Collecting GL in Libraries

Reviewing Kathryn’s post in advance, I see that she’s identified a group of issues that the prospect of collecting GL in a major academic law library raises. In coordination with her comments, I’d like to ask 3 questions:

Do Canadian law libraries currently collect legal GL, and to what extent?

I would think it depends on the library:

Academic law libraries: gov. docs. (and not only Canadian), reports of various types of legal societies such as this one , or this one , internet or Microform access to other collections that include GL, and internet guides to, for instance, international documents, some of them very extensive. I would guess that these collections, though perhaps large, are nowhere near comprehensive. [late addition: sorry, most of the links above will take you to a message about the session being ‘timed out’ – they were links to searches I did of the U of A catalogue, showing the holdings of the law library.]

Courthouse law libraries: factums, transcripts, expert testimony. Litigator, the new product from WestlaweCarswell, offers access to a large number of these documents. To add them, they had to pay the courts and transcribers to produce the records in a usable form. As part of the process, I’ve been told, the official written form was entered into the court record, making it available to the public for a nominal fee, or perhaps for free. It is an interesting example of a private initiative with a great public benefit. Courthouses also are increasingly posting or otherwise circulating documents of a grey character. see Todd A. Brehe E-Publications – A Means to Improve Communications Processes for U.S. Courts 20(2) Court Manager 28. These libraries will probably only make a fraction of the local courthouse materials available.

Departmental or Firm law libraries: conference proceedings, CLE materials, legal memos produced in-house. In my experience, it is the rare special library that has managed to corral the partners or managers into implementing some kind of KM system that offers good access to relevant GL.

Law Society Libraries: Bar materials, CLE binders, conference proceedings… actually, I personally have little experience with law society libraries.

Should law libraries make the effort to collect more GL?

Yes, because legal GL is harder to find than GL in other areas, and more fugitive, making access via the internet problematic, especially over time. Plus, publicly accessible law libraries have the professional obligation, and the subject knowledge, to pick up the slack where official, especially government bodies, fail to make their documents easily accessible to the public, which has a right of access.

No, because the time and effort required make it impossible, especially when compared with the benefits to library users of these specialized materials. Additionally, locating and preserving the semi-archival, sometimes ephemeral materials that constitute GL is not within the mandate of a law library.

Is a repository of legal GL an answer?

Could be. Here are a few high-profile GL repositories, as examples:

There are a number of sources for aspects of legal GL. Could these be of interest when considering a Canadian legal GL repository?

Here are some examples of important materials that would probably not be found currently in a Canadian law library:

Its important to note that there is a certain amount of legal GL that it may be counter-productive to collect. As my boss Diana Lowe pointed out to me, making the deliberations of a rules committee available via the internet may affect or limit the range of presentations made by counsel in court, whereas rules are formulated to stand on their own, and counsel needs to try them in all ways to see if they are sound.

There is also a tendency in the legal world, given the consequences, to be overly conservative about releasing information, so institutional buy-in to a repository may be difficult to get. Probably the main issue to overcome in this regard would be establishing and maintaining the authenticity of the documents. More on that on Thursday.

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