The time is ripe for the creation of an online repository and clearinghouse for Canadian legal scholarship in digital form. There are perhaps 70 Canadian journals publishing articles on or immediately relevant to law, making for a manageable supply of material. And the software and associated technology is readily available for free or at a very low cost. Of course, the labour necessary to construct and manage such a resource is not free, and may be less than readily available; but it seems to me that the major obstacle at the moment is simply the lack of will. Someone — some institution — needs to “pull the trigger” to launch the thing.
And launching would entail beginning the task of persuading authors and journals to submit material to the repository or, at least, to licence the use of a copy obtained otherwise. I don’t mean to imply that this task would be easy. But I believe it could be accomplished. The willingness of authors now to publish drafts or “preprints” via the Social Science Research Network suggests that there is an appetite to make their work available in a professional setting.
It’s hard to judge exactly how much of Canadian legal scholarly output is online at the Legal Scholarship Network within SSRN. Most is submitted by authors from the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, two of the top contributors among non-US law schools. There are, however, ten Canadian law schools among the top 100 non-US law school contributors. (Top contributing law schools are divided into “US law schools” and “International law schools”; “foreign” is what’s meant, or, perhaps “non-US”.) But so far as I can see, there are no means of isolating articles by national origin or principal jurisdictional focus from the pool of 100,000 LSN items.
While the availability of some Canadian research in the LSN is an unalloyed good, a repository such as the one I’m advocating would have a broader purpose than that served by the Scholarship Networks. It would aim to develop a catalogued, rationalized and searchable collection, creating the sort of metadata likely to prove useful in the foreseeable, technological future. And, of course, the articles along with their metadata would be made freely available online for use by anyone, according to an appropriate license. Once the repository had current publications under sufficient control, there could be a program to bring into the repository material from the past, akin to that pursued by CanLII with respect to older judgments.
It might be that a project such as this would work best as a cooperative venture among a number of law schools. This would help to spread the cost, of course, and to encourage adoption by scholars in the contributing institutions. Too, it would seem a project likely to appeal to various funding sources — law foundations, governmental research councils and the like.
But these are details, capable of being worked out by someone — some institution — willing to take the plunge.