Law Library assistants go beyond the call of duty to help,
befriend and keep in touch with students and profesors past and present
When was the last time you ordered flowers for your favorite librarian?
It happens all the time to Law Library assistants Lily Chin, Norma Marshall, and Donna Nagus.
Professors and students alike regale them with flowers, chocolates, cookies, lottery tickets, and giftware.
"I hope these aren't bribes," quips Chin.
Obviously not, for year after year this terrific trio maintain close ties with both students and faculty, often acting as a go-between.
For example, when students bemusedly asked for a "green book" that had been placed on reserve, Nagus went to the prof in question and quizzically asked, "You've put a green book on reserve?"
He thought his class knew which book he meant, but ended the puzzlement by supplying the title and author.
For many such favors, many graduates keep in long-term touch.
Says Nagus: "We don't get to know all students equally well. Some don't seem to come into the Library for the entire three years they are here. But for the rest, we usually manage to worm our way into their hearts."
They hand out candies on Valentine's Day, Hallowe'en, and Christmas, often decorating and dressing for the occasion. They help out at Legal Follies with everything from skits and ushering to taking photographs and teaching the Texas line dance. They attend student events, such as graduation and the first-year law banquet. And because the important 100% finals are written in the Library, they try to relax the students with a banner that says 'Good Luck.'
But most of all, they say they're "dedicated to public service" and to helping patrons find their way around a Library that has unusual call numbers.
"There's a big difference in the Law Library as opposed to other libraries," says Chin. "Here, books are filed according to year, court, or country. Nowhere else do you have to rely on memory when you shelve books. Of course, it's often difficult for students to orient themselves, despite the Library class they take in the fall of first year."
All three admit that technological changes - particularly Quick Law data bases - have made a difference.
Statutes and cases can be quickly summoned up on the screen, especially with the help, as Marshall's co-workers put it, of "her miraculous on-line technological abilities."
"It's as well that students learn Quick Law when they're here," says Marshall, "because learning when they go into practice costs big bucks."
Not that it's all sweetness and light on the front line.
As with other libraries on campus, Law has had its acquisitions budget cut. Federal Acts and abridgments of cases are now coming out on-line. However, Marshall says that this is a development that doesn't please all students.
"Many don't want to wait for a CD-ROM to deliver what they need."
As well, says Chin: "If students are upset at the fines they've run up, we're the ones who take the heat." She notes that some fines run into hundreds of dollars.
"The down-side in dealing with law students in such matters is that they like to hone their negotiating skills here."
While Chin, Nagus, and Marshall are accommodating to a point, some outstanding fines are sent to a campus collection agency. Because students can't graduate without paying these fines, the only holdouts are usually those who don't expect to graduate.
However, fines are not the only irritant in an otherwise placid work environment. They all remember the day when Chin was quietly assisting a patron at the main desk, while the students were writing an exam.
Suddenly a student, an RCMP student studying for a law degree, rushed over to arrest the patron on an assault charge. After he ordered reinforcements from the police station, he calmly returned to writing his exam.
All three have also had the experience of opening the StarPhoenix only to see someone they had helped with research staring out at them after having been arrested.
"Many of these people do their own research here," Nagus says.
As well, many people in trouble with the law phone the Law Library looking for a lawyer. Together, the trio has a total of 62 years in service in campus libraries, 44 in Law.
Marshall has worked in the College since the building opened 30 years ago. Chin has worked in campus libraries for 24 years, seven of them in Law. Nagus has spent the last seven of her eight years on campus in Law.
All attribute much of the warm atmosphere in the Law Library to "the great staff here," particularly their boss Ken Whiteway.
Says Chin: "He's worked to create an atmosphere that's supportive and that allows us the leeway to make this a happy, helpful place for students and faculty. There's cooperation here and humor. Both go a long way to melding the department into a cohesive unit."
Chin and Nagus add that Whiteway understands their situation as mothers and is helpful in giving them time off to attend children's concerts and the like. As well, they all adopt a policy of flexi-hours for each other.
Nagus: "If Lily needs a day off on my EDO, I arrange to take it another day."
All three agree that working in the Law Library provides them with such bonuses as interesting reading and speakers in the College's guest lecture program. Elijah Harper, Preston Manning, and Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin are just three who illustrate the point.
However, as a counter-balance to all the book work they do, all three turn to various pursuits in their leisure time. Marshall enjoys gardening, while Nagus and Chin are involved in the U of S Ballroom Dancing Club.
- Sigrid Klaus