Partnerships with libraries
Public libraries, law libraries and courthouse libraries in Ontario host dozens or hundreds of people a day, many of whom might be dealing with legal problems. Library staff are ideally placed to serve as key intermediaries in distributing legal information and referrals to their patrons. This is especially true in rural and remote areas, where the digital divide and vast geographic distances from large urban centres pose barriers to getting legal information and help.
How can the justice sector best support library staff to help them find legal information and help for their patrons?
Libraries and justice – recent developments
In 2015, Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) partnered with The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG), the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC) and the Boldness Project Rural and Remote Access to Justice to find answers to this question. CLEO and CALC knew from a previous collaboration that libraries in rural and remote locations are effective access points not only for information but also for programs that reflect community needs.
To kick off this collaboration, the TAG partnership hosted a full day event in October 2015, bringing together library staff and justice professionals from across Ontario. Participants at the event explored ways for libraries and justice organizations to work together to deliver legal information to people living outside of large urban centres. The event also fostered and strengthened relationships between library organizations, library staff, and legal workers.
TAG then surveyed library staff from across Ontario to learn more about what legal information needs their patrons have. As a result of the survey, we learned that 83 percent of library staff want to be trained on how to help their patrons find legal information and improve their access to justice.
In late 2016, the TAG partnership project was nominated for two awards by the American Bar Association. Regardless of the outcome, this collaboration and work will continue into 2017 and beyond.
CLEO also works with Ontario’s public libraries in a variety of other ways, including:
- providing them with CLEO’s print resources
- offering in-person and web-based legal information training workshops to library staff
- sending bulletins to library staff (using our database of 260 library contacts, to date), informing them of CLEO’s selected online and print resources of particular relevance to libraries, and of upcoming training opportunities
- reaching out to libraries to support their promotion of CLEO’s online resources – for example, through bookmarking on library computers
And in autumn 2017, CLEO will be providing an extensive online training course for library staff with the help of the Ontario Library Association.
Libraries and justice – how we started
Starting in 2011, CALC spearheaded a library and justice partnership in three counties in southeastern Ontario to improve delivery of legal and referral information to people who lived in rural and remote parts of those counties. CLEO worked on this project with CALC.
To learn more about the Southeastern Ontario library and justice partnership project, read the project report.
And to learn about other past and ongoing library and justice partnerships in Ontario and other jurisdictions, check out CLEO’s 2015 online scan.