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Acting Law Librarian of Congress Roberta Shaffer Discusses Harvard’s Free the Law Project

We here at the Law Library of Congress are excited to learn that the Harvard Law School Library and the legal research platform, Ravel, are teaming up to scan and make available online 40 million pages of American caselaw from Harvard’s vast collection. The best part is that this content will be made freely available, allowing public interest attorneys to reduce the costs associated with legal research and empowering civically engaged citizens and students to explore the inner-workings of the American judicial system. The database containing the cases will initially be made available to non-profits and scholars so they can use it to develop apps., and after eight years, the database “will be available to anyone for any purpose.”[1]

Newly appointed Acting Law Librarian of Congress, Roberta I. Shaffer, praised the project, stating that she looked forward to exploring ways the Law Library of Congress can contribute to innovative projects such as this one. Roberta explained that greater collaboration among institutions on projects like this would not only avoid duplication of effort, but also provide an opportunity for institutions around the world to contribute content from their unique, multi-faceted collections to create a “coral reef of knowledge” that encompasses a variety of subject-matter disciplines. Roberta stated that while providing online access is essential, libraries still have an important duty to preserve materials for future generations, noting that she was pleased to see that after Harvard completed scanning each volume, the volume would then be repaired and placed back into a depository. Roberta added that in addition to the duty to preserve content for future generations, when institutions place content online, it is vital that the content be made available on non-proprietary, open-access platforms that facilitate collaboration and easy access to materials.

Through the Digitizing American Imprints project, Internet Archive staff members such as Fran Akers, above, scan books from the Library’s General Collections that were printed before 1923. Working at scanning stations in the Library’s Adams Building, they each produce 500 digital images an hour. The high-resolution digital books are then stored on network servers in California and made available online at www.archive.org­ within 72 hours of scanning. - Gail Fineberg

Through the Digitizing American Imprints project, Internet Archive staff members such as Fran Akers, above, scan books from the Library’s General Collections that were printed before 1923. Working at scanning stations in the Library’s Adams Building, they each produce 500 digital images an hour. The high-resolution digital books are then stored on network servers in California and made available online at www.archive.org­ within 72 hours of scanning. – Gail Fineberg

The Law Library of Congress recently added a large amount of content to its website, Law.gov, that was largely only available in print or through subscription databases, including: the Code of Federal Regulations (1938 to 1995), the United States Code (1925 to 1988), the Federal Register (1925 to 1988), U.S. Reports (1754 to 2004), the U.S. Statutes at Large (1789 to 1950), and Charles Bevan’s Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (volumes 1-4).

In addition, the Law Library recently created the Indigenous Law Portal. This portal provides convenient access to current sources of law directly from indigenous communities themselves and historical sources of tribal law from the collections of the Library of Congress. The Law Library also publishes many of its Foreign Law Reports online and provides topical news updates on legal developments from around the world through the Global Legal Monitor. The Law Library of Congress also serves as a development partner for the new federal legislative information system, Congress.gov .

[1] Eckholm, E. (2015, October 29). Sacrificing a Legal Trove for the Digital Age. The New York Times, p. A15.

 

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