Over the summer, I corresponded with Helen Mok, the Student Committee Chair of the Calgary Law Library Group (CLLG) via email about a great initiative that they have. Some CLLG members volunteer to arrange job shadows/coffee dates with MLIS students. Seeing as I was still in school in London, Ontario at the time, I couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. When I came back to Edmonton afte completing my MLIS, I reached out to Helen again, asking if job shadows could still happen, and if it was open to recent MLIS grads. I was pleased to learn that some of the CLLG law librarians were still willing to host job shadows. It just goes to show - if you don't ask, you won't know! That, and asking a librarian a question is never a wrong move.
As a result, last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a job shadow at the Alberta Law Libraries - Calgary Resource Library with law librarian, Heather Wylie. Heather has been with the Alberta Law Libraries for 3 years, and unlike some law librarians, she possesses a law degree, library technician diploma, and several years of experience working in corporate libraries, in addition to her MLIS degree. I imagine that her combined knowledge and experience certainly offers a good coverage of the work that their team of law librarians and other library staff faces every day!
Because the no cameras policy takes precedence over the entire Calgary Courts Centre, I have no photographs to share. So hopefully, my textual illustration will suffice!
For the sake of some background, the Alberta Law Libraries has 2 Resource Libraries (Edmonton & Calgary), 2 Regional Libraries (Lethbridge & Red Deer) and 7 Local Libraries (Drumheller, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Peace River, St. Paul, & Wetaskiwin). I've only ever visited their Resource Libraries (I worked for a year as a library assistant for the Edmonton location), but it would be interesting to see how the other branches compare. It would likely be that I visit the Regional Library in Red Deer and the Local Library in Wetaskiwin seeing as they are the closest in physical proximity to me.
When I was job shadowing Heather, it was at the Calgary Resource Library, located downtown in the Calgary Courts Centre on the 5th floor. It is interesting to note the relationship between the library and the rest of the operations within the Courts Centre. Under Alberta Courts, there are 4 divisions - the Court of Appeal, Court of Queen's Bench, Provincial Court, and Resolution and Court Administration Services. The library would fall under Resolution and Court Administration Services along with the Family Law Information Centre (FLIC) and Law Information Centre (LInC), two other places within the Calgary Courts Centre that the librarians may send patrons who are seeking help with things such as court procedures and court forms. As a employees within a library, especially one that serves members of the public, it is important for the librarians and other library staff to be careful to only provide legal information, and not legal advice. In the case that public patrons are seeking legal advice, the library can refer them to the Court Assistance Program, a free service provided by Pro Bono Law Alberta. The library is more for those conducting legal research, such as looking for a specific act, court case decision, or finding and/or printing court forms.
Heather described the library as being a combination of a government library, public library, and special library. This is because it serves the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General employees, members of the public who access the resources and services while visiting the Courts Centre, as well as a closed clientele mainly made up of lawyers who have certain privileges as Alberta Law Libraries cardholders.
Most of my job shadow was spent at the reference desk in the library, which is where over half of the law librarian's job takes place. The desk was placed front and center in the library, so that it was quite clear where to go with a question. Reference questions could come in the form of in-person inquiries, phonecalls or voicemails, or emails. It was a particularly busy day when I sat with Heather, which was great for me. I was able to see a good mixture of questions asked by members of the public and Members of the Bar - some asking about how to access certain library e-resources, how to access court forms, assistance with looking up a specific act, and more in-depth legal research questions. Heather told me that there was a great deal of variation in terms of even the legal research questions. Some would require more immediate answers, while others didn't really need to be solved until months later, which were, according to Heather, a blessing. Even so, because of the high volume of questions asked, the best approach was to work on those questions whenever there was time, even if an answer wasn't required until May or June, because the workload can be so unpredictable at times, and there's a worry that you wouldn't be able to get back to it at all if put off for too long.
The most frequent visitors were lawyers or articling students conducting legal research as well as members of the public who were representing themselves in court and/or were going through some sort of court procedure then and there. Heather mentioned that individuals who have a law degree from another country, but need to complete a series of qualifying exams through the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) in order to be licensed for practice in Canada, also frequently use the library's space and resources to study.
Due to the preference of the library's users, the Alberta Law Libraries in Edmonton and Calgary still carry looseleaf editions, which I remember having to update during every shift as a library assistant in Edmonton. However, to be more cost-efficient, they have finally decided to update the looseleafs every 2 years rather than on a weekly or biweekly basis. Unlike some, the library still has a lot of space, so there isn't much of a need to weed, which from a collection management standpoint would be a dream. In addition to the typical resources and services offered in a law library, the Calgary Resource Library also offers Library Tours, Legal Research Refreshers, and a Book a Librarian service free to its registered users (i.e. Alberta Law Libraries cardholders). For the public, the library offers 30 minute ad-hoc sessions on frequently used resources in a particular area (e.g. how to find case law or a statute), so that they aren't completely lost in the abyss that a law library appears to be to the less familiar.
One big thing that I learned about from Heather was the existence of Library Desk References, or published volumes of frequently asked questions in libraries. There apparently used to be one customized for law libraries in Alberta, called The Alberta Legal Desk Book however, the last edition was published in 1995. Heather expressed hopes to put together a version for the Calgary Resource Library in the near future, and if it happens, I'll be one of the first to request for a copy. How useful would it be to know not only what questions are most often asked, but also the process that the librarian had gone through to find the answer that was provided?
Overall, this experience was incredible. I worked for about a year as a library assistant at the Alberta Law Libraries - Edmonton Resource Library during my undergrad, but because I wasn't studying library science just yet, I couldn't get a grasp of everything. Now, after completing the program, there was so much more added value to this job shadow, and I feel much more certain that I'm pursuing a very worthwhile career.
So, to those out there, especially those working on your MLIS/MLS, seek out the opportunity to job shadow with a librarian or information professional to learn more about what it takes to be one, and to see where your own interests lie and where they don't. Networking is also a perk in itself! And if you happen to be in the area with a particular interest in law librarianship, I would definitely recommend shadowing a day in the whimsical library life of Heather Wylie.