AALL Government Relations Policy

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Approved by the Executive Board March 2001, Tab 15
Revised April 2008, Executive Board, Tab 2; Revised July 2011

I. Introduction

Founded in 1906, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a non-profit, professional organization devoted to improving the operation of law libraries and the distribution of and access to legal information. AALL members work in nearly 1,900 academic, private, and state, court and county libraries serving government officials, the bench, the bar, legal scholars, and the public.

The AALL Executive Board endorsed this Policy to direct the Association' s public policy and advocacy work. This policy is necessarily broad to guide the Government Relations Office staff and to permit the Association to be agile and timely in responding to developing public policy issues.

Collectively, law libraries form a knowledge network that supports the use of law in society. A broad span of public policy concerns, ranging from the dissemination of government information to intellectual property and intellectual freedom, impact law libraries and their users. The exponential growth of the Internet as a central point of access to information raises a whole new spectrum of legislative, policy, and technological concerns that are critical to the future of law libraries. The American Association of Law Libraries provides leadership and advocacy in the field of legal and government information and information policy, and therefore has specialized knowledge applicable to many aspects of these public policy concerns. Furthermore, because of their training, expertise, and/or positions of trust, AALL members have a responsibility for ensuring that federal, state, and local legal information resources are created, managed, disseminated, and preserved effectively, regardless of form.

Accessible government information is both an essential principle of a democratic society and a valuable public good created at taxpayer expense. AALL believes that federal, state and local authorities must ensure that government legal information is permanently available to the public in an easily accessible and professionally maintained environment.

II. Dissemination of Government Information

Federal, state, and local governments have a duty to create, collect, and disseminate government information and to ensure broad permanent access to official government information to the public, regardless of income level or geographic area. AALL believes that federal, state, and local government information, including the text of all primary legal materials, must be in the public domain and available to the public without restriction. Federal, state, and local governments should create comprehensive and coherent policies for managing government information, both print and digital, and for making those materials permanently available to the public. To accomplish these responsibilities, AALL believes that federal, state, and local governments should be committed to openness, transparency, public participation, and collaboration.

  1. Creation, Collection, and Dissemination of Government Information in Tangible Form

    Government information in tangible form should be available to the public at low or no cost. Any revenue garnered by governments from the sale of print publications should be reinvested in the infrastructure that delivers government information to the public.

    The commercial sector plays an important secondary role in the collection and dissemination of government information. The American public is served by a multitude of information providers, and no public or private entity should enjoy a publishing monopoly over any body or type of government information. Nor should any private or public sector entity limit the dissemination of government information through exclusive contracts, resale restrictions, or other restrictive trade practices.

  2. Creation, Collection, and Dissemination of Government Information in Digital Form

    AALL believes that digital government information disseminated via government websites must be available at no cost and that federal, state, and local governments should adhere to the following principles:


    • Information on government websites must be equally accessible to all people, including those with disabilities.
    • Information published on government websites must be trustworthy and reliable, and, therefore, governments should implement appropriate safeguards to protect the integrity and authenticity of its digital information.
    • If a digital version of legal information is official, it should be designated as such by statute or rule.
    • Information published on government websites should be comprehensive and complete.
    • Information on government websites must be permanently accessible and preserved by the government entity charged with preservation of government information, such as a state library, an archives division, or other agency or entity.
  3. Universal Citation

    AALL believes that federal, state, and local governments should provide a universal citation for government information that it disseminates for citizen use. A universal (or public domain) citation system is both medium and vendor neutral. As a matter of public policy, the binding pronouncements of governments, such as case opinions and statutes, belong first and foremost to the people they serve and should be accessible to them easily through a public domain citation.

    AALL recommends that federal, state, and local governments should adopt AALL's universal citation formats, as illustrated in the Universal Citation Guide.

  4. Depository Library Programs

    The public has a right of access to comprehensive government information, including access to the basic materials necessary for legal research. Primary legal titles fundamental to our democracy should continue to be disseminated to depository libraries in print until such time as the government entity can ensure the authenticity of, permanent public access to, and preservation of the digital version.

    The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and state-based depository programs have special relevance to the study of law. Many law libraries serve as federal depositories, state depositories, or both.

    Federal Depository Libraries operate under a statutory obligation to make government information available to the public. The FDLP should provide for a system of equitable, effective, no fee, efficient, and dependable access to and dissemination of government information. Government information provided to the public should be available permanently in readily accessible forms and should be authentic and trustworthy.

    As the government moves into a more digital environment, depository libraries are increasingly important channels through which citizens access law and law-related information. The Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, the courts, and federal agencies share in the dissemination of government information. AALL believes that federal government information should be disseminated through a depository and access program with central authority, Congressional oversight, and the ability to enforce agency compliance through relevant laws, regulations, and other policies.

    State and local governments should create and maintain comprehensive depository and access programs. These should operate under a statutory obligation to make government information in print available to the public at no cost.

  5. Freedom of Information

    Public inspection of government records, including digital records, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the foundation for citizen access to government information, and FOIA must be strengthened as needed to ensure effective transparency in government. AALL believes FOIA must ensure that requested records are released in a timely manner; in a form that is useful to the requestor, including through digital means; appropriately redacted to protect personal privacy; and is permanently maintained in accessible and searchable electronic reading rooms. AALL believes that there should be one easily searchable portal for all digital records released under FOIA.

    Statutes and regulations governing security classification should be construed to promote open government while acknowledging the need for FOIA exemptions. By statute, the burden is on the agency to sustain a claim of exemption. While this burden may be lightened or enhanced with each Administration, FOIA should be administered with a clear presumption in favor of disclosure. FOIA must be strengthened to ensure that openness and transparency prevail, regardless of the Administration, Presidential signing statements, or claims of executive privilege claims.

  6. Protection of Privacy in Government Records

    The protection of personal privacy is a core value of our society. The AALL supports a comprehensive national and state framework for privacy protection to safeguard the rights of all Americans. Strong federal and state privacy laws are needed to insulate sensitive personal information included in government records from a world of interconnected databases.

III. Intellectual Property

  1. Copyright and Licensing

    An equitable balance between the rights of users of information and the rights of copyright owners and licensors is essential to the free flow of information. The United States Copyright Act should maintain this balance by interposing the fewest obstacles to the free distribution of government information in all media and formats. Furthermore, licensing regimes should not impose barriers to the access or use of information in the public domain, and should preserve fair use and other user rights promoting the dissemination of information and ideas. Finally, AALL supports adequate funding for the Copyright Office to ensure timely registration and recordation processing times and to maximize production levels of the Copyright Records Digitization Project.

  2. Public Domain Status of Government Publications

    Government information, including the text of all primary legal materials, e.g., judicial and administrative decisions, statutes, and regulations, must be in the public domain and available to the public without restriction. AALL supports a general prohibition against copyright restrictions on government works. AALL opposes any copyright claims, restrictive licenses, royalty arrangements, statutory or regulatory revisions, or interpretations of federal, state, or local laws and regulations that restrict access to, or the use or reuse of, government information.

IV. Privacy of Library Users

AALL opposes any current or future legislation, regulation, or guideline that erodes the privacy and confidentiality of library users or that has the effect of suppressing the free and open exchange of ideas and information. AALL believes that there must be effective oversight of current law that expanded surveillance on library users. Public access to information must be tempered by privacy rights concerning personal information held in private sector databases and government files, including the confidentiality of library circulation records.

V. Standards

AALL has a leadership role in the development of appropriate national and international technical standards for information dissemination, bibliographic control, authentication, and preservation.

VI. Preservation

Most of the paper produced since 1850 has a high acid content that drastically reduces the life of books. Massive deterioration of law library holdings is occurring. The burden of preserving the intellectual content of these deteriorating books falls on libraries.

AALL supports efforts to establish and fund preservation activities. Initiatives such as preservation photocopying, microfilming and data scanning are needed to reformat information fixed on brittle paper. Other measures, such as de-acidification programs, must be undertaken to limit further loss of paper documents. Preventive measures, notably policies promoting the use of permanent alkaline paper, are needed to end the spiraling cost of preserving the human record.

Equally urgent is the need to ensure the permanent public access and preservation of electronic government information. As with its print resources, government has an obligation to guarantee the authenticity, integrity, permanent public access, and preservation of its digital information. Leaders in library, government, industry, and academic circles must cooperatively design and deploy coherent strategies for archiving digital information and adapting preservation to new technologies.

VII. Support for Law Libraries

Libraries are critical to the knowledge base and economic and social well being of society. Adequate funding of all public law libraries, including state, courthouse, county, and local libraries, is essential to ensuring the ready availability of legal information for all who seek to access the justice system. Public libraries are, in most situations, the primary source of legal material and informational assistance for self-represented persons. In addition, governments should provide adequate funding for the FDLP and state depository programs.

AALL supports a legal and regulatory environment that fosters an efficient and economical flow of electronic information to and from libraries. In particular, a system of affordable telecommunication rates for competitive speeds should be provided to libraries. AALL supports net neutrality, which has kept the Internet open and non-discriminatory and allowed it to thrive and flourish.

VIII. The Law Library of Congress

AALL supports a strong Law Library of Congress as our de facto National Law Library. The programs and services of the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress are important in fulfilling the mission to effectively serve the Congress, the courts, federal agencies, and the public, and to the successful operation of all law libraries.

AALL urges Congress to support with necessary funding and authority the Library of Congress/Law Library of Congress's priority initiatives, such as digital efforts to preserve and disseminate historic Congressional materials that benefit Congress and all citizens; the reclassification of more than 500,000 volumes to the K class; the identification, cataloging, and preservation of rare and unique legal materials for the benefit of the Nation; and the completion of new storage facilities to ensure that the Law Library has sufficient space to acquire and maintain current legal materials.

IX. Intellectual Freedom

AALL endorses the Library Bill of Rights (current version available on the American Library Association website at www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/index.cfm) and supports the right of libraries to disseminate materials on all subjects. AALL opposes censorship and supports nondiscriminatory access to information for all library users.

X. White House Conference

AALL supports periodic White House conferences and similar national forums for the evaluation of library services to the Nation and its citizens.

XI. Conclusion

AALL and its Chapters will inform our members of current information policy issues, offer our expertise in developing laws, policies, and practices consistent with this Policy, and actively assist elected and government officials to enact such policies.