ARCHIVED: AALL Government Relations Policy (Revised 2008)

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

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 legal information. More than 5,000 AALL members work in nearly 1,900 libraries serving government officials, the bench, the bar, legal scholars, and the public.

This policy is promulgated by the AALL Executive Board to direct the Association's policy and advocacy work. The policy is necessarily broad and high-level to guide the Government Relations Office staff in their work while still allowing for the Association to be agile and quick to respond to developing policy issues.

Collectively, law libraries form a knowledge network that supports the use of law in society. Law libraries and their users are affected by a broad span of public policy concerns, ranging from the dissemination of government information to intellectual freedom and intellectual property. The exponential growth of the Internet as a central point of access to information raises a whole new spectrum of legislative and policy 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, many AALL members have a special responsibility for ensuring that federal, state, and local legal information resources are created, managed, and disseminated effectively, regardless of format.

Accessible government information is both an essential principle of a democratic society and a valuable public good created at taxpayer expense. Federal, state and local authorities - and indeed, all citizens - must ensure that government legal information is permanently available to the public at low or no cost, in an easily accessible and professionally maintained environment.

II. Dissemination of Government Information

The statement entitled "Principles and Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Websites," approved by the Access to Electronic Legal Information Committee (the "AELIC Principles") on February 26, 2007, and adopted by the Executive Board on March 24, 2007, is hereby incorporated by reference. The AELIC Principles articulate AALL policies on creation, access, and distribution of government information in the digital age, and help to inform AALL's policy on government information. The full text of the statement is available on the AALL web site.

Federal, state, and local governments should create comprehensive and coherent policies for making government information permanently available to the public at low or no cost.

  1. Creation and Collection of Government Information

    Federal, state, and local governments have a duty to create, collect, and disseminate government information to their citizens. Government information should be available to the public at low or no cost in an easily accessible format. Any revenue garnered by government from the sale of public information 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. Depository Library Programs

    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, in permanent, authentic, and readily accessible formats, from all branches of government.

    As the government moves into a more electronic environment, depository libraries are increasingly important channels through which citizens access law and law-related information. The Government Printing Office, the National Technical Information Service, the Library of Congress, the courts, and other federal agencies share in the dissemination of government information. AALL believes that all federal government information should be disseminated through a depository and access program with strong, central authority, with Congressional oversight, and with 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. Whenever possible, these should operate under a statutory obligation to make government information available to the public at low or no cost.

III. Accessibility of Government Information

  1. Equitable Access to Government Resources

    The public has a right of access to government information, including access to the basic materials necessary for legal research. Federal, state, and local governments are obligated to disseminate and ensure broad permanent public access to official government information for all citizens, regardless of income or geographic area. Therefore, governments must ensure the authenticity and integrity of their information, whether the information is in print or an electronic format.

    Primary legal titles fundamental to our democracy should continue to be disseminated to depository libraries in print until such time as the government can ensure the authenticity of, permanent public access to, and preservation of the electronic version.

  2. Freedom of Information

    Public inspection of government records, including electronic records, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the foundation for citizen access to government information. FOIA must be amended periodically to ensure that government information is available in a timely manner and in a format useful to the requester, including request and delivery by electronic means.

    Statutes and regulations governing security classification should be construed to promote open government while acknowledging the need for FOIA exemptions.

IV. 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.

  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.

V. Intellectual Freedom

AALL endorses the Library Bill of Rights (current version available on the American Library Association web site) and supports the right of libraries to disseminate materials on all subjects. The Association vigorously opposes censorship. Similarly, AALL supports nondiscriminatory access to information for all library users.

VI. Management of Information

  1. Privacy

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

  2. Technical Standards

    AALL seeks a leadership role in the development and management of national legal resources. Coordinated action is needed to build specialized legal collections and inter-library service networks. AALL strongly supports the ongoing effort to develop appropriate international technical standards for information technology.

  3. Role of the Law Library of Congress

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

    The Law Library's digital initiatives to preserve and disseminate historic Congressional materials benefit Congress and all citizens. The Congress should provide adequate funding to extend the scope of these worthy projects and permit similar valuable initiatives to digitize the Law Library's rare and unique legal and government information resources.

    AALL also supports the Law Library's efforts to identify and catalog its nearly 30,000 rare and unique legal materials for the benefit of the nation. The Congress should provide adequate funding to the Law Library for the preservation of these rich collections and for a rare books curator.

  4. White House Conferences

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

  5. Library Funding

    Libraries are critical to the knowledge base and economic and social well being of society. Adequate funding of all public law libraries and access programs, such as the FDLP and state depository programs, is a necessity.

    Cataloging utilities and computer-aided legal research depend upon electronic data transfer. For this reason, AALL supports a regulatory environment that fosters an efficient and economical flow of electronic information to and from libraries. In particular, a system of affordable telecommunication rates should be provided to libraries.

  6. 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. 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.

VII. Conclusion

AALL and its Chapters will inform our members of current information policy issues and assist policy makers in developing laws, policies, and practices consistent with this Policy.