Revised July 1995
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.
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 development of the National Information Infrastructure and the dissemination of government information to intellectual freedom and intellectual property. AALL members have a special responsibility for ensuring that federal, state and local legal information resources are developed, managed and shared effectively.
II. GOVERNMENT INFORMATION POLICY
Accessible government information is both an essential principle of a democratic society and a valuable national resource created at taxpayer expense. Timely and equitable access to government information is the cornerstone of AALL's Government Relations Policy.
A. Freedom of Information
Public inspection of government 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.
Statutes and regulations governing security classification should be construed purposefully to promote open government while protecting the need for FOIA exemptions.
Public access to government information must be tempered by privacy rights concerning personal information held in government files. Strong privacy laws are needed to insulate sensitive personal information from a world of interconnected databases.
C. Dissemination of Government Information
Federal, state and local governments have a duty to disseminate government information to their citizens. Government information should be available to the public at no or low cost in both traditional and electronic formats. Any revenue garnered by government from the sale of public information should be reinvested in the infrastructure which delivers government information to the public.
The commercial sector plays an important secondary role in the dissemination of government information. The American public is served by a diversity of information providers. No public or private entity should enjoy a monopoly over any body of government information. Nor should any entity limit the dissemination of government information through exclusive contracts, resale restrictions or other restrictive trade practices.
D. Federal Depository Library Program
The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) has special relevance to the study of law. Nearly 200 law school libraries and over 50 state court libraries serve as federal depositories.
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/dissemination of all formats of government information from all branches of government. As the government moves into an electronic environment, depository libraries are increasingly important channels through which citizens access law.
With the increasing dissemination of government information in electronic format, the Government Printing Office, the National Technical Information Service, the Library of Congress and other federal agencies share in the dissemination of government information. In order to ensure that all government information is disseminated through the FDLP, AALL believes that a strong, central authority with Congressional oversight and the ability to enforce agency compliance with relevant laws, regulations and policies is necessary.
E. Government Tax Policy
IRS tax policy on the treatment of business inventories has shortened dramatically the inventory life of most book titles. The Association supports passage of legislation to fashion an equitable tax policy which takes into account the special inventory requirements of the publishing industry.
III. NATIONAL LEGAL RESOURCES
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. Continued development of a standardized classification system for all legal materials is an Association priority. Similarly, AALL strongly supports the ongoing effort to develop appropriate international technical standards for information technology.
The Association supports timely and equitable access to national legal resources regardless of the format in which the information is fixed.
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.
IV. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
A. National Information Infrastructure
AALL supports the development and deployment of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) to take advantage of our nation's resources in information, communication, and computing technologies. Legal and nonlegal information should be made available through the NII to a broad cross-section of America, including law libraries.
The development of the NII should ensure broad public access to electronic government information by providing low-cost access for all citizens regardless of income or geographic area. AALL believes that the development of an open network architecture system will ensure broad public access.
The right of fair use and the noncopyrightable nature of government information paid for by taxpayers should be maintained in the electronic environment.
No modern law library can operate without telecommunication services. Cataloging utilities, electronic bulletin boards and computer-aided legal research all depend upon electronic data transfer.
The Association is concerned that rising telecommunication costs may limit access to information. For this reason, AALL supports a regulatory environment that fosters an
efficient and economical flow of electronic information to and from libraries. In particular, the Association urges lawmakers to guarantee that a system of affordable rates is provided to libraries.
V. FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR LIBRARIES
A. White House Conferences
AALL supports periodic White House conferences and similar forums for the evaluation of library services to the nation. Following each conference, the Administration and Congress should act promptly and decisively to implement the resolutions adopted by the conferees.
B. Library Funding
Though federal, state and local governments operate in a climate of fiscal restraint, libraries are so critical to the well-being of society that full funding of access programs, such as the Federal Depository Library Program, is a necessity.
Most 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 preserve electronic information. Leaders in library, government, industry and academic circles must design and deploy coherent strategies for archiving significant data files.
VII. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
A. Copyright Law
An equitable balance between the rights of users of information and the rights of copyright holders is essential to the free flow of information. All proposed revisions or interpretations of the copyright law should maintain this balance by interposing the fewest obstacles to the free distribution of ideas in all media and formats.
B. Public Domain Status of Government Publications
AALL supports a general prohibition against copyright protection for government works. Similarly, AALL opposes any copyright-like royalty arrangements that restrict the flow of information from the government to the public.
It is particularly important that the text of primary legal materials, judicial or administrative decisions, statutes and regulations, remain in the public domain. Americans have a constitutional right of access to the legal system, including access to the basic materials necessary for legal research. The Association opposes any proposed revisions or interpretations of the copyright law which would extend copyright restrictions to primary legal materials.
VIII. INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM
AALL endorses the Library Bill of Rights (appended to this policy statement) 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.
AALL supports the passage of strong state laws protecting the privacy rights of library users.
AALL, through its representatives, has a pro-active program to inform its members of current issues and to assist government decision-makers in developing laws and policies consistent with this Government Relations Policy.