LOC Workshop

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FCIL Newsletter
vol. 14, no. 1: October 1999

Focus on Foreign Law:
AALL Conference Workshop Held at Library
Angela Bellin, Intern
Public Affairs Office, Library of Congress

[reprinted with permission from the August 1999 Library of Congress Information Bulletin]

Fifty-four law library professionals from across the United States came to the Library of Congress July 16 to strengthen their foreign law research skills.

They attended a workshop, �Meet the Legal Specialists: Expert Advice on Research and acquisitions of Foreign Law in the Vernacular (Advanced).� The workshop, held in the National Digital Library Learning Center, was part of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) 92nd annual conference.

The workshop began with a welcome by Law Librarian Rubens Medina, who stated that the goal  of the workshop was to strengthen the working relationships between law libraries and the Law Library of Congress and that the Library of Congress staff members were �very delighted� to share their expertise with AALL members, many of whom had already attended a session that morning on how to obtain detailed, pertinent and timely foreign law information.

Foreign and International Law Librarian Amber Lee Smith of the Los Angeles County Law Library moderated the morning session. Ms. Smith explained that in winter 1993 the AALL joined with the Library of Congress for a �nuts and bolts� workshop geared toward law library
professionals without previous international-law research experience. This year�s workshop was designed to �instruct and inform, using sources and techniques for research and acquisition in the native language,� said Ms. Smith.

The first half of the workshop consisted of presentations by Law Library staff. Western Law Division Chief Kersi Shroff spoke briefly on the history and current structure of law in Australia. He described Australia as a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. There is an ongoing debate on whether Australia should become a republic and remove this provision from its constitution. It is thought that this may occur in time for the constitution�s centennial celebration in January 2001. He noted that the United States constitution served as a model for Australia�s charter. Mr. Shroff presented an on-line tour of several useful Web sites on Australian law and stated that Australian law has taken the lead in making its legal information freely available via the Internet.

Wendy Zeldin, senior legal research analyst, outlined the current political and court structure of China. She observed that there have been many changes in the past 20 years, including an �explosion in law-related publications.� Ms. Zeldin demonstrated how to access top Chinese-law Web sites, offering both bilingual and vernacular examples.

Senior Legal Specialist Nicole Atwill noted similarities between the French and U.S. political structure and history, such as the 1789 revolution and an emphasis on the principle of separation of powers. Ms. Atwill also explained the general features of the French legal system, including the hierarchy of laws and the history of the codification of laws.

Senior Legal Specialist George Sfeir noted that there are currently no adequate Web sites for researchers of Islamic law. Further complicating legal research in Arab law is the use of both traditional and Western-based laws. �Reform of the law is an ongoing process everywhere; no less so in the Arab states whose legal modernization is neither complete nor uniform. Whatever the share of Islamic law today in the Arab legal systems (roughly speaking 25 to 30 percent), this share is bound to diminish as a distinct factor with new statutory enactments continuously generated by changing social and economic conditions and global developments� he said.

After welcoming AALL guests in Hebrew, Senior Legal Specialist Ruth Levush detailed major features of Israel�s legal system and explained traditional legal sources as well as new electronic sources. Ms. Levush said, �The Israeli legal system belongs to the Western legal culture, which is  based on the rule of law and takes a secular, liberal and rational approach that puts the individual at center.�

Senior Legal Specialist Peter Roudik concluded the morning session with his presentation on Russian law. Even though current Russian law is a relatively new field, Mr. Roudik navigated several pertinent Web sites.

After a question-and-answer session moderated by Ms. Smith, the workshop adjourned to the Montpelier Dining Room for lunch, where several presenters responded to the question, �Can these on-line references be used in court?� The consensus of the presenters was that, in general, on-line references cannot be used in U.S. courts. Similar sentiments were also expressed about using English translations in court. Ms. Zeldin cautioned she would be �leery,� and Mr. Sfeir echoed, �I think we should be very careful,� in using such references in court. Mr. Roudik observed that the government translations were usually the most reliable. To the audience�s amusement, Mr. Shroff pointed out there were no English translations of Australian law.

The afternoon session began with a demonstration of the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) by Program Director Janice Hyde. GLIN is a cooperative, nonprofit federation of government agencies that contribute national legal information to the GLIN database maintained by the Law Library of Congress. The automated database contains laws of many foreign countries accessible through an English-language thesaurus.

After Ms. Hyde�s on-line demonstration, meeting attendees dispersed to try some of their own GLIN searches using National Digital Library classroom computers.

The latter portion of the workshop focused on helpful Library background information, detailing areas within the Law Library.

Mark Strattner, legal collection development specialist, spoke on �Acquiring Books from Foreign Jurisdictions: Purchase, Exchange, Gift and Library Overseas Offices.� He focused on the challenges of acquiring comparatively expensive books for a nonprofit agency.

European and Latin American Acquisitions Division Chief Donald P. Panzera explained the complex and multifaceted geographic reorganization of the Library of Congress Acquisitions Office, implemented on Oct. 12, 1997. The restructuring was achieved concomitantly with an increase in the exchange program and an increase in acquisitions from government sources.

Judy C. McDermott, chief of the African/Asian Acquisitions and Overseas Operations Division, outlined the history and structure of the Library�s overseas operations. The only legislative agency to have foreign service, the Library of Congress employs more than 200 foreign service nationals who assist the Library with acquisitions in cities around the world.

Director of Law Library Services Margaret Whitlock concluded the event by thanking all staff and AALL participants.

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