Justice at your library?

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of CALC

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of CALC

In an earlier post on this blog, I wrote about a fledgling Librarians & Justice partnership that started in some small urban, rural and remote community libraries in southeastern Ontario. The partnership emerged from an Access to Justice outreach project conceived of by the legal clinic that I work at, the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre.

Several years ago, in the course of interviewing “people helpers” (people we call “trusted intermediaries”) in our community about legal needs, we held a focus group with public librarians and our Hastings County Courthouse librarian, Judith Dale. We discovered that our local librarians were very interested in helping people access credible and free legal information.

We also learned that librarians wanted to learn more about what role public library staff could play to connect people dealing with common legal problems to the justice resources that they needed. They were also interested in building their skills at “red-flagging” legal issues and displaying plain language legal information.

Lawyers in our community who were involved in our local Law Association, were also interested in seeing what difference they could make by recommending good legal reference books, creating tip sheets like “Family Law Checklist: What to bring to your family law lawyer”, and offering legal information sessions. In a future column, I’ll share more about how we actually carried this project out, some of the resources we created, and the key lessons that we learned.

In the meantime, you can learn more about other similar projects – visit the PLE and librarians pages here on the PLE Learning Exchange. And, watch this space for an announcement about an upcoming justice innovation event involving libraries.

Michele Leering is a lawyer and works as Executive Director with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario. She also holds a M.A. in Adult Education, and is currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Her present studies focus on issues connected to access to justice and legal professionalism. In addition to the traditional practice of poverty law, Michele has engaged in community development and law reform work, including organizing injured workers, and instigating participatory action research projects into local hunger/poverty, homelessness, and access to justice.  She has worked on diverse public legal education projects including developing a comprehensive guide to living on a low income, referral and resource guides, and “legal health checklist” approaches that reflect her passion for encouraging legal literacy/capability approaches and holistic legal aid service delivery. She is currently working on an article about the crucial role that “trusted intermediaries” play in increasing access to justice.

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