Print Based Legislation Research

It is Day 1 of the Edmonton Law Libraries Association Head Start Program and I am writing this post as I assist with timekeeping and travel for the students hands on legislative research sessions in the Alberta Law Society Library in Edmonton.

Every year we bring the attendee articling students into the library and work through hands on research sessions with them using print resources. This year, like those in the past, we “old” librarian types tell war stories about how crappy it was to update regulations before the Internet existed, and especially before the new electronic official copies that are becoming the norm.

Even though we show the students the electronic access in lectures, the print mystery is still interesting and relevant to our students… Or is it? I hope this sparks some debate and comments from our attendees.


  1. I’ve been thinking about this, too. At one time the electronic sources lined up closely with the paper, so I felt it was important to understand how the paper worked to understand how the electronic worked. But I wonder if they are starting to morph into very separate models of information organization, in which case teaching the paper only confuses things. For historic research, yes, understanding how the paper works is still important. But for locating and updating current legislation? It might vary by jurisdiction, but I don’t know if it is always necessary any more.

  2. Interesting? Maybe. Relevant? Not so sure. Practically speaking, the print resources aren’t relevant for me at all, and I think they’re likely to be ancient history very soon.

  3. Our session on how to find point-in-time legislation through print resources is one that receives the most positive feedback from the students. The week after orientation does not go by without at least one student coming into the library to do this type of research. Not only do we go back in time to find the law as it existed on a particular date, but also as a step in research on legislative intent and to find cases on a section of a statute as it was numbered prior to the most recent consolidation. Those kinds of questions are not going to go away. It will be interesting to see whether, once historical Canadian legislation is all digitized, we move to keyword searching to find earlier versions rather than using the methodology we now teach.

  4. I agree with Laurel – until legislative intent/legislative history can be done elegantly and reliably with electronic resources, we’re going to need skills in paper research. Is every articling student going to need these skills? Probably not. But every law librarian is.

  5. I agree the law librarians do need to know this. The type of research Laurel describes is included, in my mind, in “historic research”. Perhaps my phrase is a bit fuzzy, but I essentially intend it to mean any research back in time.