An Interview with Library Boy
TheCourt.ca is but one of several Canadian legal blogs that publishes daily. Today, we’d like to draw your attention to another: Michel-Adrien Sheppard’s personal blog Library Boy, of which we’ve been longtime readers. Mr. Sheppard is a reference librarian at the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”). Since 2005, his blog has been providing news and information on law libraries and legal publications, as well as on institutional developments at the Supreme Court. We asked Mr. Sheppard about his work at the Library of the SCC, his experience maintaining Library Boy, and his views on legal blogging.
TheCourt.ca: Tell us about your work as a reference librarian at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Michel-Adrien Sheppard: I am part of a reference team – there are between four and five people who rotate at the reference desk at the Library, handling questions from law clerks, the lawyers in the Law Branch of the Court, outside lawyers and also members of the public. Questions can be about anything and everything, and range from simple bibliographic questions to identify and find material in our collection and electronic databases to complex research questions. In addition, I help create content for the research Intranet and provide training in legal research.
TheCourt.ca: You say on your blog that you are a “former news researcher/journalist and web producer.” What path led you to being a librarian for the Supreme Court?
MS: Complicated. I worked in journalism in the 1990s (researcher and broadcaster for the CBC Radio morning show Daybreak in Montreal, researcher on the weekly TV program Droit de Parole on the Télé-Québec educational network, brief stint in the Montreal office of The Canadian Press). However, that was a time of massive cutbacks and layoffs in journalism and I became tired of downsizings and what I saw as the diminishing opportunities. I decided to return to school and did a Master’s of Library and Information Studies at McGill, finishing in 1999.
I come from a family of lawyers and was interested in government or law librarianship. I did make a 3 year detour in the early part of the millennium, working as a web producer in Toronto with the Internet job site workopolis.com, helping to organize content on one of Canada’s largest websites. Around the year 2003, I decided to get back to more traditional librarianship and was hired by the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP where I worked as a “communications librarian” doing legal research and Intranet stuff. In 2005, a position at the Supreme Court came up. I believe my familiarity with the Web, my total bilingualism and my legal research experience acquired at Borden Ladner Gervais helped me gain my current position.
TheCourt.ca: Tell us about the Library of the Supreme Court of Canada. How does its collection differ from, say, the libraries of law schools? Does the Library follow a particular mandate in choosing what titles to acquire?
MS: We may be different from law school libraries in that we strive to build and maintain a collection that is deep and broad in both civil and common law. We also go for historical depth: if a certain book has become a “classic,” we will purchase every edition and not only keep the most recent ones.
In terms of purchasing, we have many of what are called “standing orders” with Canadian legal publishers – this means that we buy more or less all their publications in a given year. We are currently revising our 2001 collection development policy that determines what we collect and to what depth. The big issue is the proper balance between electronic and print resources and what to do when we find duplication (the same resource in both formats, as well as in the microfiche format).
TheCourt.ca: Can you give us some insight as to how the Supreme Court Justices use the Library and what their role is in determining its direction?
MS: Research requests from judges tend to come to us indirectly, via their law clerks or their judicial assistants. I can say that the trend has been for questions to become broader: when questions come up in new or conflicting areas of law, we at the Library are being asked to help people find all kinds of information that may shed light on a case, and from many jurisdictions (Canada and foreign): I can assure people that the Court is interested in examining all the angles on a question.
There is a library committee with three judges on it that serves as a liaison between the judges of the Court and the Library. The committee is there to make sure that the Library serves the needs of the Court in terms of researching cases and rendering decisions. Through the committee, judges can tell us if they want any changes or new information products. For example, through the committee, judges asked the Library to create two new products on the Intranet: a monthly selection of judgments from various foreign supreme courts, and a constantly updated bibliography of articles on recently heard Supreme Court cases and upcoming appeals. That sort of thing.
TheCourt.ca: What are some of the rewards and challenges in your work as a reference librarian for the Supreme Court?
MS: [Regarding the challenges] we have to be very accurate and versatile, in both official languages. We often have to quickly get up to speed in areas of law with which we are not familiar, but that’s the nature of an appellate court. And we are asked, more frequently than I would have guessed, to track down obscure or hard-to-find material from outside Canada.
Rewards: constantly learning, walking into a beautiful building every morning, gaining the respect of very smart people on the inside, and getting people from the outside to quickly return my phone calls!
TheCourt.ca: Why did you start your blog, Library Boy?
MS: I had been reading blogs and about blogs in 2003-2004 and thought I should start one, originally as an experiment to see if I liked it and if I “had anything to say.” I use the blog to do two things: 1) archive material I find interesting and useful in librarianship or legal research, using it almost as a notebook so as not to forget things, and 2) attract other people’s attention to it.
I decided early on that I wanted it to have an informational tone. I don’t think I am neutral when it comes to values (I have posted a lot about access to information, government transparency, human rights resources, access to justice and so on, so you can guess where I am coming from). However, I try to avoid inserting any personal rants into my blog posts. For one thing, there are so many blogs out there with little else but biased ranting. I find those blogs dreadfully boring after a while. For another, I am identified on the blog as working for the Supreme Court of Canada and I am very aware of the necessity for restraint in tone and content.
As for the name “Library Boy,” since many people ask me: some friends liked to make fun of me when I would become too serious and start pontificating. They would say: “OK, we get it, you think you’re so smart, eh, Library Boy?” So, I adopted the name.
TheCourt.ca: Your blog is engaged with both legal and librarian professions. Who are your readers? Do they tend to come from one world more than the other?
MS: I get e-mail from both groups. But I do think most of my readers are librarians. No evidence, just a feeling.
TheCourt.ca: Your blog is updated very frequently. What is your motivation for taking the time to post every day? How do you find the material to post?
MS: I try to post as often as possible. There are so many interesting stories or resources out there. In terms of finding material, it is possible to subscribe to RSS feeds or to news release services from many different sources and publications in law and the library world: government departments, law reform commissions, law faculties, other law blogs, professional associations, etc. It is a question of identifying potential information sources and getting a good RSS reader.
TheCourt.ca: The past few years have seen a stunning increase in the number of law-related blogs. What do you think is the role of blogging in the legal world?
MS: I see two roles, depending on the nature of the blog that is being described. Some blogs are basically informational or newsy. Other blogs have been developing into a new kind of legal scholarship, something between news and academic commentary. I have posted about this on Library Boy, for example “Should Legal Blogs Be Seen As Scholarship?” (Dec. 18, 2007) – this second group is the most interesting to watch.
TheCourt.ca: Besides slaw.ca (for which you are a contributor) and TheCourt.ca, are there any other law-related blogs you read and would like to recommend?
MS: I like:
TheCourt.ca would like to thank Michel-Adrien Sheppard for the interview.