CanLII’s Law, Government and Open Data Conference & Hackathon

I had the opportunity to speak about linked data at the Canadian Legal
Information Institute‘s Law, Government and Open Data Conference &
Hackathon in Ottawa this past weekend. My presentation was entitled Linked Data and Canadian Legal Resources and my slides and speaking notes are available on York Space.

F. Tim Knight

F. Tim Knight, Head of Technical Services, Osgoode Hall Law School Library

It has a fantastic event which began with the Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, speaking about the need to update our antiquated Access to Information Act which came into effect in 1983.

Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada

Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada

She emphasized that the Actmust be modernized” to meet the current expectations
concerning access to information in the 21st century and needs to be extended to cover administrative aspects of parliament, ministers and court administration.

Since government is the largest consumer of its own information, improvements in this area would also improve the overall operation of government. She feels it’s an important debate to initiate so that issues surrounding access to information, transparency, secrecy, and national security can be publicly reviewed and discussed.

Other highlights included an introduction to CanLII‘s recently released web API and a few demonstrations of the API in action. An overview of some of the challenging processes behind CanLII‘s receipt of case law from the many jurisdictions involved was also provided.

A hackathon was held on the second day and I had a wonderful opportunity to shoulder surf and learn some valuable Ruby programming techniques from Matt Leduc.  We worked on pulling information from the CanLII API and converting the metadata to RDF/XML for potential inclusion in a legal linked data cloud.  Very close to success on this one.  Thank you Matt!

Details on the rest of the conference and hackathon programme are available here. And
the sessions were recorded and are available via CanLII and YouTube.  And for those of you using Twitter you can also check out the tweets from the event.

This was the first event of its kind in Canada and the participants are hoping that CanLII will be able to make this an annual event.

 

 

Will the Public Lose Access to Essential Legal Documents?

“When people say everything’s online,” says Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium [LLMC], “they’re woefully uninformed.”

Yes, it might seem like we have access to all the legal information we might ever need but Jerry Dupont’s observation still rings true.  And while ongoing digitization efforts of law and other libraries continue to benefit the legal research community, the progress of these initiatives has been hampered by the current economic climate.

“Across the country, law libraries are trying to adapt to the digital revolution and preserve historic and precedential documents.  But budget cuts have hit hard at academic law libraries, which historically have hosted some of the most robust legal collections.  And the pressures are creating concerns that the public will lose access to essential legal documents.”

In a recent article published by the American Bar Association, Hollee Schwartz Temple, director of the legal research and writing program at West Virginia University College of Law,  asks:  “Are digitization and budget cuts compromising history?”  This article provides a nice overview of some the issues and potential threats that affect long-term access and preservation to our digital legal resources.

As Schwartz Temple reports evidence of this slow down was found in a recent American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) survey.  The survey found that “nearly 60 percent of … respondents have been making do with less for the past several years.”

“Even the venerable Law Library of Congress, home to the world’s largest legal collection, has felt the impact.  According to Law Librarian of Congress David Mao, budget woes have affected the library’s ability to acquire materials, preserve them and make them readily available.”

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress contributed to the development of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (ULEMA) U.S. legislation that aims to “harmonize standards for acceptance of electronic materials across jurisdictional boundaries, and to help lawyers feel confident that the digital material they rely upon is current.”

The chair of this Standing Committee, Liz Medaglia, asks:  “With the increasing number of materials that are born digital and never get into hard copy, how do you make sure that what you have is accurate, current and preserved?”  It’s hoped that legislation like ULEMA will help foster long-term preservation and provide ways to ensure available information is authoritative.

Regardless of the stability of law library budgets issues surrounding access and preservation of digital legal materials continues to gain importance.  The LLMC has made great contributions in this area but they are just one piece in the larger and increasingly complex legal resource puzzle and, as Dupont says, they are not “equipped to digitize the entirety of primary American legal authority immediately.”

While LLMC (who have also included some Canadian legal resources) and other organizations like them should be loudly applauded a national strategy on digital preservation is needed to deal with these issues here in Canada.  Louis Mirando, Chief Law Librarian at the Osgoode Hall Law School Library, introduced a proposal for a special interest group on digital preservation and access at the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries. This may be a valuable first step toward coordinating efforts in this country.