Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society Library

I was shocked to read this headline in yesterday’s issue of INFORUM The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society semi-monthly e-newsletter: “Society to reduce Library & Information Services department”. The NSBS Library review project has been ongoing since April 2010.

There has been mention of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society Library and Information Services on Slaw, most notably, when this worthy group of librarians and library technicians received the Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing.

The NSBS offers documents surrounging the review on their website:

From the April 2011 document:

The Society received the Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing at the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference held in May 2010 for the Nova Scotia Annotated Civil Procedure Rules. The annotations are created in much the same way as the Nova Scotia Law News digests, using the roster of volunteers to vet the work of our digesters. Staff process the information and manage the quality. We are very proud of this product and statistics show that it is receiving an average of approximately 3770 visits per month. In this fiscal year (to March 31, 2011) there were 43,117 visits by 18,179 unique visitors.

Of particular note is the cost of maintaining a commercially produced set of annotated Rules. It ranges between $800 and $1,000 annually. The NSBS product is electronic, searchable, with an excellent index and more current than the commercial services. LIS staff routinely report inconsistencies in Rules and amendments to the Courts.

And later in the document:

Libraries are not warehouses of books. This has been true as long as I have been a librarian. Libraries provide services and help users become competent information seekers. It is not only important to find what you need but to understand what you have found and the reliability of your source. Librarians are equipped to help members with this dilemma. In the next year the librarians will shift their training from product specific training to subject specific training – using the research guides as a starting point.

From the January Memo to Council:

In reviewing L&IS under the parameters of the organizational review, the following points are noted:

  • Society activities are to be limited to those of regulation that ensure competent and ethical lawyers, maintain public confidence in the regulation of lawyers and uphold the public interest in the administration of justice.
  • Council has previously determined, in the course of the organizational review, that it is not the Society’s role to deliver programs that contribute to lawyer competence but rather its role is to set the standards for competence and point out to lawyers where programs are available to them. In light of this decision the Society has ceased delivering most of its continuing legal education and other programs.
  • In 2004, at the time of the last library study, CanLII was in its infancy. Since then it has become a robust and generally reliable resource for Canadian case law and statutory material including those from Nova Scotia. Like other resources it is not intended to be the sole source for legal research as there are, and will likely continue to be, gaps in its coverage and its reliability. It also fulfils the role of making law publicly accessible.
  • Since 2004, the Courts of Nova Scotia have expanded their role as a source of case law and other court-related information including the Civil Procedure Rules. They have assumed their responsibility to preserve case law in the Province.
  • The Government of Nova Scotia through the Legislative Counsel Office and the government website preserves authentic Nova Scotia Legislation.
  • L&IS consumes approximately 17.1% of the Society’s budget and costs about $470.00 per practising lawyer (see page 5).
  • It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare the library program of one Society with a similar program in another. L&IS developed to meet the perceived needs of the Society and lawyers as it was evolving. Whereas some other law society libraries receive Law Foundation funding (sometimes this is required by statute), in Nova Scotia, we have determined that but for the Law Stamp, library costs should be borne by the membership…

While I empathize with the Barristers’ Society and its need to control costs, I strongly suspect that their decision about the Library & Information Service will cause significant detriment to the bar and citizens of the province.

The January 2012 document confirms that the net library expense has shrunk by nearly a hundred thousand dollars since 2009 – see page 6. I doubt that service provided by the library staff has decreased.

The memo seems to suggest that the cost of library materials at $273,539 can somehow be measured against the cost of CanLII (to the Society) at $57,900. When I look at my own law firm library budget, the cost of collection items that are not available on CanLII is 88% and the cost of decsions and legislation makes up only 11% of my budget – though these are not necessarily availabe on CanLII. The seeming hypothesis that CanLII can replace a law firm library collection – including the texts and other resources necessary for lawyers to competently address legal issues for their clients – is simply absurd.

The memo acknowledges that the L&IS has developed into a modern library. “Its various products and services are designed to anticipate and meet the needs of Nova Scotia lawyers and, to a lesser extent, the public.”

There is contact information for the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society in the INFORUM publication for those who wish to communicate with them about this decision.


  1. A similar review is underway in Manitoba (see p. 3 of this document).

  2. I think this is really a very short-sighted move on the Society’s part and I agree that it will most likely be to the membership’s detriment. The saddest part is that my sense is that the vast majority of the membership don’t have a clue as to what this “reorganization” will actually mean to them on a day-to-day basis. And, by the time they realize it, it will be too late.