Courthouse Library partners with public libraries

The BC Courthouse Library Society is launching a project to provide legal information to public libraries throughout the province, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Law Foundation of BC.

“The Public Library Legal Resources Project will ensure that all British Columbia residents have free, local access to basic legal information,” said Johanne Blenkin, Executive Director of the BC Courthouse Library Society. “We also anticipate that lawyers in smaller communities with no courthouse library may find these collections of use.”

The project is a partnership among the BC Courthouse Library Society, BC’s public libraries, the Public Library Services Branch of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Attorney General. It will also ­include other legal information providers.

The need for community access to basic legal information has been identified by numerous studies over the past 30 years. Public libraries are also the ideal location for public legal information, given their almost universal accessibility throughout the province. Over 98 per cent of BC residents are served by public libraries through 238 different service points, providing more than 424,000 hours of service annually.

In 1974, the Legal Services Society’s Legal Resource Centre began providing public libraries with legal materials and support. Over the years, there was a significant investment in legal information, basic legal reference training for public library staff and web resources focused on public library use. Funding changes at the Legal Services Society, however, forced cancellation of the program in 2002.

“The infrastructure for the Legal Services Society’s program is still basically intact, but it needs updating. The internet has changed how the public seek information. This project will build on the existing framework and solicit input from communities and other legal information providers to better serve the public’s needs,” Blenkin explained.

She added that the project is a unique collaboration “that draws on the subject expertise of law librarians and the community-based knowledge and skills of public librarians to ensure the public’s information needs are met. We anticipate that these collections will be integrated in some way with the new civil information hubs the Ministry of the Attorney General is proposing. It is by working together on initiatives such as these that access to justice becomes a reality.”

Wayne Robertson, Executive Director of the Law Foundation, agrees. “The project will be good for communities and good for lawyers,” he said. “It fits perfectly with the Law Foundation’s mandate to use the interest on lawyers’ pooled trust accounts to promote legal education, research, legal aid, law reform and law libraries.”

The Courthouse Library Society ­project will provide public libraries with a collection of legal materials appropriate for public use in their locations, a bibliography of recommended legal materials, legal reference training for public library staff and online learning tools for public library staff. Courthouse libraries will also provide back-up support for staff and patrons as well as advice about new materials and resources.

In addition, public libraries will be given information about locally available legal services such as pro bono clinics. Local librarians will also be encouraged to stock materials that are relevant to their local patrons, including foreign-language resources.

The three-year project will begin in 2007 with a pilot program at one urban library, one regional library and one small public library association. Locations have not yet been determined.

“The BC Courthouse Library Society has always been the source of first resort for lawyers in BC. This project will ensure that the same valuable resource is available to everyone in the province. We applaud the Law Foundation for making it possible,” Blenkin said.

The BC Courthouse Library Society provides legal information services to the general public and the legal profession through BC’s 31 courthouse libraries and online. It is a registered charity and is funded by the Law Society, the Law Foundation and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Johanne Blenkin

Johanne BlenkinJohanne Blenkin was appointed Executive Director of the BC Courthouse Library Society in 2004. She received her Master of Library Science degree from McGill University in 1978 and her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta in 1984. Ms. Blenkin was called to the Alberta Bar in 1985 and the BC Bar in 1994.

Prior to joining the BC Courthouse Library Society, Johanne was the chief librarian for law firms in Edmonton and Vancouver. She also practised law on Vancouver Island from 1994 to 2004.

Johanne has lectured in legal research at both the University of BC and the University of Alberta law schools and has edited guides on legal research. She continues to appear as a guest lecturer at UBC and has participated in legal education programs for lawyers. Johanne is also active in professional library associations and has served on the boards of numerous community organizations.