What If?

What If: computing as we know it were wiped out tomorrow? As electronic legal information has become entrenched over the last several years, this question has occured to me as it relates directly to legal research. For the purpose of this mental meander let’s say that a particularly virulent piece of malware passes through the world’s computer systems, rendering them all but useless. What would legal research look like? (Let’s assume that we are ignoring the riots going on outside of our offices)

As of this point, I think the legal community could recover from such a catastrophe, legislation, journals and reporters are still readily available in print and most legal professionals have been part of the transition from print to electronic. But will we reach a point where the print resources, or the ability to use them, simply would not be there? And if so, how far away is that point?


  1. You raise a good question, Mark – in fact, that time is not far off. The issue has become more pressing since the “digital dividend’ has meant that institutional law libraries are literally ditching print collections. The lead in this is coming from the Legal Information and Preservation Alliance


    Anne Rae, formerly the Law Librarian from the U of T, is CALL/ACBD’s official representative to this group, and there are several other Canadian academic law librarians involved as well.

    The idea, at this point, is to learn from LIPA so that a similar approach can be developed in Canada.

    One of the ideas is to create archive copy of every print title in perpetuity spread out over a number of institutions, in case the digital information fails as you indicate, or in case a new generation of media needs to go back to the original paper analog sourcees

    Some of this is also happening through the projects of the Law Library Microform Digital Project.

    This all sounds a little vague, but we have been slow off the mark on this in Canada, although Anne Rae has been raising this point for a number of years.


  2. Troublemaker warning! :-)

    What if our paper collections were slowly dying on acidic paper and ink? … but that one isn’t a ‘what if’, it’s happening.

    We can’t go backwards, and our collections must depend on computers in some shape or form. I’d like to see more commercial products that were geared towards the imaging of legacy collections. I think many Librarians like the technology behind HeinOnline for this reason (not just an OCR, but a graphical image). Also of note, most modern Archivists understand that keeping electronic records readable is vital.

    The scarier trend, IMO, is the complete reliance on the subscription model. If collections were able to be purchased rather than rented, the ease of ‘digital replication’ might be a saving grace. But as it stands, if the Vendors cease to see value in including a digital collection in our subscription, things could start to disappear.

    I’d like to see a depository requirement on Legal vendors to contribute any legacy digital collections prior to permanent removal from their service. To where? I’m not sure, but somewhere. Perhaps LAC.

  3. I am not bemoaning the state of print, I just find the idea of a particular virulent piece of malware and where it would leave us to be an interesting mental meander. Perhaps a worst case scenario from Y2K (does anybody from Hollywood check SLAW? If so I want royalties for this idea!).

    Part of being a law librarian is dealing with preservation issues, and I tend to agree with Steven’s opinion re: the subscription model. I think the idea of depository requirement for digital collections is one that is worth pursuing.