Archive for October, 2006

The People’s Law School: history and programming

October 26, 2006

This is the first of a series of organizational histories that I’ll be posting here throughout the next several months. From November 6–28, I’ll be in Vancouver, BC, to visit the major PLEI projects there: the People’s Law School, the Law Courts Education Society, and the BC Legal Services Society’s legal information department. In preparation for those visits, I’ll be posting brief histories of each organization.

    Organization History

Most people point to the People’s Law School in British Columbia as the very first sole-purpose public legal education organization in Canada. In every year since its 1972 founding, the People’s Law School has focused on providing free law classes and plain-language publications to the British Columbian public, offering programs province-wide and in many languages.

People’s Law School initial funding, from the 1972 Federal Government Opporunities for Youth grant catalog (click to enlarge)
People’s Law School initial Opportunities for Youth funding, 1972

The People’s Law School got its start in May 1972 with $11,650 (about $57,000 in 2006 dollars) from the Canadian federal government’s “Opportunities for Youth” (OFY) program. Founder Diana Davidson, a second-year University of British Columbia law student at the time, got the idea for a community-based public legal education project when she learned about a “People’s Law School” operating in the San Francisco Bay area. With the OFY money and help from about seven initial volunteers, the group began operations out of Davidson’s basement laundry room as the “Vancouver People’s Law School” (VPLS). The project’s purpose, as Davidson articulated it at the beginning, was to instruct Vancouverites not only about “what the law is” but also on how to influence the law and “recognize the danger of those bills that seek to curtail or eliminate fundamental rights.”

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Field Trip: Legal Studies Program at the Edmonton Apartment Association trade show

October 23, 2006

A “No Vacancy” sign was the first indication that I was successfully navigating my way through a west Edmonton hotel and conference centre to the 2006 Edmonton Apartment Association (EAA) trade show. EAA is an organization for landlords, land owners, and property managers, and so I guess “No Vacancy” is a good and reassuring thing to its membership. As a perpetual tenant, I’d not normally be found at a landlords’ conference, but last Tuesday I was going to their trade show to watch the Legal Studies Program (LSP) in action, hawking its “Laws for Landlords and Tenants in Alberta” project.

Lesley Conley fields questions from EAA showgoers
LSP booth at EAA 2006 trade show

“Hawking” may not be the most appropriate word, because LSP’s was the only non-governmental booth at the show that was not selling something. LSP was nestled in between an appliance vendor and a locksmith, tucked near the corner of a floor dominated as you would expect by carpet stores, property listing websites, security companies, a business called “Trauma Scene Bio Services,” and so on. Yet “dominated,” too, might not be the best word, since the LSP booth commanded at least as much traffic as the most popular of the for-profit offerings. Indeed, when I first arrived it was the throng of people surrounding two nametagged women and a small table that turned out to be LSP’s spot. The two women, LSP staffers Lesley Conley and Kirsten Wurmann, confirmed that the high traffic at my arrival was not completely anomalous. During just my hour-long visit, about 30 people visited the booth, most taking some of the free materials and many chatting with Lesley and Kirsten about both general and specific questions. Most of the questions had to do with tenant disputes, but some frequent queries—about the law as to bedbugs, for example—were new and surprising and aren’t yet covered on the LSP’s Laws for Landlords in Alberta website.

I did not stay for the afternoon trade show seminar on bedbugs. As I was walking out, I did hear Edmonton Oilers President Patrick LaForge try a joke and get absolutely no response from the handful of attendees who had gathered for his keynote address. The LSP might, in fact, have been drawing a bigger crowd at that moment.

Following the EAA trade show, LSP travelled to Calgary (without me) for another apartment association trade show.

Visualizing the Canadian PLE network

October 17, 2006

Can we map PLE in Canada? A couple interesting web-based tools can help. One, TouchGraph’s GoogleBrowser iteratively uses Google’s “related:” operator to generate a graph based on starting points you provide. Here’s what I got after entering all of the sole-purpose PLE organizations (those listed on the sidebar of this blog):

Complete PLE Network

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to save the entire graph and I’ve had to fall back on screenshots. To give a better idea, I took two detail shots. First, from an arbitrary point near the center:


Here, centered on my organizational host, the Legal Studies Program at the University of Alberta:

Legal Studies Program

Because we don’t know exactly how Google determines what sites are “related,” it’s hard to know exactly what this graph is telling us. Even so, it’s not completely unhelpful. For example, the PLE organizations in Canada end up in roughly geographic groupings. Compare that result to this GoogleBrowser map of civic renewal projects in the United States, which reveals groupings based on issue and strategy areas, rather than on geographical location. The PLE map is also more dense and interconnected than the civic renewal map, which is “clumpier,” if you will. Yet, I hesitate to analyze the map or this comparison too much, since we don’t know much about the methodology behind Google’s “related:” operator.

A second tool, the Foundation‘s Issue Crawler, uses a more transparent method. It takes starting point websites, finds the external sites those starting sites link to, and then adds to the network any sites linked to twice or more (more information on the algorithm is available here). The result, using the sole-purpose Canadian PLE organizations’ websites as starting points and basic settings for the crawler, is this:

Complete PLE Network

This bears a couple notable similarities to the GoogleBrowser map—a prevalence of Canadian federal government links and a dense cluster of BC-based sites—but is sparser and significantly different.

Again, though, it’s difficult to say whether either of these graphs are worth analyzing with any scrutiny. I think they’re mainly useful as a sidenote, and that’s why I’ve included them here.

PLE organization case studies

October 12, 2006

Currently, and for at least the remainder of this month, I am conducting case studies of all of the sole-purpose PLEI organizations that Canada has seen over the past 35 years. A remarkable percentage of these organizations are still around; indeed, only a very few have completely evaporated.

The chief components of these case studies are (1) a history of each organization and (2) a compact index to each organization’s programs, both past and active. As I begin site visits to PLE organizations across Canada, later this year, I will add a third component: snapshots of current activity.

Based on comments I solicited at the 2005 (Saskatoon) and 2006 (Canmore) PLEAC conferences, I think these components will be a helpful way for me to spend my time as I look at these organizations. That is, over and over I heard from PLE providers that they wanted to know more about what other providers were doing. I hope that these histories and program indexes will increase awareness of what’s going on in PLE around the country and even rescue a few long-past programs from obscurity. If resources and time permit, I will ultimately make a master compilation of the program indexes that could be made searchable and available online.

Thumbnails of the organizational histories will start appearing on this blog very soon. I’m starting with the oldest organizations and making my way through the decades to the present. The People’s Law School (BC/Vancouver) will be the first I’ll post, sometime next week.

Legal Resource Centre main archive sorting is complete

October 2, 2006

Last week, slightly ahead of schedule, I finished sorting catalog records of over thirty years of PLE materials, originally collected by the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) and now held by the University of Alberta Libraries. In all, I’ve organized over 5,100 records, representing PLE and PLE-related materials from between 1924 to 2006 (though the great majority of the materials are from between 1965 to 1997). I still have to sort records from additional collections held by the Legal Studies Program (LSP) (LRC’s successor) outside of the U of A libraries’ catalog, and the post-1997 materials at LSP that remain uncataloged.The value of this sorting is that I can now work from a database of PLE materials that is organized into helpful categories beyond author, title, and date. Specifically, I’ve grouped the LRC PLE archive into the following categories, which roughly follow the organization of the Theory & Practice of PLE in Canada website:

  • Sole-purpose PLE Organizations
    • Canada
      • Organizational documents (annual reports, constitutions, etc.) [125]
      • Organizational evaluations [24]
    • USA [8]
    • International [6]
  • PLE Programming
    • Canada
      • Program materials and descriptions (pamphlets, videos, audio materials, etc.)
        • From sole-purpose PLE organizations
          • 1960s [1]
          • 1970s [135]
          • 1980s [696]
          • 1990s [276]
          • 2000s [13]
        • From government entities [513]
        • From Self-Counsel Press [110]
        • From other organizations [1040]
      • Program inventories and directories [119]
      • Program evaluations [69]
    • USA [671]
    • International [110]
  • PLE Research and How-To
    • Canada
      • General PLE research
        • Studies and reports [191]
        • Bibliographies [57]
        • Histories [5]
      • PLE organization management
        • Financial management [1]
        • Funding [47]
        • Handbooks and manuals (training, charity legal issues, etc.) [70]
        • Marketing and publicity [11]
        • Organizational structure [5]
        • Personnel [9]
        • Strategic planning [12]
      • PLE programming
        • Needs assessment [115]
        • Design [18]
        • Development [6]
        • Delivery [65]
        • Evaluation [70]
      • PLE theory
        • Citizenship theory [6]
        • Educational theory [14]
        • Legal theory [4]
      • Research on research [5]
    • USA [172]
    • International [35]

Although I’ve provided [in brackets] the record counts for each bottom-level category, it is important to note that these count statistics do not necessarily reflect tendencies in the real-world PLE field. This is because large portions of the LRC collection were donated to places other than the U of A libraries; places which may have taken the bulk of certain categories of materials. Indeed, the 5,000 or so materials from the LRC collection held at the U of A represent only about 20% of the pre-1997 LRC library.

If you are interested in examining this records database, please don’t hesitate to email me. The database was created and is currently managed using RefWorks, which permits export to a variety of formats, including EndNote, ProCite, BibTeX, XML, and plain text citation lists. Eventually, many of the records in the database will be incorporated as references on the Theory & Practice of PLE in Canada website. But note, of course, that access to the materials recorded in the database can be had only in Edmonton or through an Inter-Library Loan service.