The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) believes that the public should have “no-fee, permanent public access to authentic online legal information on government Web sites” as stated in the Government Relations Office Issue Brief, AALL Working Groups to Ensure Access to Electronic Legal Information.
The Government Relations Office of AALL has coordinated a major project, the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials, to collect information on the availability of all primary legal materials in the United States at every level of government from the judicial, legislative and executive branches. Once information from all fifty states, D.C. and the Federal Government is collected, it “will be analyzed and used by experts working with LAW.gov, the Law Library of Congress and AALL public policy committees according to the Issue Brief. The data will provide a picture as to the availability of primary legal material. The inventory collects such information as the availability of online and print versions and whether the material is copyrighted. Other information collected for the inventory for online materials include provisions for authentication, preservation and permanent public access.
Authentication ensures that online information is, in fact, the law. This is done through the use of certifying marks and the establishment of chain of custody of the electronic document. A more detailed description of authentication can be found in the Executive Summary of the AALL State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources Full Report.
It is important that electronic online legal materials be preserved by an appropriate government entity. Print resources are easily preserved by court libraries and archives by storing the books in a proper environment. Digital information presents a problem. The technology for methods and media for accessing electronic information can change quickly. Preservation would involve making sure that the digital information migrates to new platforms as technology changes. The preserved information should remain accessible to the public permanently. The above principles were outlined in the AALL policy paper, Principles and Core Values Concerning Pubic Information of Government Websites.
Maryland law librarians formed a Working Group to address the issues of authentication, preservation and permanent public access. The Working Group has contributed to the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials by collecting the information for Maryland primary legal materials. The project was completed as of June 1, 2011. All of the information was entered into a Google spreadsheet for the sate, county and municipal levels all of the branches of Maryland government. The Maryland Inventory Spreadsheet will be added to the information collected by other state working groups to form the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials.