AALL Spectrum Blog

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The AALL Spectrum® blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
1/12/2015 3:58:00 PM

Winter 2015 Issue of ALL-SIS Newsletter Available!

The Winter 2015 issue of the ALL-SIS Newsletter is now available!  Do you love checklists?  Ever thought about a legal research checklist?  Maybe you should read Kasia Solon Cristobal's article, "Having Fun with Checklists."  You can learn about instructional design in Angela Hackstadt's article.  There is a very nice memorial for Nancy P. Johnson by Ronald E. Wheeler.  And, you'll meet ALL-SIS member, Jonathan Rountree, in the new member profile.  You'll also find great ideas from other libraries, book reviews, section news, and member news.

Posted By Kristen Moore at 1/12/2015 3:58:00 PM  0 Comments
1/2/2015 9:38:23 AM

Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor – Exhibition at the Library of Congress

One of the benefits of working in the nation’s capital is easy access to cultural treasures like the Library of Congress. Not only is it astoundingly beautiful inside and out, but it is also hosts fascinating exhibitions like the current Magna Carta: Muse & Mentor exhibition commemorating the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta.

While the centerpiece of the exhibition is the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, one of four existing copies that date to 1215, the year of its creation, it includes much more. In addition to documents, books, letters, newspapers, judicial decisions, and images that provide an account of the initial granting of Magna Carta and its many confirmations by kings and parliament, it also explores Magna Carta’s impact on principles and protections of American law such as due process, trial by jury, and the writ of habeas corpus. One section even features Magna Carta in Culture with an array of items from commemorative stamps to Jay-Z’s recent album, Magna Carta Holy Grail.

Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta

Blackstone's Magna Carta

Commemorative Magna Carta stamps

While the standing exhibition will only be at the Library of Congress until January 19th, a traveling exhibition has been touring the country and will continue to make its way to different cities throughout 2015. Exhibition dates and locations can be found on the ABA’s website. If it happens to be coming to a city near you, I highly recommend you take the opportunity to check it out.

Sara Gras, Reference Librarian

Georgetown University Law Center

Washington, D.C.


Posted By Sara Gras at 1/2/2015 9:38:23 AM  0 Comments
12/22/2014 9:29:28 AM

Canada’s National Library Falls Behind on the Job, Audit Reveals

By Nancy McCormack

Canada’s Auditor General whose job is, among other things, to assess how the government is managing its affairs and resources, recently released a Fall 2014 audit.* This audit covered a variety of disparate issues including mental health services for veterans, and nutrition in aboriginal communities in Canada’s north. But the item that caught the eye of librarians across the land was its blistering report on the problems in Canada’s National Library—Library and Archives Canada (“LAC”). It’s not often the National Library makes headlines in this country, but when it does, as of late, the news isn’t good. Over the last five years, LAC has had its funding cut by approximately $30 million dollars and endured problematic leadership. Now, as they say down on the farm, the chickens have come home to roost.

LAC is intended to be the permanent home of “the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions” (as the Library and Archives of Canada Act poetically puts it). The Library’s job is to collaborate with federal institutions in identifying and collecting government records that might be of long-term interest to the nation. As such, the Library issues one or more specific documents called RDAs (Records Disposition Authority). An RDA is tailored to each federal department and sets out how specific records should be dealt with once they have reached the end of a retention period and are no longer important to the institution in its current operations, services or programs. The RDA would indicate which records were important enough to be transferred to Library and Archives Canada, or transferred to another government agency, or simply destroyed.

What the audit found, though, was that LAC was not acquiring the records it should have been. The RDAs it issued had not been updated to cover certain new programs or services that had been introduced into the appropriate federal departments. Consequently, the RDAs no longer accurately described which records ought to be sent to LAC and by what date.

LAC clearly was already aware it had a problem—some five years earlier, in 2009, it had decided it would attempt to update its RDAs and make sure the system was still relevant and working properly. Yet in the interim, only 30 of the 195 institutions falling under the auspices of the Library and Archives of Canada Act actually had their RDAs updated. Those remaining 165 federal institutions now found themselves with mountains of records they were not permitted to destroy. Why? Because, ironically, they needed LAC’s permission to do so, according to the Library and Archives of Canada Act! So, without workable RDAs, they continued keeping records indefinitely, waiting for an assessment that never came. In one instance (it has an almost symbolic aura), a heap of records held by a federal institution was destroyed by a flood before LAC had a chance to make an assessment as to their potential importance.

Another problem uncovered by the audit was that, despite a 60-day processing standard within the institution, LAC now found itself 98,000 boxes behind schedule. Some of these boxes dated back decades and contained military records (back to 1890), along with boxes from Transport Canada, Industry Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and the Department of Justice Canada.  Naturally, no one would have any idea as to what was in these boxes, till they were finally processed—if ever.

To crown all these woes, the audit found LAC totally unready for the vast amount of electronic materials pouring in from the various government departments. Yes, a $15.4-million digital archive system had put into place. But it had been scrapped, without ever having been used, because senior management had come to the conclusion it was too costly to run. Needless to say, no records had been saved to indicate how the decision had been made, by whom, and why.**

It all sounds quite Pythonesque. But though it’s a sad day for Canadian librarians to see its National Library exposed in this way, we’re not at all surprised in view of the difficulties our fellow librarians/archivists have had to endure after years of government budget cutting and misguided leadership. We can only hope this audit and the publicity it has garnered may be the first steps towards righting that once grand ship in the nation’s capital. LAC has embraced the findings of the audit and is in the process of putting serious plans in place to deal with the problems uncovered. Perhaps there will be brighter days ahead for an institution which has surely seen enough bad days.

Nancy McCormack (nm4@queensu.ca), Librarian and Associate Professor of Law, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario

*Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “Chapter 7—Documentary Heritage of the Government of Canada—Library and Archives Canada,” 2014 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada, online: www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201411_07_e_39965.html#hd5a. The report is conducted under the authority of the Auditor General Act.

**Alex Boutilier, “No records on why $15M project was cut: Library and Archives Canada later said the new digital system was too expensive,” Toronto Star (26 November 2014) A.10.

Posted By Ashley St. John at 12/22/2014 9:29:28 AM  0 Comments