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Google brings you 100,000 answers; librarians bring you the right one | Ciara Ward

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 @ 2:10 PM | By Ciara Ward

Ciara Ward %>
Ciara Ward
I would hope that most people realize by now that libraries are more than books. As author Neil Gaiman observes, “If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated … that is to miss the point fundamentally. I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value.”

Statistics often do not give the most complete picture of success. I can tell you how many physical items were signed out from my library, how many new or updated volumes I purchased, how many questions I answered, how much time I spent reviewing books with each publisher. I can even tell you the amount spent on our Bell telephone and Internet bills for any year out of the last decade.

These numbers would not tell you how many hours within that year that I spent tied up on the phone with technical support. How much time I spent going down the rabbit holes of publisher websites to find out-of-print or hard-to- find volumes. Statistics wouldn’t measure the time I took to speak to my lawyers about their area of law and what types of resources they find useful.

My library is small-to-medium within the Ontario courthouse system; we are located on the 401 corridor in a town surrounded by rural Ontario. Some of my members are an hour or more away, all located in the same county, with us as their closest library — if our funding is cut, or we are closed, how does that help access to justice? What would my local bar do? Type a question in a chat box on a kiosk located in their closest courthouse? Phone a reference hotline? E-mail a person who doesn’t know them, what type of law they practise, and what types of cases they generally take on, and what kinds of materials they prefer to use? A person who wouldn’t be able to anticipate their needs the way their local librarian would?

Since taking on this position, I have spent a huge amount of time thinking and talking and strategizing with other Ontario courthouse library staff about how to demonstrate the value of our libraries. Every professional conference I have ever had the privilege of attending has had at least three sessions on this exact topic. If we’re all jumping on the “love your library campaign” we have to ask ourselves why libraries are constantly required to prove their value.

You love your library? That’s great, but why aren’t any of you speaking up? Why is it up to us, to have a voice loud enough for you to hear over the dollar signs, telling you that this year you get to save on competency fees, while your access to the resources that improve your competency are being greatly impacted, with the potential for greater cuts in the future?

There is a popular quote from a lecture given by Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” In the same lecture he also says “libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education … and about access to information.” He is speaking about public libraries (the most visible of any type of library), but it still applies. They face the same cuts, the same struggle of having to “prove your worth,” only their struggles are much louder, because their service/user base is much larger.

There are roughly 55,000 lawyer licensees practising in Ontario. That is the most out of any of the provinces/territories in Canada. Conversely, there are 48 courthouse libraries, and just over 70 library staff members. If you polled the members of individual law associations, I guarantee they would have nothing but kind words and positive feedback to offer regarding their staff. They would all have stories to share of a time when library staff helped them out. This is what I mean when I say that we need you as much as you need us. We are your connection between access to justice, the courthouses, the law associations and the lawyers. If you do not have your libraries, with your staff, then access to justice will suffer.

Personally, I like to believe that “my” lawyers know the value of my small-medium law association library. Most of them, if not all of them, understand the value that is added to their practices by having access to a library and competent staff who can assist with available resources and research. Our value is obvious, and we (your courthouse librarians) shouldn’t have to continually demonstrate it, because we are your most underrated, and underestimated, resource.

So I ask again, what would you be without us?

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one: Lawyer librarian symbiosis.

Disclaimer: views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author only, they do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of other Ontario courthouse librarians, the author’s law associations, or any of their members.

Ciara Ward is the law librarian for the Northumberland County Law Association. She is a researcher, history hoarder, photographer, batgirl and friend. You can contact her via e-mail at:

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