Engaging the Public

About This Session

Mind the Gaps: Promoting Open and Equal Access to Justice for All

Joseph D. Lawson and Heather Holmes

Open access to legal information drives access to justice. We know because we see it every day at one of the busiest public law libraries in the country. Leveraging technology and library budgets to move legal forms and information from behind paywalls can open the courthouse doors for those who cannot afford legal representation. Still, this potential population for open access materials is not monolithic, and technology alone is not a panacea. Considering the diversity of the individuals who are in need of access to justice services and those who assist them is necessary to ensure the content reaches the intended audience. How does placing the most helpful information online for free reach the approximately 150,000 impoverished residents of Harris County, Texas who have neither home nor mobile access to the internet? How can we identify and mitigate content deserts? What role can public law libraries play to connect our most vulnerable populations with the rich resources generated and distributed by the open access movement? Speakers will provide practical examples from their experiences at a metropolitan public law library to showcase the opportunities for bridging justice gaps with open access.

The Role of Library Staff in Improving Access to Legal Information

Brea Lowenberger, Melanie Hodges Neufeld, and Kim Hebig

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 will focus on the opportunities 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 discussed will include 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.


photo of Joe Lawson

Joseph D. Lawson

  • Deputy Director, Harris County Law Library

Joe’s work is focused on removing barriers to legal information for everyone involved in the legal system.

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photo of Heather Holmes

Heather Holmes

  • Assistant Law Librarian, Harris County Law Library

Heather joined the Harris County Law Library staff in 2016 after working in an academic law library setting for more than 10 years.  Heather loves sharing information and helping library users locate the resources they need to address their legal concerns.

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photo of Brea Lowenberger

Brea Lowenberger

  • Access to Justice Coordinator and Director of CREATE Justice, University of Saskatchewan

Brea Lowenberger is Saskatchewan's Access to Justice Coordinator; Director of CREATE Justice, an action-oriented access to justice research centre at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) that is working on transforming legal and justice services and the removal of systemic barriers to justice; and an adjunct law instructor at the U of S.

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photo of Melanie Hodges Neufeld

Melanie Hodges Neufeld

  • Director of Legal Resources, Law Society of Saskatchewan

Melanie Hodges Neufeld is the Director of Legal Resources at the Law Society of Saskatchewan. In addition to being responsible for the administration of the traditional library, Melanie is responsible for developing and recommending a strategic plan for the management of legal information within the Law Society and the province, and various access to justice initiatives.

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Kim Hebig

  • Library Director, Wheatland Regional Library

Kim Hebig has been the Library Director of Wheatland Regional Library for over 10 years. Prior to her time in regional libraries, she worked in municipal libraries. Kim did her undergraduate in Sociology/Criminology before moving on to the University of Alberta to complete her Masters in Library and Information Studies.  

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