The Great Library – A Love Letter to an Accessible, Modern Resource with a Remarkable History

19 March 2018

By Eden Kaill

The Great Library at the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) is many things – a historically significant collection of rare books, an architectural masterpiece hidden in plain sight, and for those looking for an obscure (or not-so obscure but expensive) legal text, an absolute treasure trove. Law students study here, members of the public walk the stacks, any licensed lawyer or paralegal can access any document the library manages, and the knowledgeable staff will even help with research.

In a space that could easily feel like a beautiful but irrelevant relic, and with a collection that could have become an elite resource for a privileged few, the Great Library has elegantly bridged the space between ornament and function. It is a truly modern, accessible public resource.

More than just a historical landmark (described below), the library is an active reference collection, housing and managing about 120,000 books and many, many more electronic documents.

The reference staff have also developed a number of comprehensive research guides to provide a starting point on your research, with topics ranging from international rules of procedure, to confidentiality and privilege, to interpretation of Ontario legislation.

What I find most impressive is how seamlessly the library has incorporated the search for and delivery of electronic documents. With so many volumes available, you might expect that having a section of a book physically pulled, scanned, and emailed would take at least a day. Mind-bogglingly, the last time I asked for a scan of a chapter of a legal text on an urgent basis, it was in my mailbox in 34 minutes.

If the library already has an electronic copy of a document, the turnaround is even faster, and the service is free (scans from a print text are subject to a fee).

If you want to know whether the Great Library has a copy of the text or article you’re looking for, and the phone or email is too old-school for you, you can access their entire catalogue listing via their app.

Visiting the Library: The physical space in Osgoode Hall at 130 Queen St. West was built in stages between 1832 and 1860 and was designed to be both visually arresting and practical. The main room has a working fireplace and a World War I memorial sculpture by renowned Canadian sculptor Frances Loring, and the adjacent American Room has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and spiral staircases to access the higher shelves. Not an inch of space that could house a book is wasted.

Members of the public can use the print resources of the library as long as they follow a few simple rules:

  1. You must identify yourself to library staff and request permission to use the library. You will be asked to complete a Non-Licensee Request to Use the Library form and show photo identification.
  2. You may only use the library’s print resources.
  3. Library staff can direct you to appropriate resources, but cannot provide research assistance.
  4. Behaviour that is disrespectful, disruptive, or interferes with others’ use of library facilities, materials or services is prohibited.
  5. You may not disturb other library users to seek legal information or advice.
  6. Your cell phone must be set to vibrate. Calls must be taken and made outside the library.
  7. Food eating is not permitted in the library. Beverages in closed containers are permitted.
  8. You must exit the library promptly during emergency evacuations (e.g. fire alarms) or whenever requested to leave by library staff or public safety personnel.

(Of course, rules 4 to 8 apply to LSO licensees as well!)

Just please don’t write notes in the margins.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by Ryan Padraic

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