Libraries and justice

Lessons learned at local libraries

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of Community Advocacy & Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario, joins us today to tell us more information about libraries and justice partnerships.

I've posted here before about an access to justice outreach project that our community legal clinic, that serves rural and remote communities in Eastern Ontario, started. We wanted to work with library staff to help them:

  • red-flag legal issues in poverty law areas, such as housing, income security, and rights at work
  • provide effective referrals for free legal help
  • direct patrons to accurate and credible legal information resources, especially through free internet access.
This is a photo of a justice innovation event in Tweed, Ontario, in May 2012.
A training event with library staff in Tweed, Ontario, in May 2012

We have just published a report about this project and our findings, with contributions from our project partners at Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO). Here are just three of the 10 lessons we learned. More details about each of these can be seen in the project report.

  1. Providing a rationale to library staff about why this legal awareness and referral work could be important to patrons and finding a common purpose were critical to our success. This was achieved through our project backgrounder about access to justice and on reflective dialogue during our focus group with librarians in our region.
  2. It is important for us to use the time of librarians as efficiently as possible and to ensure we are meeting their needs. Small urban, rural and remote libraries have limited budgets, and often have little capacity to travel to learning events. To address this, we developed training webinars, travelled to where the libraries were when we could, and focussed on building good working relationships.
  3. If library staff do not understand the difference between information and advice, they will be very reluctant to provide legal information and referrals to patrons. Librarians are understandably concerned to be perceived to be giving legal advice, as it is contrary to their ethical code. To address this, we developed a resource to help distinguish legal information from legal advice and included this resource in the training.

For information about the partnerships we formed, and samples of the tools we created to use in our libraries and justice partnership work, read our report. And, stay tuned to the PLE Learning Exchange Libraries and Justice Partnerships page for more information in the weeks and months to come.

In my next guest post, I'll write about the results of our upcoming Libraries & Justice innovation event, at which we'll be exploring library and justice collaborations for rural and remote communities with approximately 70 future potential partners!

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of CALC
Guest author Michele Leering
Michele Leering is a lawyer and works as Executive Director with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario. She also holds a Master's degree 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.  

Michele 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.