By Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Director of Legal Resources and Communications
The tenth annual University of North Texas (UNT) Open Access Symposium was held May 17-18 at UNT Dallas College of Law. The theme this year was “Is Open Access an Answer for Access to Justice?” and featured presentations and interactive sessions led by legal scholars and practitioners from Harvard, Duke, and UNT and representatives from our very own Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information project (SALI).
I was proud to present “The Role of Library Staff in Improving Access to Legal Information” with my SALI partners Brea Lowenberger, Access to Justice Coordinator and Director of CREATE Justice, University of Saskatchewan and Kim Hebig, Library Director, Wheatland Regional Library.
The Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information (SALI) partnership was formed to highlight the role of libraries as vehicles for access to legal information, and the role of library staff as intermediaries in the provision of legal information in their communities. SALI emerged in 2016 out of the Dean’s Forum on Access to Justice, a collaboration among Saskatchewan justice stakeholders based in the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan. Dean’s Forum participants identified limited access to legal information as one of the barriers to full and equitable public participation in the justice system.
Since 2016, the SALI partnership has undertaken activities to meet the objective of improving access to legal information, specifically through engaging public library staff as mediators of resources to best serve their communities. SALI partners include representatives from the provincial Public Legal Education Association, Law Society libraries, University Library, College of Law, Ministries of Justice and Education, Pro Bono Law, and public libraries across Saskatchewan.
This presentation focused on the opportunities available and challenges faced in pursuing the goal of increasing public access to information in a jurisdiction with a small, widely-dispersed population, including a high proportion of Indigenous people and many newcomers to Canada. Topics included SALI activities such as a public engagement campaign; capacity-building opportunities for public librarians; a collections list; data collection and analysis projects; and writing projects that engage law students and faculty in increasing the amount of legal material produced with the public in mind.
We were pleased to share our experiences and learn from the other participants. Please see the UNT Open Access website for more information about the sessions and the Law Society website for more information about the SALI project.