for librarians, archivists & professional preservers-creators of information
ISSN 1203-8954    Canada

Views of archives, records centres, libraries, museums & media production-distribution services. 

Legal research for library technicians

by Brenda Wong, Winnipeg Manitoba 2007.01.05

Brenda Wong, Library Columnist for Provenance,  during a coffee break in Vancouver

I have grappled with the issue of learning how to do legal research myself. I thought that I was unique, but others out there have the same question. See For those wanting to work in law libraries, or those already in such libraries, here are my strategies for learning about law.

A basic starting point is reading the major daily newspapers for the political issues, and government affairs to understand the players and potential hot topics. In British Columbia the government was looking favourably at private-public partnerships (P3) to build infrastructure, so P3 became a hot topic.  On my own initiative, I also picked up handbooks like Banks on Using a Law Library by Margaret A. Banks and Legal Research Handbook by Douglass T. MacEllven and Michael J. McGuire.

From time to time continuing legal education courses offer legal research courses.  I participated in the Legal Research Workshop sponsored by the local library association groups.  Learning on your own time with distance education is also an option. One such course is the being scheduled for March 2007 offered by the Professional Learning Centre at Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto. will be offering a similar course for library technicians in Ontario again in either fall 2007 or winter 2008.

A number of comprehensive legal research portals exist with different strengths. is a solid basic primer on forming research strategies. It will guide your initial research strategies about when to use secondary sources and when to use an electronic database. explains legal citations and conventions.  This is handy for correcting citations in memorandums. Other topics include a discussion of the judicial system. I also found myself browsing the section on the British legal system. The primary audience for this site is the law students at University of Toronto but we all benefit.

Ted Tjaden's covers similar ground, but also has Canadian legal organizations and legal publishers.  The discussion on how Canadian and American laws are different is useful for understanding law. 

Ultimately learning legal research is best as a hands on exercise when trying to evaluate courses.  There are few regularly scheduled courses for in accredited library technician training, but the demand for legal research as well as business research continues to grow.  Last year in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there were 3 openings for law librarians in private law firms.

Happy New Year 2007 from Brenda Wong, January 05, 2007


This column is a work in progress by Brenda Wong, who has worked in Health Research, Technology, and Law Firm Libraries in Vancouver, BC; Winnipeg, Manitoba and is now in transit to Toronto, Ontario.   Brenda has been a volunteer editor and contributing writer for publication since 1996.   Merry Christmas!  December 2006

Designing Usability in Library Web Sites
Views of a Law Firm Librarian - Brenda Wong, Dec. 2006 Winnipeg, Canada

You notice poor design, but good design can be invisible enabling you to finish your task.  The same concept can be applied from every day objects to web sites.

I learned a scientific method of observation and then testing design of web sites.

Chris Jasek, who works for Elsevier, held a workshop on user-centered web site design. The importance of observation rather than surveys is critical, because what users say and do, in searching a web site, can be very different behaviours.

First a library must draft several personas from their users. A persona is a composite of a user's information needs, and how they accomplish finding information. A typical library will have five personas ranging from beginner to more advanced users.

Secondly, the library team will outline a usability test with up to five goals. After drafting goals, then the team also writes background questions, questions asking about the task and subtasks, if applicable, and record other reactions to task.

A couple of things to keep in mind during the testing: team members and bias. An ideal team consists of interviewer, note-taker, and observer. When observing the subject, the interviewer pays particular attention to their word choice, and tries to not prompt the subject.

If the user does not understand the task, then a teaching opportunity can arise. The workshop was very hands-on as we drafted personas and scripts. We even had test subjects to run our tests. In a few cases, jargon was confusing or the task was unclear.

Users search in many different ways and, as librarians, we forget this elemental fact. By running usability tests, we have accurate data on what users are actually doing. This method of designing web sites is ongoing, and some principles can be applied to other parts of library service.

Usability Links

Scanning for Current Awareness

by Brenda Wong Jun 17, 2005 - Winnipeg, Canada

I am a great learner - just plainly curious about the world around me.  If you don't learn, your library technician abilities will stagnate, instead of growing and ripening. If you don't grow professionally building small bits of knowledge and skill, you risk dying a little every day in your profession as the information world changes so rapidly.

So listening to Roy Tennant speak at the 2005 Manitoba Library Conference about "Strategies for keeping current" was affirming my own continuous learning philosophy .

Tennant speaks about information like an "avalanche" just overwhelming people.  A key to his strategy is scanning many sources and selecting what is really important now. It is not realistic or time effective to read comprehensively. Over time different topics will interest you, too.

Tennant also urged us to read widely and take another perspective. For example, business and computer science publications highlight trends that will influence libraries. He recommended Business 2.0 and Fast Company.

There are informal ways to keep current, like e-mailing a contact, who may share more documents with you on implementing projects. People will surprise you and sometimes really open up honestly about pitfalls and what really worked.

A case in point:  I e-mailed a scientist in the U.K. about a paper that was only presented at a conference, not published elsewhere. Success! In a couple days, he sent me the PDF document just because I asked.

I came away refreshed and optomistic that scanning, targeting topics, and filter how topics would be meaningful to my work was a sound strategy to my professional reading.

Credits:  The above article is from our corresponding writer Brenda Wong, BA, Dip. Lib.Tech. based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


Random Thoughts from a Tale of 2 Cities, Vancouver & Winnipeg

by Brenda Wong, Library Life & Technology Columnist

| Moving & Job Hunting  |  Wellness & Stretches for Library Workers |

I moved from a big city to a smaller one. I wondered if and when I would find work as a library technician. I have 8 years of experience in special libraries ranging from diverse areas like law, social work, and pharmaceutical. Other library tech's I knew worked in academic or public libraries, but what was the scene in Winnipeg, Manitoba?

Being diligent, I researched wages and jobs months before moving. The internet is great that way. I knew wages were sharply lower than what I was used to. But living costs were also lower too.

I remember applying for a special library job in the last month that I was leaving Vancouver! Like a good boy scout, my resume is polished and ready to fire out. The librarian phoned me at home in Vancouver wondering when I would arrive in my new city. Due to scheduling problems, I convinced her to conduct a phone interview. I can't say I liked phone interview because you cannot see interviewer's facial expression or non-verbal cues. I also had a hard time maintaining focus and communicating what my message was to her.

Brenda Wong currently works in a school library in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Stretches for Library Technicians - Promoting Healthy Work Habits to Counter RSI (Repetitive Stress/Strain Injuries)

General Health and Wellness Tips

  • Drink lots of water. Aim for 2-3 glasses a day because libraries tend to be dry air-conditioned spaces.
  • "R and R" -- Rest is important for the body to relax and regenerate.
    Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night.  People tend to undervalue the beneficial effects of sleep.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks. Try to cut down on coffee, tea and soft drink consumption.
    See Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating for other nutritional advice. see web link:
  • If you sit at a computer all day, try to get up every 20 minutes to relax the back. Also look away from your screen then blink eyes several times.

6 Easy Stretches - RSI Prevention

Ideally library workers [office workers generally] should have a morning and afternoon coffee breaks to practice these easy stretches.  Also make sure your environment is warm and not drafty, with plenty of space to move around in.

  • Relaxing eyes and soften gaze. Gently swing head from side to side looking at each shoulder. Repeat 4 times.
  • Shoulder shrugs: Gently shrug shoulders to ears and release.  Repeat 3-4 times.
  • Ankle rolls: Point big toe and draw circle. Draw circle 3 times clockwise. Next draw circle 3 times counter clockwise. Repeat for other leg.
  • Lazy summer days swing: Feet are on the floor and slowly swing legs to horizontal. Release gently. Repeat 4 times.
  • Standing with arms at side, then reach arms above head. Gently release arms to starting position. Repeat 3 times.
  • Bear hug:  Wrap opposing arms around shoulders in a hug.  Gently twist torso. Do not over twist.

Useful Reference Links on the Web

© copyright 2005.03 - 2006 - 2007

Brenda Wong, B.A., Library Tech - is one of the earliest contributing writers, editors, and fact-checkers for which in 1995 was one of the first 10 web magazines-journals for librarians / archivisits / records managers / information professionals in the world.

Provenance began with non-formal support from staff at the National Archives of Australia (Adrian Cunningham), the National Library of Canada, Canada's Canada International Research Development Corp. (IDRC) and the a host of Special Libarians (ie members of SLA) in Canada and the USA, and the mentorship of Guy Robertson, M.L.I.S. (Managing Editor of and faculty member of Langara College Library Technician Program, Teresa Murphy and Dr. John Evans, then with the University of Papua New Guinea, Dept. of Libary Studies

return to PROVENANCE.CA home page

see also
    for contributions by librarians and library techs from Canada to Papua New Guinea
    digital books articles and information about Papua New Guinea