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FCIL Newsletter

volume 14, number 2
February 2000

Electronic Issues Working Group
Meeting held July 18, 1999
Marylin J. Raisch
University of Toronto Law Library

Convener: Marylin J. Raisch, Diamond Law Library, Columbia

(This is a more detailed written version of an oral report made to the FCIL-SIS at its business meeting held July 19, 1999).

The meeting opened with the convener suggesting four possible topics for discussion:

  • Archiving electronic formats: CD Rom lacks archival standards. Future computers may have bigger and better memory, but among this and other unknowns- who will actually ensure archiving of electronic material?
  • Impact on budgets: is it safe to cancel some subscriptions, and are the savings lost when some of the best databases are not free?
  • Internet knowledge management has been overwhelming; is it getting better?
  • How does being a web page editor or manager fit in with other tasks in the professional librarian's daily round of tasks and with the library's mission?
The discussion began with the first topic, archiving electronic legal materials, and the group seemed to stay with this topic and so by consensus, this was the subject which was explored in depth.

Kathie Price indicated that at a recent RLG meeting, librarians discussed individual library policies on refreshment of electronic information and archiving standards. There is a proposal being prepared which would advocate legislation to put responsibility for the archiving of U.S. government material under the Superintendent of Documents instead of the National Archives. Many kinds of electronic documents are going public with no archival standards in place.

Maria Smolka-Day suggested that the group make a list of important areas for attention. Among Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), many are making information available on a very timely basis and in a useful way, but, taking the International Labour Organization (ILO) as an example, treaties and legislation at the site incorporate amendments, but what about the previous versions of the text?

The group considered the underlying issue, not unknown in print since the rise of loose-leaf services, of the tension between capturing the law in time versus capturing the law in force. One goal would be to "raise the consciousness" of the library and information community about this issue. It was suggested that we might pick IGO and NGO (non-governmental organization) sites which have started with good practices for archiving and to get a kind of model practice or model archiving code underway.

Related to this topic of archiving would be areas of information which are not being preserved and may just be neglected or too readily considered ephemeral. Virginia Wise mentioned drafting a position paper with an "endangered species" list of such materials and solicited suggestions from the group. Barbara Rainwater called the attention of the group to the various levels of documentation, beginning with primary legal materials such as statutes and cases on down to newsletters and that these levels in print are now the same in the electronic world but all are equally tenuous on the web.

It was suggested that the group, on behalf of the FCIL-SIS, might draft a master form letter as a questionnaire to be put to the managers of important web sites, particularly good IGO or NGO sites asking, "what is your current archiving practice, if any?" and perhaps a model code and even a kind of template form for the management and location of archived material on a site could be arrived at and promulgated as a standard.

Kathie Price asked if anyone in the group might want to persuade his or her institution to consider "partnering" with an institution or organization to help with archiving that organization's materials.

Finally, it was suggested that these efforts be coordinated with efforts which might be underway in other organizations, such as the ALA International Documents Task Force (IDTF) and the Government Documents SIS of AALL. The group agreed to bring back these issues to their libraries and to keep the topic alive in the building and maintaining of electronic legal information.

Those recorded as attending the meeting are as follows: Kathie Price, NYU; Virginia Wise, Harvard; Maria Smolka-Day, UPEND; Tracy Thompson, Yale; Vicki Szymczak, Brooklyn; Barbara Rainwater, Covington & Burling; Ken Rudolf, Yale; Stefanie Weigmann, Boston U.; Daniel Boyer, McGill; Mila Rush, UMinn; Jonathan Franklin, MICH; and Stephen Wiles, Harvard.

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