On August 3 and 4, 2017, I had the distinct privilege of representing the Law Library of Congress at one of Latin America’s most lauded institutes of legal research. In observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to share some highlights of what transpired there. The following is a recap authored by Celia Carreón and Enrique Rodríguez Trujano of the Institute of Legal Research (IIJ) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, Mexico. As it was written in Spanish, I have prepared an English translation/adaptation for our readers.
On Thursday, August 3, 2017 in Mexico City, the First International Assembly of Law Libraries at UNAM was inaugurated, in the presence of Dr. Pedro Salazar Ugarte, director of the Institute for Legal Research (IIJ) of UNAM; Dr. Araceli Torres Vargas, director of the Institute for Library and Information Research (IIBI) of UNAM; Dr. Elsa Margarita Ramírez Leyva, director of the General Directorate of Libraries of UNAM; and Dr. Federico Hernández Pacheco, researcher and chief of the Biblioteca Dr. Jorge Carpizo which is housed within the IIJ of UNAM.
Ms. Naiaretti’s lecture highlighted anecdotal experiences of the reality of Argentine law libraries over the last twenty years. She described the organization of law libraries, operations, and innovations within the realm of services offered to their users. She noted that due to the rich diversity of cultural characteristics that abound in the Argentine provinces—as a result of the strong immigration that it has enjoyed throughout its history—the greatest challenge has been in implementing programs that provide users access to information. However, she explained that “cooperation and associationism” have been instrumental in yielding important, positive results. Further to that end, the Network of Law and Juridical Science Libraries originated from meetings aimed at addressing issues in the various regions. In 2004, the work that took place at the various assemblies gave way to the creation of the Asociación Civil de Bibliotecarios Jurídicos (ACBJ).
The ACBJ represents a group of libraries, legal practitioners, and stakeholders with interests in both private and public sector libraries, information agencies, research centers, and academic and professional spaces of Argentina. Ms. Naiaretti explained that one of the objectives of the ACBJ is to promote training and improve the occupational abilities of associate members, and to ensure the transfer of knowledge and studies in various disciplines—not just the legal discipline.
Day One—Panel I: “Trends Among Libraries and Legal Information Services in Current Society”
Participating in the first panel were Dr. Ricardo Montes Gómez, director of the Biblioteca Melchor Ocampo of the Mexican Senate; Dr. Pedro Salazar Ugarte, director, IIJ; Dr. Araceli Torres Vargas, director, IIBI; Dr. Filiberto Felipe Martínez Arellano, member of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and researcher at the IIBI; and Dr. Francisco Alberto Ibarra Palafox, provost for academic affairs at the IIJ. The panel was moderated by Dr. Estela Mercedes Morales Campos, researcher at the IIBI, and former coordinator for Humanities at UNAM.
The discussion started with a call to identify the various types of law libraries and the users of these libraries. Dr. Torres Vargas explained that there are three types of law libraries: 1) academic or research libraries; 2) government libraries; and 3) professional association or libraries for legal practitioners. The first two of these, generally, are libraries that serve the public and which build their collections with appropriated funds, whereas professional association libraries or libraries for legal practitioners tend to be private. Dr. Martínez Arellano added that these three types of libraries are developed and organized according to the information needs of their users. University users, students, professors and researchers use academic libraries to satisfy a need for authoritative information. Dr. Salazar Ugarte spoke about the Biblioteca Dr. Jorge Carpizo which has expanded beyond its initial purpose for comparative law to include services for students, professors from colleges and schools at UNAM, and other institutions of higher learning. He spoke of the reach that the “Biblioteca Jurídica Virtual” (Virtual Law Library) has achieved, because its digital repositories can be accessed from any place in the world.
Dr. Francisco Ibarra Palafox underscored the social obligation that law libraries have in making relevant legal information accessible to the public and the commitment UNAM has to serve the demands of Mexico’s citizens. He said that libraries “open a space for the defense of the citizens and their rights” in providing access to trustworthy and timely information. Dr. Morales Campos added that the project for educational and cultural development brought by José Vasconcelos established the mission of “serving the people” within public libraries. Dr. Montes Gómez spoke of the necessity for building “institutional bridges and memoranda of collaboration” between the government entities, public agencies, universities and centers of information from the private sector to benefit various users. He added that law libraries ought to be governed by constitutional mandate with the aim of securing access to information and the principles of greatest dissemination and transparency.
Dr. Salazar Ugarte explained the importance of distinguishing between jurists and “fenómeno jurídico” (the resulting body of law that stems from a particular legal action): users may have one or several professions. The legal issues can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives. That said, the role of law libraries is to establish the conditions for performing multidisciplinary legal research, and to recognize that law libraries are used not only by legal practitioners but by a great variety of professionals to analyze the fenómeno jurídico. Dr. Morales Campos noted that technology has facilitated new regulation schema in various areas of social life; thus, libraries now serve a more diverse profile of users. She said libraries have the responsibility to filter information so that it is relevant, trustworthy, and timely. Dr. Torres Vargas stated that—in addition to the need for agreements to share resources and services that the information society demands from law libraries—greater institutional cooperation is needed to develop public, integrated systems for information access.
The group ended with a discussion of current trends among libraries. Dr. Martínez Arellano highlighted four: 1) compilation of legal information in digital formats; 2) need for recursive evaluation of information for trustworthiness; 3) development of tools for research; and 4) need for developing specialists in the management of resources for legal information.
Dr. Serrano Mascaraque started by defining accessibility as the greatest number of users’ ability to visit and make successful use of a website. She noted the difference between accessibility and user friendliness. She highlighted the various types of disabilities and the tools available for facilitating web access, like touchscreens for assisting people with physical or motor disabilities, or voice synthesizers for people with cognitive disabilities. She underscored that technology ought to be adapted for users rather than the users to the technology. She mentioned a few Spanish statutes of relevance and their implications for accessibility: Law 13 of April 7, 1982 for the Social Integration of the Disabled (which was repealed by Royal Legislative Decree 1 of November 29, 2013); Law 34 of July 11, 2002 for Services to the Information Society and Electronic Commerce; and the Ratifying Instrument for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among others. Dr. Serrano Mascaraque listed various universal principles for web design, including: ease of use; suitability for all persons; capacity for information exchange with users—irrespective of sensory capabilities or environmental conditions; and adaptability to a wide range of preferences and individual abilities. She concluded that there are various tools for automated evaluation of the web, like those that issue a rating on the usability of a particular page, mechanical results, and note errors for each level of accessibility.
Ms. Caceres-Brown began with a brief historical introduction describing the origin and development of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She noted the sorts of services that are available to MIT users, particularly user spaces equipped for collaborative or individual work, which can be reserved via internet using a smart card issued by the Institute. These spaces, in addition to being equipped with scanners and computers, also provide tools for interviews, videoconferences, and cost-free international calls. She emphasized other tools beneficial for MIT users, such as 131 research guides produced by 27 librarians who are subject matter experts in various fields.
Day Two—Fourth Lecture: “Trustworthy, Timely and Objective Access: The Role of (Digital) Law Libraries before a Global Information Society” by Francisco Macías Valdés, Senior Legal Digital Project Coordinator, Law Library of Congress
Mr. Macías presented a copy of Law Library: An Illustrated Guide for the Biblioteca Dr. Jorge Carpizo. He gave an introduction to the Library of Congress and highlighted various services available to Congress and the public. He shared photographs of colleagues throughout the Library carrying out their respective functions. He introduced the Law Library with a bit of a historical background: its establishment in 1832; its organization; and the invaluable services it provides to the U.S. Congress, other branches of government, subnational governments, and the public at large. He went on to speak of the missions of the Library and the Law Library, as well as the importance that its products be trustworthy, timely and objective. He highlighted the importance these principles play in a democratic society, and shared an anecdote about how—using the various resources made available by the Library—a decades-old dispute was resolved by simply facilitating access to the primary legal resources. He stated that collaboration is a fundamental aspect for the proper operation of any library today; given the scarcity of resources and budgetary limitations, this is an opportunity for all law libraries to work together strategically to supplement any shortage(s) they may be experiencing. He concluded, “We have always known that so much more can be achieved when we work together.”
Day Two—Panel II: “Trends Among Law Libraries Around the Globe: Space and Infrastructure”
Participating in the second panel were Dr. Elsa Margarita Ramírez Leyva, director of the General Directorate of Libraries of UNAM; Dr. Tomás Bocanegra Esqueda, bibliographer at the Biblioteca Daniel Cosío Villegas; Dr. Juan Javier del Granado y Rivero, researcher at IIJ; Dr. César Iván Astudillo Reyes, researcher at IIJ and former general counsel at UNAM; and the host of this assembly, Dr. Federico Hernández Pacheco, researcher and chief of the IIJ Library, former Director General of the National Network of Public Libraries of Mexico. This panel was moderated by José Luis Almanza Morales, provost for the General Directorate of Libraries of UNAM.
To start off the discussion, Mr. Almanza Morales spoke about the technical difficulties stemming from design, remodeling, and the fitness of spaces for libraries, their buildings and infrastructures. He asked that participants address how these challenges are overcome. Dr. Bocanegra Esqueda spoke of his experience remodeling the library at Colmex. Dr. del Granado shared his experience as a user of various world libraries, especially his experience at the Joseph Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago and the Berkeley Law Library at the University of California. He addressed the needs of researchers as users: accessible, comfortable spaces and libraries that provide open access to the stacks. Dr. Astudillo Reyes spoke of his experience as the head of the Secretariat for Student Services of the University Community at UNAM, where they remodeled the space to guarantee access to people with disabilities and attend to their particular needs. Dr. Hernández Pacheco talked about the reopening of the Vasconcelos Library; he said modern libraries should organize their spaces according to the needs of the intended user. He highlighted the social impact that libraries have upon their respective communities—since workshops, services and cultural activities that they arrange would better contribute to their social fabric.
Mr. Almanza Morales asked that they address the main trends in transforming libraries in the current society. Dr. Ramírez Leyva noted the marked trend of modern libraries to create collaborative work spaces, areas that are comfortable for reading for individual users or groups of readers, videoconference rooms, computer labs, areas and services that are inclusive for users with disabilities, toy libraries, audiovisual halls, resting spaces, and self-sustaining buildings that use solar power. Dr. Hernández Pacheco added that the current trend is to create multifunctional libraries offering a variety of services and alternatives for work, study or research, with the support of information technology. Dr. del Granado remarked that law libraries are a key component for legal instruction and legal research. He explained that in the United States there has been a transformation from brick and mortar libraries to electronic libraries. Mr. Almanza Morales added that if digital access to information allows for the saving of physical space in libraries, it also demands a repurposing the existing spaces and means by which digital materials may be accessed and served. Dr. Astudillo Reyes commented that at some point, libraries were conceived as “restricted and reserved spaces” but that today libraries must be “accessible spaces.” Dr. Hernández Pacheco asserted that libraries must be “modular” and “flexible”—and the user should be at the center of the library. Dr. Ramírez Leyva concluded that libraries play an important role for the information society, as they have the responsibility to grant users access. Dr. Bocanegra said that the transformation of libraries has taken two paths: 1) the mission to grant access to information that is timely and trustworthy; and 2) the demand to equip adequate spaces that are inclusive enough to meet the needs of their various users.