A New Law Librarians’ Institute?

A few weeks ago, Connie Crosby wrote about the challenge for law librarians in earning a law degree, especially if they’re already working in a law library and don’t want to attend law school full time. Around the same time, John Papadopoulos wrote about how the Legal Literature and Librarianship class at the University of Toronto’s Information School is always oversubscribed. It appears there is an opportunity here to fill.

After many years of planning, last June, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries/Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit presented a week long program called the New Law Librarians’ Institute. This program was aimed at librarians new to the law, or interested in working in the legal field, to give them a crash course, a sort of “everything you need to know about the law” in one week. Held at the University of Western Ontario’s law school, 20 lucky participants from all over the country got an intensive introduction to not just legal research, but also substantive law. I contacted two participants to get their impressions.

Allan Chan is a law librarian at Fillmore Riley LLP in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the time the Institute took place, Allan had four years’ experience working in a law library. Amanda Merk was working at an American law firm in Boston, MA. Both had significant experience in law libraries, so I was curious about why they would choose the Law Librarians’ Institute.

Although their backgrounds were quite different, their motivation was similar. Allan had come from an academic medical library, and although he had taken online courses in legal research, he felt he still had some gaps. He thought an intense program focussing on legal concepts would be beneficial. Amanda is a Canadian living in the United States, but is interested in returning to Canada. She wanted to deepen her knowledge of Canadian law, and meet more Canadian colleagues so she could develop working relationships. She was also very impressed with the content of the course offerings and the speakers.

The substantive law sections, like Introduction to Constitutional Law and Introduction to Torts Law were very valuable to Allan. As he put it:

Most participants in the program did not have law school backgrounds. The instructors took complex areas of law which were fundamental and were able to break it down so that it was understandable without oversimplifying. The instructors were all knowledgeable in their fields and came well prepared. 

Both Allan and Amanda enjoyed meeting their classmates, with whom they also shared accommodations. Exploring the community of London, Ontario was a nice perk.

Although the Institute was aimed at new librarians, both Allan and Amanda would recommend it to anyone working in a law library who wants to enhance their legal knowledge.

As Amanda says:

I will say that the very best part of the program for me was the experience of being on campus in such a great learning environment. The coordinators of the Institute went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and to have a very high quality learning experience.

I hope the organizers are thinking of planning another Institute. You already have a volunteer – Amanda would love to be on the planning committee.



  1. I have a friend who attended this Institute and had great feedback about it. At Durham College, we recognized this gap as well and so in the fall of 2012, we are launching our new Legal Research and Information Management graduate certificate program. This program is designed for students with previous education (a university degree or college diploma) and provides, in one year, more in depth training in legal, business and intellectual property research. It also exposes students to trends in legal information and knowledge management, including e-Discovery and litigation support. We will also explore the role of social media in legal environments. We’ve structured the program so that students are required on-site only two days per week and we’re currently looking at options to move more of the program online in the future. So far we’ve had interest from not only the library community, but also from law clerks and paralegals who are looking to enhance their skills in these areas. More information about our program can be found here: