Conclusions from the National Inventory of Legal Materials

During the past three years, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) worked with law librarian volunteers around the country to build the first-ever National Inventory of Legal Materials, an inventory of print and electronic legal materials at all levels of government. Adding to the survey template developed by the Northern California Association of Law Libraries, AALL's Government Relations Office came up an expanded survey with questions related to cost, digital authentication, official status, preservation, permanent public access, copyright and other use restrictions. More than 350 volunteers have added nearly 8,000 legal titles to the inventory so far.

AALL's state working groups completed most of their work on the state, county and municipal titles by June 2011. Collecting this information about each legal resource was no easy task. Our volunteers found it was often difficult to determine from an agency or legislative website whether a resource was official, preserved, or made available for permanent public access. Sometimes there were disclaimers stating that the material was unofficial, but often not. Many states include a copyright notice on their websites, and it was frequently difficult to determine whether a notice applied to the entire website, all posted materials, or specific materials on the site. Volunteers often had to make a call (or several) to the right government office to find the answer.  

AALL's Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) and the Government Relations Office (GRO) analyzed 6 online primary legal materials in each state inventory (state constitution, administrative register, administrative code, statutes, and high court and appellate court opinions) and compared our findings to AALL's 2009-2010 state-by-state reports on digital authentication. We found that 24 states have designated at least one online primary legal resource as official (compared to 18 in 2009); 6 states have designated at least one as authentic (compared to 4 in 2009); 17 states are preserving; and 12 states are ensuring permanent public access.

The DALIC and GRO published a summary of the conclusions as a chart on AALLNET, with links to each state's inventory so that anyone can access the underlying information, as well as each state's report in the State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources and 2009-2010 state updates. In addition to tracking the progress states are making in addressing permanent public access to official, authentic online legal information, the chart also includes the status of universal citation and the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) in the states. We continue to update the chart as we receive more or updated information from the states.

Using the Data

The New Jersey inventory provides a good example of the type of information that can be found in these state inventories. New Jersey makes a great deal of primary law available through online databases but none of this information is official; furthermore, none of the information has been authenticated. For example, the New Jersey legislature makes available the state's statutes though a database that can be found on the legislature's web site. Not only is this database not official but it also contains the following disclaimer:  "This statutory database is unannotated and as such may include laws that have not become operable due to unmet conditions, have expired, have been ruled inoperable by a court, or have otherwise become inoperable. Effective dates are not typically included. Users should diligently read applicable statute source law and case law."

The New Jersey inventory also indicates that decisions of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and the Superior Court's Appellate Division can be found on the website of the Rutgers Law Library - Camden (at http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/index.shtml). These cases are made available by an agreement between the New Jersey Administrative Office of Courts and Rutgers University School of Law - Camden. This site cannot be considered official insofar as no provision of the state's statutes has declared the site official and there is no statement on the site itself or on the Web pages of the New Jersey Courts declaring the site official.

It should be noted that the Legislative Counsel's Office in New Jersey had begun considering whether to introduce a bill on UELMA in the state legislature so there are signs the status of online materials in the state may change in the near future.

The kind of data contained in the state inventories has been extremely useful to advocates of UELMA.  UELMA requires that, when a state makes the online version of a publication official, it must also take steps to authenticate the material. The state inventories provide a picture of the status of a state's online materials. At a glance it can be determined the extent to which online materials are official or have been authenticated.  For example, by indicating whether a state's online publications are official, the inventories indicate the extent to which the statute's authentication requirements would apply to online publications if the uniform act were enacted.

Another important piece of information about online publications indicated by state inventories is whether the jurisdiction has adopted a system of universal citation. This type of information is valuable to groups and organizations promoting universal citation systems by helping to track efforts in individual states to promote citation reform.

State working group coordinators have also shared data from state inventories with their judiciaries and legislatures to help expose the need for taking steps to protect state legal materials. Inventories may show that some states have eliminated print versions of legal publications altogether in favor of online versions without making any effort to authenticate the online versions of the materials. Inventories may also show that a state has not made any effort to ensure the permanent publication of an online legal database and that efforts are needed to ensure that the material is permanently available.

A final use of the data in the state inventories is by organizations considering the digitization of state legal materials. By indicating which publications are available online and the characteristics of such publications (e.g. official status, etc.), the inventories may help these organizations make decisions about which types of state legal materials may need to be digitized.

Next Steps

Volunteers are currently working to complete the federa l inventory, which includes information from all three branches of government such as decisions, reports and digests (Executive); court opinions, court rules, and Supreme Court briefs (Judicial); and bills and resolutions, the Constitution, and Statutes at Large (Legislative). AALL's Native Peoples Law Caucus is also working with the National Indian Law Library to collect information about tribal materials. Our volunteers will continue to update and add to their inventories and the Digital Access to Legal Information Committee will conduct regular analyses of the information. Please visit AALL's website for more information and updates about this project at http://www.aallnet.org/gro.