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Dispelling the Myth of Spinsters and Shushers: Women and the Law Society Library

September 16, 2017

By Alan Kilpatrick

This article originally appeared in the Law Society of Saskatchewan Benchers’ Digest, Volume 30 (2017) Issue 3, Page 15.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has been an innovator and a leader among Canadian law libraries since the 1970s. No history of our library is complete without acknowledging the vital role women played in leading the library and pioneering the state-of-the-art information services that have made the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library a model to be emulated.

Prior to the mid-1970s, the Law Society Library had never employed a professional librarian or library staff. In the early 1970s, the Freeman Report recognized that members desperately needed modern legal information services and urged investment and professional staff for the library. In 1975, the library’s first ever professional librarian, Judy Brennan, MLS, was hired in Regina. This was followed a few years later in 1978 when Sheila Ann Lidster, MLS, was hired to run the Saskatoon Law Society Library.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the library assertively tackled the challenge of developing and providing modern information services to a disparate and rural province with limited funding and support. Thinking outside of the box, the library staff extended information services to rural areas by telephone and a fax machine network. Notably, the Regina Law Society Library became the first computerized courthouse library in North America. Peta Bates, MLS, a professional legal librarian from Toronto, took over the Saskatoon Branch in 1979, staying for more than thirty years. Pat Kelly, a trained library technician, soon joined her in 1982. Pat remains with the library to this day.

In the 1990s, online library databases were provided to members for a subscription fee through a toll-free dial-up line, a technological feat described by Iain Mentiplay in A Century of Integrity: The Law Society of Saskatchewan 1907 to 2007 as state of the art and a first among law society libraries in Canada.

Susan Baer, BPHE, MLS, took on the directorship of the Law Society Library in 1998 and desktop access to online legal resources became a major focus. In 2004, Saskatchewan because the first jurisdiction in Canada to provide members with desktop access to Westlaw. The library was one of the first proponents of open access to the law, access to justice, and CanLII, and decided to give free and open access to its in-house databases on the Internet for members of the public and lawyers alike in 1999.

Melanie Hodges Neufeld, BA, LLB, LLM, refocused the direction of the Law Society Library when she became the first Director of Legal Resources in 2012. Under Melanie’s management, the number of online resources available to members on their desktops through the Members’ Section has skyrocketed. CanLII’s free coverage of Saskatchewan case law nearly doubled as a result of a library-led digitization project in 2014. The library’s long-standing publishing program has expanded its scope beyond the Queen’s Bench Rules of Saskatchewan: Annotated to include more titles and formats, now including electronic formats. To provide meaningful information services, law libraries must continually evolve to reflect the needs of their members, and the Law Society Library remains committed to offering high-quality services that meet those needs.

Librarianship, largely a female dominated profession, has been and continues to be undervalued. Librarians and library staff continue to be associated with inaccurate and sexist stereotypes disconnected from the bustling reality of librarianship. It’s time to recognize the innovative and revolutionary services forged by the staff of the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library over the last four decades, and its time to acknowledge the important leadership that talented, forward-thinking women have contributed to make the Library the success that it continues to be.

Female Library Directors
Judy Brennan 1975-1977
Suzanne Gumprich 1998-1998
Susan Baer 1998-2008
Toby Willis-Camp 2008-2012
Melanie Hodges Neufeld 2012-Present

Female Librarians and Library Techs since 1977
Peta Bates
Kelly Chiu
Lorelie DeRoose
Laura Hague
Shirley Hunard
Pat Kelly
Alice Lalonde
Sheila Ann Lidster
Judy Livingstone
Amanda Nagyl
Leila Olfert
Norma Power
Sarah Roussel-Lewis
Audrey Salter
Maxine Seeley
Sarah Sutherland
Mary Tastad
Laurie Win

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