Reflections on the University of Alberta’s Law Library Scavenger Hunt

Guest Column

A tour of the law library is a time-honoured feature of orientation for first-year law students. At some point during their first week at law school, perhaps even on their first day, in between signing up for multiple extra-curricular activities and eating burgers deftly cooked by faculty members, students are shown the law library. If they are lucky, law librarians will take small groups and show them the important features of the library: case law reporters, statutes, gazettes, Hansards, and other resources which are infinitely useful for the legal research they will shortly be doing.

It’s not clear, however, just how much the law students actually take in on such tours. The first few days (and arguably the first year) of law school are stressful. Concerns about tuition, about how much smarter all the other students seem, and the increasing stress over job prospects (see, for example, Noel Semple’s blog posting of December, 2014) can all work to make the law library tour a distant memory. This year at the University of Alberta, we decided to introduce a Library Scavenger Hunt to supplement the orientation library tour.

The goals of the scavenger hunt, like those of an orientation tour, are to introduce students to the various resources in the law library. Yet unlike a simple tour, the scavenger hunt requires students to actually engage with the resources to find an answer to a question. For example, a scavenger hunt question might ask students what piece of legislation is found on particular page of a particular year and volume of statutes, or where a quote from a case can be found in two different print reporters, and so on. The idea being that students cannot rely on internet-based research to find the answer to the questions; they have to go to the library and handle the material.

At the University of Alberta, we ran this scavenger hunt as part of the Legal Research and Writing program. In particular, we wanted (or hoped) to alert our students to the fact that there are important differences between the hard copy reporters – which rank higher in the McGill Guide’s citation hierarchy – and the electronic sources which they will rely on for the bulk of their research. We also hoped to alert them to why resources like Hansard might be useful for legal research by showing them the kind of information such sources contain. In theory, the scavenger hunt can also work to give the students a taste of what pre-internet legal research looked like – a skill which could come in useful should they find themselves in a rural courthouse with spotty internet access.

This year we ran the scavenger hunt just after the students received their first research assignment. We allowed the students to work in teams and went over the answers in class. Of course, a library scavenger hunt would work equally well as an orientation activity, or perhaps as a competitive activity with prizes for the fastest team (as some law schools do see e.g. and and so on. The activity is readily adaptable and can even be extended to cover the more obscure online sources which students might overlook.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to library scavenger hunts, particularly those designed to introduce students to the physical library. First and most importantly, the activity poses problems of accessibility, particularly for students with mobility issues and print disabilities. Granted, many libraries have policies and resources in place to help differently-abled students (see e.g. but there is arguably much more that could be done here.

The other major drawback is the time it takes to complete the scavenger hunt. Law students have ample demands on their time and may not see the point of completing a scavenger hunt. The time problem can easily be addressed by assigning the scavenger hunt early in the year, allowing team work, or making it an in-class activity, and so on.

I suspect that we will run the scavenger hunt again next year but in a slightly amended form. Speaking for myself, I think it could be easily integrated into the citation class and may help in clarifying the logic behind some of the McGill Guide’s rules.

Sarah E. Hamill, LL.B (Glasgow), LL.M (Toronto), Ph.D (Alberta) is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Law.

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