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As a solo archivist in my law library, my responsibilities include documenting the life of the law school. Preservation is included in that responsibility so that others may access that life in its many forms in the future. Much of that life is now being produced digitally. For a law library fortunate enough to find itself responsible for their law school archive, digital preservation is a necessity.  


This January I had the opportunity to attend the Digital POWRR (Preserving digital Objects With Restricted Resources) Institute at the University of Arizona. The Institute is designed for librarians and archivists to build skills for curating and preserving digital collections under the tutelage of Digital POWRR project staff. Topics of lecture and discussion included digital preservation policy, storage solutions, hardware obsolescence, and integrity. Limited resources can also equate to limited time. 


One of the best aspects of the Institute was the “Walk the Workflow” demonstration of a digital preservation tool called DataAccessioner. DataAccessioner is an open-source tool that creates a copy of the files that live on external media while capturing any associated data to a new file location such as a network drive. Having the opportunity to test drive a tool such as DataAccessioner under the guidance of instructors made my experience all the greater. Such experience is not easily obtained without a price. 


I’ve been presented with great information at many points in time. However, if I do not take the opportunity to use that new found knowledge right away I will easily lose it. Perhaps the best takeaway from the Institute is the “POWRR Plan.” The POWRR Plan is a personalized and actionable preservation plan that attendees work on in consultation with POWRR instructors to take home to their institutions. This allows attendees to use some of their new found knowledge and take action. The plans include both short and long term goals that span from one month to twelve. 


One of my short-term goals within my POWRR Plan was to properly document the digital objects under my stewardship and include what the digital objects are, where they are stored, and where they can be accessed. One of my long-term goals is to create a statement on preserving digital collections at my law library. Having such a statement will help ensure that digital preservation is not just a core philosophy within archives and special collections but the law library as a whole. 


For those interested in attending a future Digital POWRR Institute, please visit the POWRR website at the following link: 


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The preservation of legal information is not merely a matter of archiving. One of the primary challenges in preserving legal information lies in its sheer volume and diversity. In the United States, each jurisdiction produces a multitude of legal information with varying degrees of significance. Moreover, the dynamic nature of law means that new information is constantly being created, while older information may become obsolete or require updates to remain relevant. In this context, effective curation strategies are indispensable for managing this vast and ever-growing body of content.


Curating legal materials involves a combination of careful planning, systematic organization, and ongoing maintenance to ensure the integrity, accessibility, and usefulness of the collection. Here are some best practices for curating legal information effectively:


  1. Define Clear Objectives: Begin by establishing clear objectives for the curation process. Determine the purpose of the collection, the intended audience, and the scope of materials to be included. Having well-defined objectives will guide decision-making and help prioritize resources effectively.

  2. Identify Authoritative Sources: Focus on curating documents from authoritative sources such as government agencies, courts, reputable legal publishers, and academic institutions. Verify the authenticity and reliability of each document to maintain the credibility of the collection.

  3. Organize Systematically: Develop a systematic organizational structure for the collection that reflects the hierarchy and relationships between different types of legal documents. Consider categorizing materials by jurisdiction, subject matter, type (e.g., statutes, case law, regulations), and chronological order for easy navigation and retrieval.

  4. Standardize Metadata: Implement consistent metadata standards to describe each document accurately. Metadata should include essential information such as title, author, publication date, jurisdiction, citation, keywords, and legal identifiers (e.g., docket numbers, citation references). Standardizing metadata enhances searchability and facilitates interoperability with other systems.

  5. Ensure Compliance with Legal Requirements: Stay informed about legal requirements governing the retention and disclosure of legal documents, including statutes of limitations, privacy laws, donor contracts, and court rules. Ensure that the curation process complies with relevant regulations to avoid risks and penalties.

  6. Apply Preservation Best Practices: Implement robust preservation strategies to protect the integrity and longevity of the documents. This may involve digitizing paper records, using archival-quality materials, implementing backup and disaster recovery systems, and regularly monitoring for signs of deterioration or data corruption.

  7. Regularly Review and Update: Conduct regular reviews of the curated collection to assess its relevance, accuracy, and completeness. Update the collection as needed to incorporate new documents, remove obsolete materials, and correct errors or inaccuracies. Continuous maintenance ensures that the collection remains current and valuable over time.

  8. Provide Access Controls: Implement access controls to ensure that only authorized users can view or modify sensitive or confidential documents. Use encryption, authentication mechanisms, access logs, and user permissions to safeguard the security and confidentiality of the collection.

  9. Facilitate User Engagement: Solicit feedback from users to understand their needs and preferences for accessing legal documents. Provide user-friendly interfaces, advanced search capabilities, filters, and annotations to enhance the usability and utility of the collection. Engaging with users fosters a sense of ownership and encourages ongoing collaboration.

  10. Document Policies and Procedures: Document your library’s curation policies, procedures, and guidelines to ensure consistency and transparency in the management of the collection. Communicate these policies to stakeholders, train staff on curation best practices, and establish workflows for acquiring, cataloging, and maintaining documents.


By following these best practices, libraries can effectively curate legal documents to support research, decision-making, and legal compliance while preserving the integrity and accessibility of the legal information for future generations.

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Wonder what those three things have to do with each other? More than you might think at first.

As many of us have recently experienced, I was asked to add some thoughts about the latest developments in artificial intelligence to a state of the library presentation I gave earlier this summer. While trying to give a nuanced answer in a short amount of time, I fielded questions about why I focused so much on collection preservation when some of the audience members’ law firms had emptied their libraries of print and others were setting up working groups on how to best use generative AI. I did my best to explain that an academic law library’s collecting role is different from a firm library’s, that firm librarians frequently count on us to supply access to things they can’t collect and which don’t appear in their subscription databases, and that the newly-available Large Language Model products show some interesting potential, but it’s not yet clear how revolutionary that might or might not be for the practice of law.

I suspect the questioners might not have been fully satisfied with my answers then, but within a matter of days, news broke of Mata v. Avianca, Inc., No. 22-CV-1461 (PKC), 2023 WL 4114965 (S.D.N.Y. June 22, 2023), which I hope provided a bit more context for consideration. The first but already not last “ChatGPT lawyer” case, Mata highlights many concerns about generative AI in its current state of development: incompleteness, untimeliness and unreliability in a given product’s training data; the tendency of LLMs to “hallucinate” information that doesn’t exist; and our own ability to suspend skepticism if the language outputs appear coherent and are presented confidently enough. Claiming to be unaware of those dangers, the attorneys in Mata swiftly had to face significant sanctions in addition to public shame, and firms and judges are now rushing to set parameters for the use of generative AI.

While Mata was playing out, my library was contacted by an area firm needing to copy from one of our print reporters an older Pennsylvania case they couldn’t get from the Big 3, exactly the kind of regular occurrence I’d pointed to in my talk. Both of these examples demonstrate a fundamental reality of law: it’s grounded in sources, and not all of those sources are going to be available online. How do you prove a case, statute, or treaty provision cited in a court filing both exists and says what the advocate says it does? Conversely, how do you prove it doesn’t exist and the advocate isn’t practicing law competently? What do you do when a case that is still good law somehow didn’t get digitized and uploaded to a place you can access? You go back to a reliable source, and at least for the foreseeable future, that relies on the continued availability of legal information in physical formats, held and preserved by libraries and archives.

This is why I think collection preservation is just as important as staying on top of technological developments, and why LIPA is a great resource for those of us whose work is balancing the two. As even ChatGPT can acknowledge, LIPA provides a critical forum for discussing the importance of legal information preservation, resources for those with collections needing preservation, and advocacy, which is good both for humans practicing law and for building better data sets for machine learning.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts about legal information preservation in the age of generative AI, please bring them to our upcoming member meeting on July 26, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern). Click here to register (all are welcome) and if you’re not already a member, please consider joining!

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