HLA Statement on Library Funding

December 9, 2020

The Hamilton Law Association (HLA) was dismayed to learn that, as part of the 10% reduction in LiRN’s budget for 2021, it will receive a 14% cut to its library grant.[i] These cuts will have a direct impact on the quality and currency of the information the HLA can provide to its members through its library collection, especially if further reductions continue past next year.

The HLA’s Law Library, the Anthony Pepe Memorial Library, is the only law library in Hamilton that is open to all licensees of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO). As such, it plays an essential role in the competency and professionalism of lawyers in Hamilton and the surrounding area. It is a vital resource that, if compromised, will have a negative impact on the local bar.

The Anthony Pepe Memorial Library, like all courthouse libraries in Ontario, is a crucial link between lawyers and the legal information they need to practice effectively. Although there is more information available online than ever before, the task of legal research has not become easier. Lawyers must navigate complex networks of online databases, along with physical library collections, to ensure that they are finding all the relevant information to address their research concerns. Courthouse library staff are experts in the organization and retrieval of legal information. They perform the necessary task of helping licensees find and access the information they need to effectively perform legal research.  It is critical that our courthouse libraries receive sufficient funding to maintain a staffing complement that can provide these services to our clients.

We understand that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been severe and far-reaching, and that there is a need for fiscal restraint at this time. However, these spending reductions cannot come at the expense of the relevancy of our library collections. The cost of both print and electronic legal resources has been outpacing library funding for years. For example, it is not uncommon for the cost of one annual loose-leaf subscription to exceed $3000/year. Courthouse libraries are already stretching their collections budgets to the furthest limits; the recent cuts make it extremely difficult to maintain a collection that fully meets the needs of the bar, especially in a large urban area where lawyers practice in a wide variety of practice areas. The cost of many resources we provide is high enough to make them inaccessible to sole or small-firm practitioners. The financial effects of the pandemic now place those resources even further out of reach. If our library is not able to provide these materials, it will be detrimental to the lawyers in our community.

According to a November 2019 report from the LSO’s Professional Development & Competence Committee,

“High-quality library and legal information services are components of the Law Society’s supports to licensees,  and are an element of the Law Society’s competence platform. Competence has been identified as a priority for the 2019-2023 bencher term.” [ii]

We implore the LSO to re-affirm its commitment to ensuring the competency of its licensees through the provision of high-quality library and legal information services. It is crucial that Ontario’s courthouse libraries receive adequate funding to allow them to continue providing the services and resources relied upon by LSO licensees.

[i] Law Society of Ontario, Audit & Finance Committee’s Report to Convocation, https://lawsocietyontario.azureedge.net/media/lso/media/about/convocation/2020/convocation-november-2020-audit-and-finance-committee-report.pdf

[ii] Law Society of Ontario, Professional Development & Competence Committee, “Transition from LibraryCo to LIRN Inc. (Legal Information and Resource Network)”, https://lawsocietyontario.azureedge.net/media/lso/media/about/convocation/2019/convocation-november-2019-professionaldevelopmentandcompetence-committeereport.pdf