Canadian Association of Law Libraries Response to Closure of University of Saskatchewan Law Library
Annette Demers, President fo the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, has written a public letter to Ken Ladd, Acting Dean of Libraries at the University.
Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Acting Dean Ladd,
We write to you today with grave concerns and sadness about your future plans to consolidate the branch libraries, including the law library, at the University of Saskatchewan.
It is our opinion that any decision to close, or to dissociate qualified staff from the law library undermines the delivery of educational services to students within the College of Law JD program.
According to the 2009 Report of the Federation of Law Societies on the Common Law Degree:
“The law school must maintain a law library in electronic and/or paper form that permits it to foster and attain its teaching, learning and research objectives.”
Lawyers only do justice to their clients when their advice and actions are supported by the best information possible. The Federation report recognizes the increasing need for legal research skills to be instilled in our law school graduates. Accordingly some law schools have actually been improving their curriculum in this area. A robust legal research and writing program can only be successful with dedicated law librarians selecting, organizing, and enabling access to the best information services and resources.
As you are no doubt aware, Canada’s legal system is based on a common law system where precedent is foundational. In other words, Canada’s legal system has historical underpinnings, evidenced by a complex array of primary historical legal materials. Although a few collections of primary materials are available online, a substantial portion of these materials are not available online at all. These are the collections that you are proposing to put into remote storage, out of the direct reach of your law students, faculty and the local bar in Saskatchewan.
In most provinces, and in particular, in Saskatchewan, the university law library is the primary archive of provincial legal materials that are needed by not only faculty and students, but also by the local bar, judiciary and the public. In other words, your law library is the provincial steward of legal materials that are essential to our democracy. The ownership of vital print resources is enduring but once removed or destroyed, print resources can never be replaced.
It is important to understand that e-books are not generally widely available from law publishers as of now. This means that both print and digital materials are still relevant, and will be for some time yet. The bulk of historical primary materials for Canada are not yet digitized, and current secondary sources for law are by no means available for free online. Although online resources are very attractive as space savers and convenience searching, if their cost becomes prohibitive in future and licences not renewed, or if service providers disappear, all access to such resources is entirely lost, despite the fact that they are paid for each year. Some libraries in Saskatchewan may also have reduced their print collections based on the knowledge that your library holds those titles.
This shifting landscape of access to legal information makes the role of the law librarian more vital today than ever, as they are the only ones in our institutions charged with the task of staying abreast of these changes and helping users navigate the complexity of the subject matter. Ultimately, they are most vital in ensuring that the next generation of lawyers have sufficient knowledge and skills to carry forward with them in to their professional careers.
A decision to consolidate services outside of the law library will have significant impact on access to justice in Saskatchewan, not just at your University. There are several law libraries in the country which have made modifications to their operations so as to withstand substantial and crippling budget cuts, while continuing to provide vital services, support and teaching to their faculty and students. Closure of a library is a low value option. Instead, budget cutbacks are an opportunity for us to think creatively about how best to align our services more closely with user needs. Diverting money from collections (just in case) to services (just in time) is a viable alternative that should be explored.
We sincerely hope that you will consider these points in your deliberations. Please understand that decisions such as these have far-reaching impacts on our profession as well. As library leaders, we must be cognizant of the impact of our decisions on other libraries both now and into the future across the country.
Annette Demers BA LLB MLIS
John Papadopoulos and Jeanne Maddix, Chairs
Canadian Council of Academic Law Library Directors