ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #2: Academic - National and Regional Repositories/Virtual Resources

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(November, 2001)


As libraries deal with the shifting balance between print and electronic resources, the literature continues to suggest that preservation of legal materials in print will remain important for a long time. But the increasing reliance on electronic resources also mandates a more serious focus on digital preservation efforts.

The age of the virtual law library brings with it the need to archive and preserve legal information in electronic formats. Space and budget issues are forcing law libraries of all sizes to weed print collections that are duplicated in electronic formats. Although some law libraries are shrinking and there is more reliance on electronic resources, many libraries are not willing to discard print collections because of a concern about the lack of preservation efforts for digital materials. Even if repositories for print and microform materials are established (see other "repository" scenario), there is a need to preserve the electronic versions of previously published materials, as well as material originally published in electronic form, for easy access and regular use.

Electronic resources that need preservation include commercial and non-commercial databases, electronic journals, original electronic texts, web sites, and digital archives. These resources are often here today and gone tomorrow; reliance on them as permanent resources is risky. The effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in The NewYork Times Co. v. Tasini (121 S. Ct. 2381 (2001) and the near demise of netLibrary are two widely publicized examples, but web pages also disappear regularly.

At the same time, current digitization projects would benefit from a more systematic and coherent approach, which dictates working with other national digital preservation efforts and participating in the development of standards.


  • Law librarians will participate in the efforts of other libraries and agencies, including the Library of Congress and the Council on Library and Information Resources, to help develop a national plan for digital preservation. (See Marcum, "A National Plan for Digital Preservation: What Does it Mean for the Library Community?" at
  • National and regional law libraries or centrally funded archives assume primary responsibility for digital preservation projects for assigned resources.
  • Librarians working in repositories will be responsible for the collection, organization, maintenance and preservation of identified electronic resources.
    • The repository model serves the needs of other libraries, not necessarily the needs of the individual user.
  • Law schools and law libraries will work with the ABA to revise the Standards for Approval of Law Schools and Interpretations to reflect the trend toward access to resources rather than ownership of physical collections and to suggest some qualitative measures of evaluation. For example, Standard 606 might be revised to include more specific examples of the importance of permanent access to electronic resources.

Implications/strategies for library areas

  • Facilities - Repository locations will require the technical and architectural infrastructure necessary for storage of digital archives. This will include a system of distributed servers and mirror sites.
  • Collections/content - Law librarians and legal scholars will collaborate to select the retrospective digital content to be preserved in the repositories and to monitor new content prospectively.
  • Staffing - Librarians and others with expertise in legal literature, information technology, digitizing and scanning techniques, intellectual property, and rights management will be most important in the virtual repository. Administrative body to coordinate the repository system and to work with national preservation programs.
  • Services - Law librarians will participate in national efforts to develop and implement a digital preservation program for legal materials. Repositories will provide digitizing on demand.
  • Budget - Funds will be needed for administration, staffing, and technology. Grant opportunities will be pursued.

SWOT Analysis


  • Law libraries collectively share the responsibility of preserving a large body of digital legal literature for future generations
  • Collaboration between creators and users of content


  • Uncertainty about cost of storage
  • Scope of what has already been lost
  • Difficulty of assessing and selecting the range of resources to be preserved


  • Take advantage of national digital preservation efforts
  • Law libraries can take a leadership role in this important endeavor


  • Electronic media are developing faster than preservation techniques and standards can be developed