In January 2020 I began co-teaching the Legal Literature and Librarianship course at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information with my now-retired colleague Susan Barker — a course I took as a student at the iSchool and I’m sure many other TALL members did as well. The experience has been very rewarding and overwhelmingly positive, but unfortunately due to the coronavirus, hasn’t been without its challenges.
Last fall, Susan and I met numerous times to go over the course syllabus, readings, and assignments. For many years the course had been taught by librarians from Bora Laskin Law Library so the library holds a plethora of exercises, readings, and assignments from which we could choose for this year’s class. Besides the usual topics of researching secondary sources, case law, and legislation, the course also includes classes on Indigenous legal research, business research, and artificial intelligence and new technologies. A few classes are dedicated to hands-on learning through research scenarios and we also include short exercises for classes that are more lecture-based.
Throughout my career, I have trained many law students and lawyers. I have also led sessions for legal assistants and informally instructed the public when they’ve sought assistance at the Bora Laskin Law Library. I have never, however, taught a course to students who have little to no legal research background.
I had to remind myself that the students were looking at the subject with fresh eyes. Unlike law students, lawyers, and legal assistants, the students had never heard of noting up, Halsbury’s, tracing legislation, or WestlawNext Canada, for example, and had limited knowledge of Canada’s legal system. I appreciated taking a step back to ensure that the classes started at the most basic legal librarianship principles as it helped me reaffirm research processes and the numerous sources available.
I’ve sometimes found that due to time constraints and peer pressure, law students and lawyers are reticent to ask questions or participate in class. This wasn’t my experience teaching the legal librarianship course. Our students weren’t shy about asking questions and participating in our exercises. I appreciated their candour and enthusiasm as it was helpful for us to understand what was working, what we could explain better, and what exercises were most useful.
With three classes left, the term took an unexpected turn when on March 16 classes moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak. Susan and I decided to keep things simple; we used our course management system to post our exercises and slides early and then led discussions and took up answers during part of our usually scheduled class time. We were really pleased to see that about half our class logged on and participated eagerly despite the stresses going on outside of class. (I can’t say that I would have done the same if I were in their shoes.)
The last class of the term has traditionally featured a panel of law librarians who discuss their careers and views on law librarianship — a class that students have always found useful, interesting, and even inspiring. Fortunately, we were still able to offer this panel using video conferencing and thanks to the graciousness of our panelists Yemisi Dina, Catherine MacGregor, and Emily Woon. The students’ reaction to this class was no different this year as they enthusiastically asked the panelists questions and participated in the discussion. Afterwards many sent emails indicating that they appreciated the panelists’ helpful advice and insight.
Despite the challenges of ending our term online, my experience teaching this course was positive and it was a great learning experience for me as it made me a better teacher. The students’ enthusiasm and curiosity were encouraging, especially in seeing how they handled the move to online classes. The next generation of information professionals are inquisitive, eager, bright, and very resilient, and I’ll be very happy to work with them in the future.
-Alexia Loumankis, Reference and Research Librarian, Bora Laskin Law Library, University of Toronto