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A Law Classification Scheme as Linked Data?

John T. Phillifent's "Hierarchies"

Hierarchies (1973) from user admiral.ironbombs on Flickr

As part of the Law Library of Congress’ Law.gov project, we are consulting with the great minds behind the id.loc.gov linked data service of the Library of Congress to research whether a linked data version of the Law schedule of the Library of Congress Classification system, Class K, would be useful. Class K lays out a very nice hierarchy for classifying legal materials, but the detailed scheme can do double duty – functioning as a reference tool as well as a cataloging tool.

For Law.gov we can see potential use for Class K as a way to browse content, allowing users to explore the hierarchy and see the larger picture of how materials in the system are grouped together. For example, we are researching the possibility of enabling users to dive into the hierarchy at any point and launch a query to potentially retrieve all items related to that level of classification with the click of a single link. By incorporating a linked data version of the Law classification into Law.gov, we might also create queries to generate relationships between concepts automatically on any given page, perhaps demonstrating relationships between concepts across different jurisdictions, geographic areas, and languages, or showing broader and narrower concepts not easily discovered during a search.

The id.loc.gov team tells me their servers are hammered on a daily basis as users and machines around the world download linked data versions of the Library’s vocabularies and authorities, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings and name authority files. We use this linked data internally in a variety of ways, particularly to discover and generate representations of relationships between terms.  But we know others are using our data to derive their own relationships, and they are linking concepts in other languages to the subject heading terms in id.loc.gov. We think there is potential for the user community to find this kind of value in a linked data version of the Law Classification scheme as well.

But we’d really like your opinion. How would you use a linked data version of Class K? Do you see other applications for this kind of linked data in the legal and library communities?

Update: Andrew pointed me to the Linked Data and Law post on the Legal Informatics Blog, which has a descriptive list of existing legal information resources available as Linked Data.

2 Comments

  1. She
    March 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Great! Spreading the word!

  2. Diane Hillmann
    March 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Tina, I think this sounds like a great idea. The law classifications, particularly the newer ones, are a particularly interesting place to start, in part because they present some important challenges. For instance, could the schedules that consist of number ranges for particular regions and countries plus tables for detail within that range be expanded so that the specific numbers could be exposed and used without the necessity of adding up numbers? It seems to me that if the classification is intended to be used as an aid to browsing within a corpus of cataloged items, and as a way to support all kinds of innovation (for instance in figuring out how to applyi the classifications retrospectively), they would need to be expanded and not just published separately as digital analogs to their physical printed versions. I could probably come up with dozens of questions like this (I was a law librarian during the introduction of most of the later schedules) and I’m particularly excited by the thought of bringing classification up front in the conversation about topical access. I hope this effort gets some traction and can be the start of an important discussion about the uses of classification in the digital world.

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