In Praise of Bibliographies

In the not too distant past law librarians were valued for their knowledge of “legal bibliography”. Great librarians who built the collections of law schools libraries across Canada were experts in knowing what had been published across jurisdictions and legal topics. With the explosion of print and online legal publishing a knowledge of bibliography gave way to the need to know and understanding how to find relevant information when needed.

Still, the art of knowing the literature on a topic and organising and making that literature available to users both expert and novice is still an important (if perhaps somewhat undervalued) role of librarians. I was reminded how important this art is when consulting with Lakehead on what they might want to include in their planned law library. Here are a few bibliographies that I recommend:

John Eaton & Denis Le May, Essential Sources of Canadian Law, (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2009). This gem of a book provides short bibliographies of the most essential titles for 105 areas of law. Most law librarians will be familiar with the titles in this book, but I have found this an excellent source to keep on my desk to jog my memory when researching an unfamiliar area. It’s an excellent tool for new librarians, and I would expect that public libraries and other non-law libraries would find this a very useful entry point to identifying the key titles in an area. A nice feature of this book is that it lists both French and English language titles.

Two of the more recent books on Canadian legal research: Tjaden’s Legal Research and Writing, 3rd ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010) and McCormack, Papadopoulos & Cotter’s The Practical Guide to Canadian Legal Research, 3rd ed (Toronto: Carswell, 2010) also provide bibliographies by topic – Tjaden in chapter 8 and McCormack in the appendix. Since Tjaden’s first edition, I must have said “let’s look in chapter 8 of Tjaden to see what’s out there” to hundreds of law students. Ted’s bibliography is a bit less granular, looking at 45 topics, but he goes beyond the essential books and also lists relevant journals, encyclopedia entries, reporters and websites. McCormack looks at 44 topics with many topics including lists of sub-topics where appropriate. For example there are 22 sub-topics for “Criminal Law” including the Charter, Evidence, Sentencing and Youth Criminal Justice. Like Tjaden the approach aims to be more comprehensive than Eaton’s focus on essentials.

Outside of Canadian literature, John Eaton has recently published Finding English Law: Key Titles for Non-UK Lawyers and Researchers, (London: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing, 2011), which like his Canadian book takes a granular approach listing 97 topics. John’s approach is perfect for a Canadian audience, as he gives us just enough information to find the right literature without becoming too esoteric. This is an excellent reference source for librarians as well as an aid to collection development.

I’ve had less reason to find US books, but the “Legal Treatises” chapter of the annual Legal Information Buyer’s Guide and Reference Manual by Kendall Svengalis has been useful – although aimed at US librarians who are purchasing titles, its annotated list of titles for 61 topics provides a good starting point.

In a future post I’ll take a look at some of the best online bibliographies find on law library and legal research websites.


  1. I haven’t seen John Eaton’s book on English Law yet. By way of interest there was a previous book that attempted to provide a list for all the commonwealth, common-law jurisdictions, by Donald Raistrick, now retired but formerly head of the library and information services for the English court services, which I guess was known as the Lord Chancellor’s office in pre-Blair days.

    The title is Lawyer’s Law Books. The last and 3rd edition was published in 1996 by Bowker. It has book lists for such great, and very English, subject headings like: champerty, chivalry, dilapidation, friendly societies, gavelkind, gipsies, king’s remembrancer, legal dress, mortmain, peerage law,, and village halls.

    Most titles also have a reference to Halsbury’s Laws of Engandwhich points out the amazing usefulness of that publication.

    Although somewhat dated, it is a work of considerable scholarship, and I think it is a useful companion to those titles mentioned by John.