Sunday, May 06, 2007

CALL 2007 Conference - Canadian Courthouse Library Survey

The 2007 conference of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) officially opened today.

This morning was devoted to the meetings of various committees and SIGs (special interest groups).

I attended the meetings of the copyright SIG, the website committee and the Courthouse and Law Society Libraries SIG.

General suggestion about conferences: in a business meeting, it is wise not to raise your hand, make a comment or offer an opinion. If you do so, you will be "volunteered" to sit on a committee. Somehow, without realizing what I was doing, I managed to be "volunteered" for the CALL Copyright committee. Oh well, there are certainly more painful things in life.

Leaders of the Courthouse and Law Society Libraries SIG unveiled the results of a survey regarding public access. 32 libraries from across Canada responded.

Highlights:
  • Precisely 58.1% of the libraries participating in the survey were categorized as courthouse libraries followed closely by law society libraries at 35.5% with the remaining 6.5% were made up of non-profit society and government/court libraries
  • Responses identified that 86.2% received support from law societies, 34.5% from local lawyers association fees, and 27.6% and 10.3% respectively from provincial and federal governments. Also, 27.6 % received financial support from Law Foundation grants, user fees or internal revenues. Because of multiple possible sources of funding, totals add up to more than 100%
  • 30% of the respondents do not have any form of security (pass key, panic button or security guard) available to staff or patrons in their facility
  • 58.6% of survey respondents indicated they were open to the public
  • 41.2% of the respondents who offer public access reported they are in no way mandated to be open to the public
  • all libraries permitting access to the general public responded there are however restrictions on the public’s use of the library facility and or services in contrast to access and services available to lawyers. Restrictions include limits on staff assistance and reference services, the fact the public is not allowed to borrow material and no access to electronic resources and licensed databases
  • Only 18.8% of the libraries providing public access receive government funding in support of public access
  • Of those libraries not permitting access by members of the public, only 58.3% of the responses actually have a written policy or guidelines stating the access restriction. As a result, 41.7% libraries operate without a written policy
  • All libraries (100%) receiving requests for access indicated they made referrals to other libraries or organizations
  • 27.6% of libraries have developed resources to assist members of the public in finding legal information or legal advice consisting of prepared printed brochures and research guides. These materials included electronic sources, pathfinders, online forms and Internet sites
  • 34.5% of the libraries indicated they were involved in access to justice projects with other organizations: training sessions for public librarians and university students, moot court tournaments for high schools or newspaper article series on public legal education

During discussion, many librarians explained that they are seeing an increase in the number of self-represented litigants and that they also having to deal with "difficult" or "problematic" customers. Of course, some of the most "difficult" problem clients are often law society members and not members of the public who walk in from the street.

There was some discussion about security measures in courthouse and law society libraries. Some locations have no security at all. Others have perimeter security (electronic detection of firearms, ID checks, ...).

SIG members also proposed an interesting project. The idea is to come up with a list of social agency referrals for the general public that could be customized by local libraries. The list would include contact information for NGOs and agencies that deal with legal issues relating to landlord/tenant relations, tax, family law, sexual assault, etc.

As well, for thematic sessions for next year's CALL conference, people agreed that dealing with difficult clients (both of the lawyerly and the general public variety) and the difference between legal information and legal advice would make for interesting topics.

This year, the Courthouse and Law Society Libraries SIG is hosting a Monday afternoon session on The Ultimate End-User: the Public's Access to Law Libraries and Legal Information.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 4:04 pm

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