University of Minnesota Law Library
A component of AALL's "Vision" as stated in its 2000-2005 Strategic Plan is that "AALL and its members advocate and work toward fair and equitable access to authentic current and historic legal information." One of the outcomes under Strategic Direction #4–"A Diverse Legal Publishing Industry Offers a Broad Range of Legal Publications in a Competitive Environment"–directly concerns preservation. This outcome states the following: "Historic legal materials are preserved and accessible." The Strategic Plan lists the following specific initiatives to be undertaken by AALL and its membership to bring about this outcome:
In a recent interview, Will Meredith, Preservation Librarian, Harvard Law School Library and Current Chair of the TS/SIS Preservation Committee, discussed his plans and thoughts on how the Committee might work to implement these initiatives.
What should be the components of a national plan for the preservation of legal materials?
There are several basic things that we need for a successful preservation plan:
We need to identify the interested parties. Preservation is a huge problem, and no one library, company or organization has the resources to deal with the problem alone. In 1991, the Special Committee on the Preservation Needs of Law Libraries stated that the most likely group to coordinate the effort to preserve acidic legal materials would be the Law Library of Congress, and research law libraries, with the support of AALL. We need to reconsider this list. I would say that there were other groups that should have been included in a discussion of preservation efforts for printed legal materials. A successful plan will need to involve as many groups as possible.
Once the interested groups are identified, the plan could suggest models for coordination and cooperation.
We also need to agree on what we mean by preservation. Resources will always be limited. What format or formats meet the needs of our users and at the same time fulfil the requirements for preservation?
We need a more accurate idea of the scope and nature of the problem. The 1991 report of the Special Committee proposed a project that would list which state and federal material had and had not been reformatted. Work was started on this but never completed. Ideally we should have a prioritized list of the work to be done.
What steps does the TS/SIS Preservation Committee need to take to develop a national plan?
The TS-SIS Committee is charged with writing a draft report by this summer, and having a final report ready by the summer of 2002. We're still at the committee discussion stage. The committee needs to review past efforts, and what has and has not worked. The next step will be writing a preliminary report. The committee will then invite suggestions, comments, and criticism from the law library community. These will need to be reviewed and a final report written.
What kinds of librarians need to be involved in this discussion?
Anyone can be involved. Librarians from research libraries, archives, and state libraries should be involved. We also need to involve publishers.
How should the Committee address the preservation of digital information?
Right now, the committee is working with the AALL Special Committee on the Authentication and Preservation of Primary Source Materials in Law on some of the issues.
What is the Committee doing now to implement Initiative #2 (Publicize current preservation activities)?
One very effective way of publicizing activities and concerns in preservation is to sponsor educational programs at the annual meetings. It has also been suggested that there could be an on-line forum or discussion group for preservation issues. I would also like to find more effective ways to stay in touch with other committees at AALL.
Any member of AALL who has thoughts on the preservation of legal materials are encouraged to contact Will–or any of the members of the TS/SIS Preservation Committee.
2000/01 TS/SIS Preservation Committee:
The first step in a serious effort to preserve library collections should be a needs assessment survey. Although some surveys target specific collections, libraries that are beginning a preservation program, or enhancing an existing program, will want to conduct a general needs assessment survey. This general survey provides a foundation for developing a preservation plan and support for obtaining funds to preserve library collections.
The general needs assessment survey should cover all factors that affect the long-term preservation of collections. It will need to examine physical plant issues such as temperature and humidity controls, fire safety, lighting, pest control, housekeeping, and security. Collections should be examined and recommendations made for maintaining or improving their condition. All of the library's policies and practices that affect preservation should be evaluated, such as handling and use, food and drink policies, repair, and exhibition practices.
The survey should result in a detailed report that also includes a summary of the major improvements needed to ensure long-term preservation.
Although surveys can be conducted by in-house staff there are more advantages to using an outside consultant who can look at things with a fresh eye.1 Several agencies provide this service, including Northeast Document Conservation Center (http://www.nedcc.org/); Chicora, Inc. (http://chicora.org/); and the OCLC-affiliated regional networks, AMIGOS (http://www.amigos.org/), and SOLINET (http://www.solinet.net/).
If your library wishes to hire a professional surveyor from outside the institution but cannot afford the expense, grant funding is an option. The National Endowment for the Humanities is one source of such grants. For the past two years NEH has offered preservation assistance grants up to $5000 each for a specified list of preservation activities. General preservation assessments are one of the qualifying activities. Special consideration is given to applicants from jurisdictions that are deemed underserved by NEH. For the 2001 grant, fourteen states and Puerto Rico are considered underserved. To see the details about this grant go to http://www.neh.gov/grants/onebook/preservassist.html.