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!

Alexander Buchanan (1798-1852) and His Books: Part 2: Early Canadian Legal Education

In my previous post, I talked about Alexander Buchanan, his place in Canadian history, and his library. In this post, I’d like to talk about one specific book from Buchanan’s collection, it’s special place in Osgoode’s Balfour Halévy Special Collections library. Also, I’d like to discuss a singular and exceptional document from Buchanan’s hand and its significance as a relic of early Canadian legal education.

The very first book on the shelf in our in our rare book room – with the appropriate call number A-0001 – is Buchanan’s personal copy of the 1809 edition of the Orders and Rules of Practice in the Court of King’s Bench, for the District of Quebec, Lower Canada (Quebec City, 1809). We know this was his personal copy not because the title-page is signed bears Buchanan’s signature, but also because of an inscription that perfectly traces the book’s provenance through four generations of Buchanan barristers:

“This book was given to me by my father Alexander Brock Buchanan. It belonged to his father Alexander Buchanan Q.C. when a student at law in Quebec. And I now give it to my son Erskine Buchanan Advocate. Oct. 28, 1933”.

The author of the inscription never names himself, but we can tell from his father and from his son that he must be Arthur William Patrick Buchanan, KC. It’s satisfying to me to know that he’s the one who wrote this little note because we can clearly perceive his interest in his ancestry, further evidenced by the two family histories he wrote and published for private circulation, The Buchanan Book (1911; available here online) and Later Leaves of the Buchanan Book (1929), both of which are also in our collection. The family tree included in the first volume allowed me to identify him as the author of the inscription, so I thank him for his aid in solving his own mystery.

Being the first book on the shelf in our collection is certainly a distinction; but another Buchanan book occupies an even more prestigious place in our rare book room. For some time now, Alexander Buchanan’s own personal manuscipt Common Place Book (1816) has been a feature in our window display.

commonplace book is a sort of notebook cum diary, a collection of significant or well-known passages that have been copied and organized in some way, often under topical or thematic headings, in order to serve as a memory aid or reference for the compiler. In the days before newspapers, public libraries and large personal libraries, commonplace books served as a means of collecting, organizing and storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work.

It’s not certain when Buchanan began this commonplace book, but the title page is signed “May 1816″, when he was an 18-year-old student-at-law. In 1814, a year before his death, John Buchanan, Alexander’s father, had apprenticed Alexander to his friend Andrew Stuart, a Quebec City lawyer, who made a contractual agreement to see to the boy’s education for five years and to facilitate his call to the bar. After his father died, Alexander remained with his mentor, who now became his guardian. Having reached his majority in April 1819 and after being called to the bar in May, Buchanan without more ado (and not unlike many recent graduates today) used his inheritance to embark on a long trip that took him to England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. He returned to Lower Canada in the autumn of 1820, and from then on could concentrate on his career.

The Common Place Book includes Buchanan’s own notes and observations on the law, as well as extracts copied directly from the sources, made while he was studying. This latter practice was not uncommon when students could not necessarily afford their own books and if they did not have access to a library; there would in any case have been few printed law books to consult at this time in Canada. Consequently, Buchanan’s manuscript is a singular and valuable document of legal education in Canada 200 years ago.

This astounding document is in excellent condition. The neatness and regularity of Buchanan’s hand mean that it’s easy to read, even for me, who suffers from a severe palaeographic dyslexia. Buchanan numbered all the pages by hand, giving each page a an exact topical header:

 He constructed a detailed index at the rear of the book:

He even planned ahead and left blank spaces and pages in case he needed to add more notes later (a common practice):

When he ran out of room (a common problem), he improvised, using “overwriting”, also a common practice when paper was scarce and expensive, especially in the colonies:

This book’s best feature, in my opinion, is the handwritten Greek epigraph on the title-page:

The commonplace book itself seems slightly alien in today’s digital culture; and for me, these three lines emphasize the absolute disparity between today’s world and the world two hundred years ago, and especially between today’s students and students of Buchanan’s era. It’s a tired theme, but in the age of the microchip, this sort of practice shows exactly how people functioned without personal computers or the Internet. There was no HeinOnline, no Lexis or Westlaw, there was no law library, and there were Google hyperlinks to carry you to a specific document or immediately relevant site in the blink of an eye. One had to work, and work hard, to collect, organize and save for retrieval the information that was necessary for learning and examination.

Still, we shouldn’t presume we’re so very sophisticated with our iPhones and our smartwatches and our Tamagotchis. We think we live in an era of information overabundance, but this problem has always existed; and as Ann M. Blair explains in her excellent Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, our predecessors simply employed different strategies, like the commonplace book, to meet it.

As I noted at the end of my last post, we so often find a bookplate or an inscription with a name that, if followed, will lead to naught. Thankfully, here with Buchanan’s books, the clues lead not to empty ghosts but to a fully fleshed character, a student-at-law and an advocate, progenitor of generations of lawyers, and a part of Canadian history. While these several books may not tell a story in themselves, the web of connections between them assuredly offers an impression of a life lived in the service of his country.

New HeinOnline Resources Added to the Catalogue

Approximately 3,600 new resources available via HeinOnline have been loaded to the library catalogue as follows:

HeinOnline Core Collection 12 new titles
American Indian Law Collection 2 new titles
Foreign Relations of the U.S. 4 new title
History of International Law 16 new titles
Law Journal Library 29 new titles
Scottish Legal History 2 new titles
Subject Comilations of State Laws 47 new titles
U.S. Congressional Documents 1,023 new titles
U.S. Federal Legislative History Library 129 new titles
Women and the Law (Peggy) 21 new titles
World Constitutions Illustrated: Contemporary & Historical Documents & Resources 2,251 new titles
World Trials Library 90 new titles