Cornell Law Library
I became interested in the topic of digital preservation because of my concern for long term access to the "official word of the law." In the print world, it is easy enough to pull up a volume of the state reports or a state code and be sure to have the authentic text. But, if, in the future, the state legislatures or courts decide to stop printing the texts and they only exist in electronic form, there will be no equivalent of the print product. In the print medium, the book authenticates the content. The electronic text, on the other hand, is easy to alter, unless precautions are taken.1
The two main problems arising with digital legal information are: (1) Its rapid obsolescence, because it is software and hardware dependent, the need to migrate and "refresh" the information, as well as the need for standards of authentication; and (2) The current lack of plan to archive digital legal information and ensure that it will be accessible not only next week, but in 2, 5, 10 and even 50 years from now.
I believe that it is an area where law librarians should be proactive, because they are responsible for access to repositories of legal information. They know how important permanent public access to official legal information is in a democracy. I also believe that AALL is uniquely suited to a leading role in this coordination effort with other stakeholders (including producers and consumers of information) at a time where the profession is redefining its role in the information society.
Judy Meadows, then AALL President, and Rubens Medina, Law Librarian of Congress, appointed a joint AALL/Law Library of Congress Task Force in 1998 to start looking into these issues.2 Most Task Force members met in Ithaca in August 1998 to start rising to the challenge.3 They met again in New Orleans at the AALS meeting in December 1998. At that time, it was decided to postpone the National Summit and use the time to enroll the help of the other stakeholders and doing preparatory work. It is hoped that the Summit can be held later on this year.
Some of the suggestions brought up at the Ithaca meeting include the following:
1. Get an AALL representative within each state and at the federal level for coordination purposes:
a. Survey the current digitizing and archiving practices;
b. Make a list of "best practices" and use these as prototypes for other states;
c. Solicit/invite papers on central issues and best practices and invite authors to participate in the summit meeting.
2. Convene a national summit meeting to:
a. Gather all the stakeholders affected by the issue and raise their awareness of the problems;
b. Discuss standards for authentication of official digital records;
c. Discuss several prospective models as potential archival sites for legal information;
d. Make proposals and recommendations to standard setting institutions and other groups;
e. Help formulate a plan in each state to preserve and archive the digital legal information produced, after the summit meeting.
Finally, I would like to offer the following proposal for consideration, which would be to explore within the law library community the idea of forming consortial agreements in each state.
Each partner would buy servers and download a portion of the corpus of legal information. For instance, Cornell could keep the New York Court of Appeals decisions (currently produced by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell), the documents of the International Labor Organization (currently running from a mirror site set up at Cornell; includes treaties and national labor laws from foreign countries), and the decisions of the International Court of Justice (running from a mirror site at Cornell). Cornell would make these documents available to other libraries. It would rely on partner libraries for access to other materials.
This plan would ensure that libraries successfully continue their leading role of preserving and making information available to present and future generations of scholars.
2. For a list of Task Force members, see http://www.aallnet.org/database/roster_current.asp?code=COMMITTEE/TF_ LLCPA
3. See Carol Billings, "Digital Preservation Task Force Meets to Plan Summit," AALL Spectrum 20 (October 1998)