Ask a student to describe UVic’s Diana M. Priestly Law Library, and they will often use words like “beautiful,” “new” and “quiet.” Thanks to some complaints about disruptive students in the law library, however, another word has been bandied about: SNAILS. The acronym stands for “Students Not Actually In Law School.”
The Martlet recently obtained an email sent out by UVic’s Law Students’ Society (LSS) to all UVic law students. The second bullet point on the email was “Law Library Usage (a.k.a. the ‘snails’ issue).” The email explains that non-law school students using the law library has become a “contentious issue.” The LSS acknowledges that all undergraduate law students have a right to use the law library because it is part of UVic Library Systems, which all students pay into. However, the email assures law students that LSS executive are “continuing to liaise with the library and have given several further suggestions” to library staff to make the space one where “law students are able to study effectively.”
Both the tenor and the content of the email have raised concerns amongst some law students. A fourth-year law student approached the Martlet but wished to remain anonymous because they viewed members of LSS as possible future colleagues.
“It’s an official student government body, and I was shocked when I saw the email,” said the source, who finds the SNAILS moniker “childish.”
“I would say there’s almost two camps. There are the people who find it really funny, and then people who find it embarrassing that our
colleagues are sort of so snooty about it,” said the source.
Rebecca Cynader, president of the LSS, said, “I don’t consider that to be an offensive term. I think it’s a sort of lighthearted joke. I don’t think anyone in the law school or otherwise uses it in a way that’s meant to be exclusionary or offensive to people.”
The fourth-year source thinks the term speaks to a deeper issue in the faculty and the library.
“I think you do find in law school that class is a big, unspoken issue. I would say the majority of our classmates are from [upper classes]. I would say, to a certain extent, the people who are comfortable with [the word] versus not comfortable with it fall along those class lines,” said the source.
Nomenclature aside, the source is concerned that the law library is becoming an uncomfortable place for non-law students to study.
“I have a friend who’s doing her undergrad, and she was like, ‘I went to study in your library, and I was getting the dirtiest looks,” and I said, ‘I’m sorry.’ I don’t know if anyone’s tried to kick anyone out. Obviously, the LSS was looking into whether or not that was possible, which is ridiculous.”
Cynader says that the issue is not with non-law students using the library: it’s with noise.
“I think disruption is the big concern, and anyone who’s using the library is concerned, so it’s not necessarily that they’re non-law students.”
However, Cynader adds, “We’re used to an insular community in the law library. We’re not used to strangers. When there are people we don’t know in the law library behaving badly, it can get really uncomfortable.”
Neil Campbell, an associate professor of law and associate university librarian, says that students who are concerned about any campus library should take their issue to the university librarian so that it can be addressed in the senate committee on libraries.
“That way things are dealt with as a university issue, not an issue that focuses on one group or one particular place,” says Campbell. “The law library is part of the library system. It always has been.”
It may be part of the library system, but not all parts of the law library are open to non-law students. Only law students are allowed in the group study rooms.
“If we need to talk about anything in the library, we’ll just go into a study room,” says Cynader of law students. Non-law students do not have this recourse, and risk being asked to leave for talking. In addition, signs around the library remind visitors of the dates for law students’ exams.
“I do think it speaks to a broader, sort of elitist perspective and point of view that’s been really too prevalent in law for years and really continues to be,” says the fourth-year source. “It’s sort of this club. It’s hard to get in, obviously, and once you’re in, lawyers have so much control over so many different areas of society and a lot of power. To be expressing that kind of exclusivity over a library at this stage in our careers . . . I just don’t think it bodes very well for moving towards a more inclusive and holistic bar.”
*Correction: This story was originally published with associate professor of law and associate university librarian Neil Campbell’s name misspelled. The story was updated on May 10.