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Archived Legal Materials from Official Gazettes Now Available Through Law.gov

The following is a guest post by Janice Hyde, director of the Global Legal Collection Directorate at the Law Library of Congress.

The Law Library of Congress has always relied on primary sources of law wherever possible to respond to requests from the U.S. Congress and its other patrons. For foreign countries, the fundamental source of law is generally the official gazette and the Law Library has amassed a voluminous collection of gazettes since acquiring its first one, from Mexico, in the mid-nineteenth century.  Although many countries now make their official gazettes available online, making use of these sources over the years has proved challenging since many of them lack indexes. To solve this problem, beginning in the 1950s in what was then the Hispanic Law Division of the Law Library, foreign law specialists began to create their own indexes to the content of the gazettes for twenty Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. (One French-speaking Caribbean nation, Haiti, was also included.) Attorneys created brief descriptive summaries of the legal instruments that were typed up on 3″ X 5″ index cards along with basic information about the publication source. To access this information quickly, the indexers also included subject terms on the cards which were then filed alphabetically by subject.

An index card created for a 1970 Guatemalan decree and its file drawer

An index card created for a 1970 Guatemalan decree related to education published in the official gazette (El Guatemalteco, abbreviated E.G. on the card) and its file drawer

The cards were accumulated into folios that were published in eight volumes as the Index to Latin American Legislation, covering the period of 1950-1975. For nearly three decades, these “red books” served as the primary means for locating pre-1976 laws from the twenty Latin American and Caribbean countries. From 2004-2007, the Law Library undertook a project to enter data from the index into an online system known as GLIN and to digitize the corresponding texts of legal instruments. This effort created a rich resource of primary source historical legal material from Latin America and the Caribbean. Recognizing the value of such information to legal researchers, the Law Library is now providing access through the Law Library’s Guide to Law Online to many of these older legal materials as well as additional laws from gazettes provided by other countries that are in the public domain.  The archived information includes English language summaries of laws, regulations, and related legal instruments that in turn link to the full-text PDFs that are in the official language(s) of the country. Legal items from the gazettes of the following countries are now available under the “Legislative” sources list for each jurisdiction: Brazil, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Taiwan, Tunisia, and United States.

The red books

Laws, regulations and other legal materials indexed in this eight-volume set are now available through Law.gov

The archived data makes accessible a small fraction of foreign law materials that may be found in the Law Library’s vast collection. Readers are invited to explore the “Global Legal Collection Highlights” series of blog posts prepared by my colleagues for information on the incomparable range of legal materials found in the Law Library’s collection for various countries.

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