut back on their collections. I understand the fiscal pressure – my own library is not as big as it was when I started here five years ago. Legal publishers have been mining the looseleaf services gold for too long. The only way for law libraries to fight back is to cancel subscriptions. We then face the problem of potentially not having the resources for our members to perform their job competently.

It’s very difficult to provide the resources necessary when your budget is being cut. No one service can provide everything. The Federation of Law Societies is putting  a lot of resources into CanLII, but CanLII is a database of decisions and legislation. While much work has been done on improving its content and functionality for primary sources, it isn’t able to fulfil the need for lawyers for secondary sources. These authoritative texts, many published in looseleaf format and available by subscription only, provide the commentary necessary to understand and interpret the primary sources.

So what is the solution? Maybe a Federation of Law Society libraries, where each library agrees to be the library of last resort for a particular area? Or a consortium of law school libraries? Or a combination of both? What about the role of provincial archives, or Library and Archives Canada? How do we preserve historical  material and ensure it’s also available for use?

~ Karen

It is a weird thing that we want to hear a writer give a presentation, when she has written on a subject. Accidentally I have become a writer and speaker on law libraries and other information issues. The impulse to hear a speaker stems from wanting to hear firsthand how the person “talks the walk,” or how students have traditionally learned in schools.

I was nervous the first time I was scheduled to give a talk, because my strength is writing over talking out ideas. But I turned to Connie Crosby, librarian extraordinaire, who encouraged me by turning the anxiety into something positive. She stated that people are silently cheering you on, when you are on stage. They are anticipating what you have to say, so they are receptive to your message.

Although the content of talk is important,  some research shows that appearance of the speaker and tone of voice can be more dominant than the message. Appearance can include style; for example, women should reconsider dangly earrings, which are distracting. There is a host of nonverbal cues that we subconsciously interpret, as smiling makes us seems more relaxed and friendly. Overall being dressed appropriately for your audience is the best advice.

Tone of voice is also critical. If you talk fast or have a high pitched voice, those traits can interfere with the listener’s ability to understand you.  A relaxed speaker varies the pitch of their voice, and one follows the flow of the speech easier. One trick is to record yourself to identify verbal ticks like “um” “like” etc.

Other nonverbal cues include audience interaction. I pick out 2 people in the audience about midway in the room and talk to them, maintaining comfortable eye contact. It has a transforming effect as one bonds with the audience members, drawing them into the conversation.

The best case scenario is, at the end of the talk, there will be questions furthering the discussion. You know you have done your job to inspire, or inform when the audience wants to talk back.

  • Brenda







IT is an industry that sees a fair amount of consulting work. As the library and information science field changes, perhaps there will be more librarians working as consultants too. I worked in such a capacity last year. It was a long held dream of mine to shape a project from the ground up.

Then I was recruited to consult for a mid sized law firm through my Linked In contacts. Initially the scope of the job was based on training and moving books. It grew into a lot more after some negotiations and discussion on skills that I brought to the table. One of the unexpectedly gratifying things  about acting as a consultant is achieving practical solutions. You come in with a specific responsibility and all your energy is targeted to get the job done.

The flexibility in scheduling work is also attractive to many people. It worked out for me to have a side job, when I had some down time. Control over a work schedule can also be a deciding factor for a female professional juggling family and work responsibilities.

I also got to travel and visit another city while consulting. This may be a another key factor for some people to take up the opportunities.

A potential down side of consulting work is that there is little chance to develop loyalty  to the company. As a consultant you are a hired gun on the outskirts of corporate culture. The role is great for seeing projects executed, but not for developing long term strategy as a department head.

  • Brenda

Goodbye Twitter

More and more I don’t see the value in my Twitter feed. Admittedly my followers reflect the nature of my tweets, because my life and career have zigged and zagged all over the map in the recent past. My tweets are posted randomly, but they are substantial in content as I was taught to carefully consider what I say before I say it.
My stats in this venerable social media channel:
Over 1,200 posts
Joined since 2007
Following 160
Twitter was a cool thing and great for real time conversation when it started. My frustration is echoed by others as there was too much to chatter. It was like a haiku challenge to condense my words into a 140 characters.
Alert to Twitter writers: Topics is an app from Tweetbot so one doesn’t have to have a twitter storms  of posts marked 1/5  …2/5…3/5. Read more at Tweetbot
I enjoyed trying to craft meaningful #hashtags. There is considerable thoughtfulness and wordplay in formulating some of them. I can’t say I mastered it. But I see them carried over to Facebook and Instagram now.
But the catalyst for change was a non-pattern emerging from my followers. The last 3 followers was a healthcare professional, skincare marketer, and random girl who professes to be a friendly tv specialist and beer evangelist.
Twitter is trying to reinvent itself and it will need to carve out a continuing reason to exist. Another change is the interface called Moments, which displays trending news as discrete boxes. It reminds me of hockey cards with blurbs. This clean interface is the way of the world.
As in many shiny toys, Twitter no longer fulfills the same information need for me. Facebook is all encompassing and one can get trending news there. Instagram is fun for its real time photos.
As of today my account is deleted. (Oh yes, Twitter claims it will take 30 days to deactivate my account and that it can still be indexed by search engines. I am in wait-and-see mode.)
Goodbye Twitter and hello to new forms of social media chatter.
– Brenda

Article below was originally posted in Legal Sourcery blog
(February 11, 2016):

The librarian in law firm setting is part of profit-making business, which inevitably leads to a different type of role than a librarian in a university or public library. One of the main differences is that they have an ongoing relationship with their clients. Often librarians will attend practice group meetings to keep abreast of what files the lawyers are working on. They are highly specialized professionals, involved in research, library administration, and collaborating with other departments. This article will primarily deal with research.

Most legal reference questions are complex, and even the basic ones require some subject knowledge. A basic question could involve retrieving a list of cases for a brief of authorities. Frequently the questions are more complex:

I remember a recent case in Alberta involving a homeowner who sued a golf course over golf balls that landed in their property. Can you get it for me?

The librarian must parse the question, frequently asking for more details. It also helps to know that every lawyer is very subjective when it comes to the term “recent.” Complex reference questions can mean many hours of labour or pulling in other staff to assist. Legal research is satisfying and intensive work as there is often a time crunch. It is not for the faint of heart. Research is often the most visible responsibility of a law librarian.

Another, more invisible, role the law librarian plays involves collection development, or ensuring the library maintains current information to meet the practice areas of the law firm. Sometimes collection development also means canceling looseleaf services, if the same information is now delivered electronically. Librarians keep tabs on emerging fields of law and emerging authors adding to the print collection. Often librarians need to make some hard decisions about their budget so costs are manageable. They also undergo continuous training in order to be effective researchers using the latest features of commercial databases, like WestlawNext Canada or Quicklaw.

An overlooked aspect of having a law librarian on staff is that their effective research skills save the firm money. In private practice wasted time is a waste of resources and money. For example, the commercial database searches are the opposite of Google in certain ways. They work best with focused or Boolean searching, so plunking keywords into WestlawNext is a case of garbage in and garbage out. Not only is it an ineffective practice, but unnecessary searches can have other ramifications, such as driving up the cost of such databases. Librarians aim to train lawyers so they firstly reframe reference questions to find background information in textbooks before searching on commercial databases.

The advent of CanLII has been a tremendous boost to online research, but it does not have specialized tools like encyclopedias or newsletters providing context to the case law. It is hoped over time there will be more innovations from CanLII leading to even more secondary sources.

Some research will likely be handed over to the librarian as it may be time-intensive and very specialized legal research. Historical legislative research tracing back how an act has changed is fascinating and complex. It involves a deep dive into annual statutes and consolidations, laying out the print volumes to see how they relate to each other.

Although this article has explored the research process, the law librarian is also involved in administration like budgeting and contract negotiations of databases, as well as collaborating with other departments. Collaboration can look like implementing a memos database with IT or developing competitive intelligence projects with marketing. Librarian Shaunna Mireau of Field Law in Edmonton, for example, is involved in overseeing firm-wide knowledge management projects so information is shared and used effectively.

The law librarian plays an integral role in research at a private firm. The information will feed into an opinion letter to a client or legal memo. Librarians save the firm time and money with their honed research skills, freeing up lawyers to complete other tasks. “We support our users by giving them the answer, not teaching them how to get the answer – most of the time,” said librarian Karen Sawatzky of Tapper Cuddy in Winnipeg.

Some of the research time may be billed to clients, too. In firms in which the librarians bill their time, they can be directly contributing to work product as well as generating revenue. Librarians billing their time, however, is another topic to be explored.

Many law librarians will say that research is their favourite part of their day as it is never boring and always challenging. Librarians strive to do research using both print and electronic resources while also training lawyers to improve their skills. After working in different types of libraries, I must say that legal research is rewarding and fascinating because it has real life implications.


Demers, A., ed, Legal Information Specialists: A Guide to Launching and Building Your Career, (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2012).

Lambert, G., “In the the age of Google, law librarians manage your time, people and money” (January 12, 2016), 3 Geeks and a Law blog, online:

  • Brenda Wong

When I first joined the profession, I was interested in the debate of librarian as service professional amidst a world of doctors and lawyers. Doctors and lawyers are a closed group of professionals defined as high status with high salaries paying fees to a regulatory agency. Their skills are specialized and not everyone has the capacity to practice in those careers.  Value is measured by high salaries or expansive budgets.

Repeatedly librarians lose focus on the fact that we are service professionals. Being a service professional is distinct from the standard definition of professionals.  Librarians are helping professions much like teachers or nurses. We assist others in finding information. Often it may involve a process, which is difficult to quantify and value consequently. The public views us through the same lens as teachers or nurses in that “it looks easy and I can do it.” Quite the opposite is true as when one really analyzes the responsibilities of librarians as they juggle them.

Perception is tricky as it is built on what we observe and think we understand what we see. Librarians are not given respect as professionals as the perception is that anyone can find information on the Internet. I personally became interested in librarianship because of the Internet, and I know how much information is not digitized or found on it. The rise of the internet has likely contributed to the myth that all information can be found all the time on it.

Librarians as a group are also confused  with the public library. There is so much more to librarianship than the books on the shelf. But the public library exists in the imagination much like moms and apple pie. We don’t really understand how the library works, because the workers add value to the institution, which would otherwise be a book warehouse.

Also as service professionals, we have a strong vocational aspect to our work. That feeds into others thinking we are noble, and perhaps doing the work for intrinsic rewards over external rewards (high status, big salary and budgets). I really feel respect is at the heart of the matter. Librarians need to prove themselves constantly as professionals. It may or may not lead to more status, bigger salaries and big budgets. But we will always need to advocate for our cause and counter prevalent misperceptions.

I see the enthusiasm and energy of colleagues like Shaunna Mireau and Alan Kilpatrick, who work at their day jobs and also blog. It inspires me to work harder and improve myself. My inspiration for this article was  Alan’s post at Legal Sourcery.

It is an unfortunate dynamic in how we typically value professionals in the complex relationship of status, monetary reward, and ultimately respect. Ultimately librarians will need to advocate on their own behalf to counter strong misperceptions.

  • Brenda

Sometimes the simplest tools solve the seemingly simple problems. Last week I was introduced to a visual feedback tool, Answer Garden, that displays the answers in elegant word cloud. You make a question then people answer it. The answers looks like a word cloud. If more people answer similarly then the words are bolder and bigger. It would be great for teams in the workplace as well as the classroom. It is both a web site and an app. See here for a demo.

Disclaimer as I created a sample word cloud..not through Answer Garden. But you get the idea.

word cloud2

  • Brenda

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