AALL Maryland Working Group Update

By Joan M. Bellistri
Anne Arundel County Public Law Library

If you visit the AALL Government Relations Office page on AALL’s website you will see that “AALL is organizing working groups in every state to respond to challenges that threaten the authentication and preservation of online legal resources, and to contribute to the development of a ground-breaking national inventory of primary legal information at all levels of government.”

The following objectives in the AALL 2010-2013 Strategic Directions for Advocacy demonstrate the importance of the availability of authentic, permanent and publicly accessible legal information to law librarians:

Continue advocacy efforts to ensure the authentication and preservation of official digital legal resources.

Continue to advocate that government information must be in the public domain, and that information on government websites must be permanently available to the public at no charge.

The AALL Access to Electronic Legal Information Committee (AELIC) adopted “Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Web Sites.”   These core values stress that information on government web sites be accessible, reliable, that official status of electronic versions be designated, comprehensive and preserved.  The core values act as a guide for the formation of the AALL working groups.

The goals of the AALL Working Groups are outlined in the GRO Advocacy Toolkit issue brief, “AALL State Working Groups to Ensure Access to Electronic Legal Information.” The first goal of the working groups is to challenge and stop attempts to discontinue print of legal sources unless “there is an official, authenticated online version that will be preserved for permanent public access.”  Working groups will also work to ensure that legal information included in the state’s data portal have a disclaimer stating the information is not official if the information is not authenticated or preserved.  The third task of the working groups is to contribute to the national inventory of all U.S. primary legal resources.  The data collected will be analyzed and used by LAW.gov, the Law Library of Congress and AALL policy committees.

The Maryland AALL working group was the first to form.  However, we formed our Working Group under pressure in November of 2009 when we had to respond to the prospect of the Maryland Register ceasing to publish in print without any provision for authentication or permanent public access to the proposed digital only publication.  We still have a print Register through the efforts of our working group and the advocacy efforts of the Maryland Judiciary. The whole story is included in the AALL GRO Advocacy Toolkit case study, “Maryland Working Group Stops Elimination of Print Register.”   No sooner than we began work on the Register issue did we became aware of bills introduced during the 2010 session that would have allowed that counties publishing their county codes electronically to discontinue providing print copies to certain institutions as the law currently provided.  The Working Group provided testimony and the bills were part of bills mentioned to legislators during MLA Library Day at the legislature.  As a result, only the print copies required to be sent to the county delegations were discontinued.

So from the start, the Maryland Working Group has worked to respond to challenges that threaten the authentication and preservation of online legal resources.   With our group already formed, it was easy to answer the call to contribute to the National Inventory of Primary Legal Information.  By collecting information on all of Maryland’s primary legal information we will contribute to this large national project and at the same time will have created a great resource for use in Maryland.

A spreadsheet on Google Docs is being used to collect the information for all levels of Maryland government: state, county and municipal and for all branches of government: executive, judicial and legislative, for each of the levels.  The spreadsheet is populated via a fill-in-the blank form that has a section for each level of government.  So far, we have completed the state level for all branches.  We have created a Google group for group discussion of Maryland issues and we also belong to the AALL Google group for communication with other working groups.

We met at the Maryland State Law Library in August for a demonstration of the spreadsheet and form.  We were able to add the first entries as a group. Members of the group then volunteered to collect information for the judicial and legislative branches.  The executive branch was divided alphabetically using the Maryland Manual online, Maryland.gov, and a search of the Maryland State Law Library catalog.  We gave ourselves a deadline of November 1, which we did a pretty good job of meeting.  The deadline for the national inventory is June of 2011.

Our next step is the counties.  Court librarians have already volunteered to gather the information for most of the counties but there are still some counties that are not yet spoken for.   The State Law Library has made this step easy with links to all codes and/or catalog records.  The Maryland Manual county page is another source for links to the county information.  After the county information is complete, we will then go on to the municipalities.  Luckily the Maryland State Law Library and the Maryland Manual have provided links to all of Maryland’s municipalities, as well.  (I am working on a list that will combine the two.)  Still this will be quite a job as there are about 250 municipalities in Maryland.

Emily Feldman in the AALL GRO office has just issued a challenge to all of the working groups.  Working groups are being challenged to add 75 new titles to their inventories before the end of the year. There will be a contest to see who can add 75 titles in the least amount of time and then who can add 100 or more titles before the end of the month.

If you would like to volunteer for this project we will be happy to have you.  You can contact me for more information (library@circuitcourt.org or 410-222-1387).  If you would like more information see section 4.4 of the Advocacy Toolkit on working groups and take advantage of the slides from the AALL webinar on the National Inventory.