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In February of this year, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates finalized a number of changes to the ABA’s Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools as part of the 2023-2024 revision cycle. Among these changes was a surprising, and potentially worrying, change to the standard relating to library collections.

Formerly, Standard 606 (Collection) mandated “reliable access” to a core collection of enumerated categories of primary and secondary materials. The new Standard 604 requires “reliable and efficient access” to a collection that is “complete, current, and with sufficient continuing access”



for the law school to comply with the Standards. Interpretation 604-1 makes clear that physical books need not be part of a library’s collection in order to comply with the standard, and even more bluntly, the accompanying cover memorandum states: “Physical books are no longer required.”  A physical library space is still expected for the time being, thanks to a successful amendment advanced by Scott Pagel of George Washington University Law School, but physical materials are not.


Naturally, the change has already stirred a great deal of discussion and concern about the implications. At a minimum, the ABA clearly has not prioritized the maintenance of those collections and it’s likely the change will serve as an accelerant for existing trends in law school administrations’ ability to encroach on library spaces and budgets. As now written, Standard 604 won’t encourage law schools to preserve or expand their libraries’ physical collections, and provides cover for faster deaccession and tilting the balance even further away from ownership of print toward licensing of online materials. Losses of 80 or 90 percent of physical collections and the spaces that house them are no longer unthinkable.


While libraries need flexibility in order to connect their patrons to the information required for their research, work, and other endeavors, there are many compelling reasons for law libraries to keep robust physical collections and to secure ongoing access to legal information in print. LIPA can help with those efforts by providing forums for discussion and collaboration, and resources for preserving unique, fragile or endangered legal information. If the ABA’s recent changes have made preservation of physical collections a more urgent priority for you, please join the discussions at the upcoming two-part webinar co-presented by LIPA and AALL’s TS-SIS this summer and LIPA’s annual member meeting in July (registration link).

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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: https://digitalpowrr.niu.edu/ 

 

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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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