The Yale Law School Digital Repository

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Framing a Community Within and Without

By Julian Aiken


Using quills, fountain pens, pencil stubs and bics, typewriters and word processors, legal pads and iPads, the Yale Law faculty has a long, distinguished history of producing pathbreaking and influential legal scholarship. That scholarship is now available to anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the web, thanks to the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository (http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu). The repository is an online, open access website containing almost all past and present Yale faculty legal scholarship. It is recognized as one of the most valuable free portals to legal scholarship available on the internet.

Among the many advantages of digital repositories to academic institutions, perhaps the greatest is the role they play as natural community builders within an institution and the projection of that community’s identity to the wider world. The importance individuals place upon membership in a community is easily exemplified by the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook: we all want to belong. In an academic institution, an easy way to develop a sense of community is to develop communal projects that include staff and students from traditionally discrete work areas. The Yale Law repository was developed and is managed by law library staff, but it could not exist without the scholarship provided by law school faculty, nor without the dedicated staff of student workers who perform the daily tasks of searching and uploading material for the repository and providing metadata for that scholarship.

 
 Current and past law faculty articles are exhibited in a display case, along with artifacts and tools used to produce the work.
 
 An iPad can be used to interact and move through the repository.

The community that has developed around the Yale Law repository has been building over the course of years. In early 2003, senior library staff first began discussing how best to establish a digital repository as part of a mission to develop a broader library publications program and to become facilitators of change in terms of scholarly legal publishing. Initially, Yale was part of a group of New England law libraries that aimed to establish a joint repository, but it was eventually decided that Yale Law should present a stand-alone repository to better represent the work of its own scholars on the world stage. Once this key decision was made, we began to focus on designing (and redesigning!) the interface; developing successful relationships with faculty and journal publishers to obtain permissions to republish papers; and establishing optimal workflows to mount these papers in the repository.

In 2010, the benefits of the communal nature of the repository were richly illustrated when a sort of "perfect storm" of interest from staff, law students, and law faculty was generated by the site’s redesign, coupled with aggressive outreach on the part of law library staff, resulting in a 10-fold increase in faculty papers published in what had become a far more accessible and functional site. Published articles in the repository rocketed from roughly 300 to more than 3,000 as faculty started to buy into the concept of the Yale Law digital community and students and staff supported its construction.

At the same time (and probably not coincidentally), we started to witness a big increase in site visits and downloads. 2010-2011 saw a 181 percent increase in page views compared to 2009-2010. Another thing we became aware of was the incredible global reach of the repository; of the 41,000 visits to the repository in 2010-2011, less than 3,000 came from Yale, and almost half came from outside of the United States. We had visitors from 6,039 cities across the world. Nearly 170 countries or territories from every continent were represented by visitors. About 318,000 full-text articles were downloaded from the repository in that period. The repository has become a fabulous tool for global outreach, and it has played a significant role in projecting the law school’s identity in countries as diverse as Kazakhstan (14 visits this year), Iceland (18 visits), India (796 visits), and Iran (79 visits.)

The relatively small number of local visits to the site compared with the rest of the world points to the advantage hosting an open access repository. Any Yale affiliate can access the information contained within the repository via numerous Yale-sponsored commercial databases, so it is not surprising that there were fewer than 3,000 local visits last year. Obviously, universities across the world have access to legal information through subscription databases, such as HeinOnline, LexisNexis, and Westlaw, but it can easily be imagined that there are many legal scholars, lawyers, historians, and individuals with interests in legal issues for whom access using a proprietary database is simply not an option. The global advantages of open access to so rich a seam of scholarship as that contained within the Yale Law repository are best appreciated when compared with the difficulty of accessing proprietary legal databases for most people across the planet.

Beyond the communal nature of its construction, the repository can serve as a community focus for an academic institution by archiving and celebrating the work of its scholars. At the Yale Law School, the digital repository is now treated as the central archive of professors’ work, past and present. As such, it represents the intuitional memory of the school’s scholarship and thus a focal point of our community.

In fall 2011, the library celebrated the broader Yale Law community with a multimedia exhibition in the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Curated by Julian Aiken and Fred Shapiro, "From Legal Pads to iPads: An Exhibition of Great Yale Legal Scholarship" was developed to promote the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository and to honor the continuing brilliance of Yale law faculty scholarship. Current and past law faculty articles are exhibited in a display case, along with artifacts and tools used to produce the work: quills, pencils, bic pens, manual typewriters, legal pads and iPads. The articles, although just a sample of the classic Yale Law School-produced writings, encompass some of the most influential pieces in all of legal scholarship as measured by citation counts. For visitors who prefer a more comprehensive experience, an iPad is included in the exhibit that can be used to interact and move through the repository, gaining a powerful insight into the work and strengths of the Yale Law School community. The exhibit is located in the Law Library Reading Room of the Yale Law School and can be viewed during normal library hours throughout the fall term. It is free and open to the public.

Julian Aiken (julian.aiken@yale.edu) is access services librarian at Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library in New Haven, Connecticut.

Photos by Tyson Streeter/Yale Law School.