Art in the Osgoode Law Library (1): Roy Kiyooka, Homage to Ben Nicholson, 1967

We thought we’d start the new year with a new series of posts on the artworks that can be seen in the Osgoode Hall Law School Library. We thought we’d start with this piece, the largest in the library, which hangs prominently near library entrance, dominating the stairway between the library’s two floors.

Roy Kiyooka (1926-1994)
Homage to Ben Nicholson, 1967
acrylic on canvas
Collection of York University
Purchased from the artist

Kiyooka: Homage to Ben Nicholson

Kiyooka: Homage to Ben Nicholson (credit: Bernard Sandler, Osgoode PD)

Roy Kiyooka was a second-generation Japanese Canadian artist, poet and photographer, born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1926. He grew up in the Prairies and studied art in Calgary and Regina. He moved to Vancouver 1959, already an accomplished respected painter. Here he challenged a generation of artists to move beyond regional styles and seek inspiration from international art currents. In the late 1960s, he rejected painting and began writing poetry and taking photographs. As a part of the rejection of a modernist aesthetic, he eventually took up performance, film, and music. Kiyooka was one of Canada’s first interdisciplinary artists and was highly influential in Vancouver’s bustling cultural scene. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1978, not only in recognition of his work as a painter but for his significant contribution as a teacher. Kiyooka died in Vancouver in 1994.

Homage to Ben Nicholson, the painting in the Osgoode Library, was among Roy Kiyooka’s last paintings. While he was painting, Kiyooka worked in the hard-edged modernism of the New York avant-garde of the time, just as the artist referred to in the title, Ben Nicholson, had popularized the spare formalism of Constructivism in Britain before him.

The painting is a triptych of three identical panels, each five square. Across the surface of the painting, slight differences in paint application distinguish the oval forms from the serene blue ground. The subtleties of colour here are typical of Kiyooka, but the punctuating orange framing the painting allows for the levitation of the blue, while reinforcing the fundamental objectivity of the painting by counteracting the use of a conventional frame. While a viewer might infer the wide blue sweep of a Pacific vista, a concern for the painting as closed formal world, rather than a system of representation, was a defining principle of the New York modernism to which Kiyooka responded. His international modernist vision in 1960s Vancouver, a city at the time overwhelmed with regionalist attention to particulars of place and landscape, secured the artist a place in the São Paolo Biennale of 1966.

A film about Kiyooka’s life was produced in 2012. REED: The Life and Works of Roy Kiyooka follows the radical times in which the artist lived, from the Beat Era to the turmoil of the 60s and redress for Japanese Canadians in the 1980s. It is an extraordinary tribute to a great artist, showing a broad spectrum of his work while revealing the personal and social history that inspired him. A trailer for the film can be viewed here.

This painting is appropriate to Osgoode for a number of reasons. The painting’s modernism is contemporary with and a reflection of the spirit that saw Osgoode move from it’s staid quarters in old Osgoode Hall on Queen Street to the new campus of York University. The painting was painted in 1967, the centennial year of Canadian Confederation and also the year the new Osgoode Hall Law School was designed. The law school finally opened at York 1969.

The painting is on permanent loan to Osgoode Hall Law School from the Collection of York University.

Kiyooka in the Library Staircase

Kiyooka in the Library Staircase

Festive Footstools and Best Wishes from the Osgoode Library


It’s the last week of exams before the New Year holiday break at Osgoode. The students are stressed. We have seen them doing jumping jacks in the group study rooms. So we weren’t so surprised when we discovered this expression of student anxiety while closing the library last night. What can it mean? I put the question to some of my colleagues and John Eaton, Head Librarian of the EK Williams Law Library at the University of Manitoba, offered the following possibility:

You may be aware (or maybe not?) of the 1984 musical Footloose!, wherein a group of exuberant youth, led by the actor Kevin Bacon, break free of the strictures of their sleepy Texas town and express themselves through dance. These are just the props for the exciting new library musical Footstool! in which stressed out law students break free of the monotony of cramming for torts and contracts by devising more inventive uses of standard library furniture.

They also look a bit like a library Yuletide tree. Other interpretations are welcome.

And a quick reminder that the Library closes for the holiday this Friday, December 19, at 5:00 pm. We look forward to seeing everyone when the library reopens on Monday, January 5, at 8:00 am. Until then, have a Happy Holiday and all the best for the New Year 2015.

Past Examination Papers are Available Online & Print

Past exams come very handy and useful at this time of the year. They are now available through the My Osgoode page; note that you have to be logged in. Print version for previous years are available on the last shelf in the Upper Floor of the Law Library.

To access them online, on the My Osgoode page under the subheading “Programs & Records”, select “Exams & Assignments”:

Select “Exam Archive”.
Good luck!


Libraries Celebrate Open Access Week with screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy”

York University Libraries will celebrate International Open Access Week from Oct. 20 to 26. Open Access Week is a global campaign that promotes open access as an ideal for the dissemination of scholarship and research. On Oct. 24, to reflect this year’s theme “Generation Open,” the libraries will host a movie screening and talk by Carys Craig, renowned copyright scholar and associate dean research and institutional relations at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Osgoode Prof Carys Craig

Osgoode Prof Carys Craiig

Professor Craig shares the enthusiasm of the global campaign. “I’m delighted that York University Libraries is celebrating Open Access Week. This is truly one of the most important social movements of the digital age, and one in which universities like ours have a vital role to play.” Open Access Week serves to highlight the successful realization of viable and sustainable business models for open access scholarship, particularly in the science, technology and medicine disciplines, and also provides an opportunity to identify, discuss and address barriers to adoption. The ultimate goal is to ensure that publicly funded research is available to the public, and that all global citizens have equal and barrier-free access to the wealth of the educational commons, regardless of their economic means.

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

The Internet’s Own Boy is a documentary highlighting the extraordinary life of Aaron Swartz. A key author of the RSS standard at the age of 14, Swartz was also a tireless advocate against censorship, co-founding the Demand Progress organization, which successfully halted SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation from coming into force. In the course of his pursuit of public access to academic research, Swartz was apprehended for a mass downloading attempt of JSTOR holdings. Facing excessive punitive charges from a regime determined to make an example of him, he took his own life.

The screening will be introduced by Prof Craig. “This powerful documentary is not just a tribute to Swartz’s life and legacy, but is also a call to action for all of us.”  As author of Copyright, Communication & Culture: Towards a Relational Theory of Copyright Law (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Press, 2011), Craig asks people to broaden their view of copyright beyond its tradition of possessive authorship to allow space for collective communication with the broader community with an eye for the greater public good. In her work, she calls on people to reimagine copyright and to correct the imbalance that Swartz fought to bring to the attention of the public sphere. Her insights will foster a nuanced and deeper appreciation for the causes Swartz so bravely hoped to further, highlighting the tragedy of his loss.

A new year is here again…

After a winter that would have caused even the Abominable Snowman to consider decamping to Hawaii, it is safe to say that we were all looking forward to three or four months of warm weather. Well, it’s the end of August and – apart from a few bracing blasts of heat –  we’re still waiting. And guess what? It’s already time to return to school, as today’s start of O-Week attests to.

It’s hard to believe that eight years ago, I was in the exact same position – a freshly minted Section A Ozzie. As many of the current crop can doubtlessly attest, the feeling is a mixture of exhilaration and sheer terror. Everybody has heard the stories of the brutalizing effect that law school can have (or have, at the very least, seen the Paper Chase) and it would be a lie to say that the pressure – particularly at exam time – doesn’t weigh heavily. It does, and you’ll have to do it at least six times before you graduate. But it is also counterbalanced by meeting a wide number of interesting people – some of whom will undoubtedly become friends, and many of whom will be future colleagues (which you would be wise to remember) – and many good times. The adage of working hard and playing hard is seldom more true than the three years you will put in to get your J.D.

The temptation exists to be all-law all-the-time, but that’s a quick route to burning out. Maintain pre-law school interests, friends, and relationships. Work out. Join something (I was the editor of the Obiter Dicta for two years). Do whatever it takes to break the spell from periodically. You may think that perpetually dreaming of Hadley v. Baxendale, Foakes v. Beer, and the thin-skull principle is healthy. It’s not. Your brain will be overworked and overtired as it is, so give it a break from time to time. Otherwise, it will make you something something.

While the library may be a focal point for your studying and, by extension, associated with the stress of keeping up to date with your readings, drafting summaries, and generally working harder than you’ve ever had to in your academic careers, this isn’t our sole purpose. Or it shouldn’t be, at least. Believe it or not, we want to make the library as pleasant and helpful a place as possible for our users.

While we work hard on the day-to-day realities of keeping the collections current and maintaining Canada’s largest law library, we also have a vested interest in making the lives of students less stressful and (hopefully) improving your overall law school experience.

Don’t know something? Ask us. Can’t find something? Ask us. Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed? Tell us.

Our resources are not intended to be well-guarded secrets, knowable only to those who possess the requisite knowledge. That’s why we go out of our way to come to your classes and tell you about how to research, prepare LibGuides, maintain a reference e-mail account, and spend time at the reference desk – to ensure that our students can reap the fullest rewards of their years of law school. Much like your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer. If the Farmer’s Almanac is right, you’ll be grateful that you did. Winter (and exams) will feel like this:

Good luck!

Size Matters

Over the past few months, members of the law library staff, myself included, have been preparing to reorganize our special collections.

Now, as all savvy library users know, libraries generally organize their collections and shelve their books by subject. You’re all familiar with the Library of Congress classification system, used in academic libraries throughout the English-speaking world, and have probably heard of the Dewey Decimal System, used in public libraries and school libraries. Here at Osgoode, we use the “KF Modified” Canadian adaptation, a slight variation of the Library of Congress classification developed and maintained at Osgoode specifically for Canadian law collections and widely used in law school, law firm and courthouse libraries in Canada. These library classification systems categorize books by subject and assign a specific, uniform “call number” to each book so that, theoretically at least, all books on a given topic will be found shelved together in the library. This approach facilitates the browsing of even extensive library collections, making possible those serendipitous moments when you find the book you need beside the one you thought you needed. It’s not magic, folks: it’s library science.

Classified systems that organize books by subject are appropriate for open collections where anyone can roam the aisles browsing the stacks for books; but for closed special collections, especially of old, sometimes rare and often fragile books, shelving the books according to subject can lead to problems. At the heart of the matter is the deep enmity that books of different sizes bear toward each other. They don’t play nicely together when sitting on the shelf. As Jane Greenfield explains in her book, The Care of Fine Books, “A large book shelved beside a small one eventually splays out.” Not only that, but “the exposed area also fades even if not exposed to strong light.” Common sense.

A good example of bad shelving

For maximum protection and better preservation, books are best organized by size. If books of similar size are shelved together, they lend each other support on the shelves, preventing the warping of bindings and exposing as little of their covers as possible to light. They should be shelved tightly enough that they support each other, but not so tight that you have difficulty removing them from the shelf. Naturally, since our special collections are exclusively composed of items that are either old, rare, valuable, or otherwise notable, we don’t want the bindings to warp or fade. We need to do our due diligence to take care of them, and that includes shelving them properly.

The two ends of the size spectrum, with a quarter for scale.

Until now, the Osgoode Hall Law School Library’s special collections had been classified and the books shelved according to subject. This was not an ideal situation for the books. Since our rare books stacks were closed and accessible only to library staff, we did not need to facilitate browsing by the public. Generally, these books will only be accessed when a patron specifically requests them, having first located them using the online library catalogue. For us and especially for the books, the benefits of shelving by size outweigh the disadvantages. So, we determined to reorganize our now extensive special collections by size.

Once this shelving scheme was decided, we needed to implement an appropriate system. Greenfield broadly categorizes books using terms that historically referred to the “format” of the book – folio, quarto, octavo, etc – which is a function of how printers folded sheets of paper to create books of different sizes. (Take a look here for more explanation and some useful illustrations, although I have to admit it’s a little tricky to understand without actually folding sheets of paper yourself). Greenfield distinguishes four sizes: miniature or small books under 10 cm; octavo books up to 28 cm in height; quarto, up to 40 cm; and folios over 40 cm. We felt these four categories didn’t quite suit our needs. In this scheme, both books 29 cm tall and 39 cm tall fall under the designation of quarto, but that still leaves 10 cm for the taller book to warp over the smaller book. We devised our own scheme that allows for not four, but ten sizes of books(!), outlined in this handy-dandy chart.

With ten sizes available to us, we only have to worry about a potential difference in size of 3 cm (1.2 inches) in any one group. Even then this 3 cm difference is unlikely to occur, as each range contains a spectrum of sizes from the minimum to the maximum heights. In group A, we have books 15 cm in height, 18 cm in height, and everything in between.

Size Matters 7.JPG

To begin reorganizing our collection by size, we first cleared a substantial section of our compact shelving, as it’s common sense and common practice to have a destination ready for your books before you start moving them. Then, we labelled our empty stacks with these letter-sizes. We know that most of our books fall within the B-D ranges, so we only allotted one stack for minis and As, while many more stacks were set aside for Cs and especially Ds. We also have a separate section of deeper shelving to accommodate books larger than D (which, when you think about it, is really no different than an oversize section you’d find in many libraries using the LC or Dewey).

Once we had the shelves properly prepared, we needed to assign a new call number for each book based on its size. The call numbers will look something like “A-0054” or “C-0283”, those books being the fifty-fourth and two hundred eighty-third books in their size range, respectively. If there are more than 9,999 books in any size range, the letter size will become A1 instead of just A. If you see a call number with an “X” after the letter, as in “BX-0121”, it means that the book is shelved not in the compact stacks but in our rare book reading room –the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room.

Of course, we need to know each book’s size before we assign it a call number, but we can’t waste our time holding a ruler up to each volume. To speed up the process, we built ourselves a book-board (which for my money looks like it belongs in MoMA alongside Mondrian and Rothko). Behold:

Size Matters 6.JPG

I find numbers to be eccentric and challenging concepts, so I’m happy to see that someone’s nailed them down to physical reality by covering a plank of wood with the exact measurements of each letter size, all colour-coded. Now all I have to worry about are colours and letters, and I can handle that.

Size Matters 4.JPG

We have only to place a book in the board’s corner to determine its size exactly and know exactly where on the shelf it belongs. Wherever the top of the book falls, that’s its location letter. This books an “E”.

Size Matters 5.JPG

Simple, effective, and highly recommended for any library undertaking a similar project.

Finally, organizing the special collections by size has the added benefit of maximizing the space available for shelving the collection. Each shelf is always completely full, and shelves can be adjusted to uniform heights for each size category, maximizing the number of shelves in each bay of shelving. It’s a pity the stacks are closed to the public and you can’t admire the orderly elegance of the Osgoode special collections.

Bust of Justice George E. Carter Unveiled in Osgoode Library

Justice George Carter, left, with York Chancellor Roy McMurtry

Family and friends of Justice George E. Carter, a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School’s Class of 1948 who became this country’s first Canadian-born black judge, watched with pride April 27 as a bronze bust was unveiled in the Osgoode Hall Law School Library commemorating his leadership and contributions to Canadian society.

Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin (LLB ’92); former Attorney General and Chief Justice of Ontario, and Chancellor of York University R. Roy McMurtry, (LLB ’58, LLD ’91); and Linda Carter, the eldest of Justice Carter’s four children, all paid tribute to Carter at the unveiling.
Sossin said distinguished alumni such as Carter and the late Lincoln Alexander (LLB ’53) “have made amazing things possible.” The bust “will be a lasting legacy to George Carter and all those he has inspired.”

McMurtry told the invited guests that as chancellor he was pleased and privileged to be at this “very important and historic event.”
“Even if I wasn’t chancellor, I’d be here,” McMurtry said. “I’ve only known George for about 60 years.”
As Attorney General, McMurtry appointed Carter as an Ontario provincial court judge in 1979. Carter was later appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice, where he served for 16 years. Prior to his appointment to the Bench, Carter had his own firm and practised in the areas of real estate, criminal and family law for 31 years.

Carter, who served in the Canadian Army from 1944 to 1945, is a founding member of the Toronto Negro Veterans. He was a member of the Committee for the Adoption of Coloured Youngsters, a founding member of the National Black Coalition of Canada, a founding member and past president of the Toronto Negro Business and Professional Association, and a board member of the Ontario Black History Society. He also played an instrumental role in the establishment of Legal Aid Ontario.

Linda Carter, who documented her father’s life in her 2010 film, The Making of a Judge, said the idea of the bust came about “by happenstance.” She was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for her appointment when she struck up a conversation with another woman who turned out to be world-renowned sculptor Maryon Kanteroff. Their discussion encouraged Carter a few years later to seek out sculptor Gerard Godin to create a bust of her father.

“It’s been such an experience getting this done. I’m just very proud,” said Linda Carter, who acknowledged McMurtry’s help in bringing the commemorative sculpture to fruition.

George Carter, 92, echoed his daughter’s sentiments. “We owe so much to the Chancellor … a decent, wonderful human being.”

Looking at the bust and at the audience, a smiling Carter said, “It’s really something, you know.”