Preserving and Accessing the Various Forms of Legal Scholarship: A Librarian’s Perspective

Our director, John Palfrey was recently asked to comment on a response submitted in regard to one of his journal articles, The Public and the Private at the United States Border with Cyberspace in the Mississippi Law Journal. It will appear in the journal’s new online companion MISSing Sources, set to launch in September.

There has been a proliferation of these “online companions” in the last couple of years, since this LLRX article about them. (See Harvard Law Review Forum, ILJ Online HLPR Online, JOLTDigest and HNLR Online for some examples from our own journals.) They illustrate the potential of the Internet as a tool for communication and facilitating communication among scholars. There has been much debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere about the place of these companions in legal scholarship, much like the debate about blogging generally and its place in scholarship which has been continued since I attended an HLS symposium Blogging: How Blogs Are Transforming Legal Scholarship.

From this librarian’s perspective, these online companions (and blogs/blawgs generally) represent an important contribution to legal scholarship and need to be preserved and made accessible for future researchers. Even companions and blogs that seem ephemeral have potential for future researchers who want to learn more about life during the scholar’s time or the scholar him or herself. They capture communication and interaction between people that people will want to study in the future. Much like people visit our Special Collections for personal papers and correspondence from leading legal figures, 20 years from now might want to find their blogging, personal e-mails and hard drives. How do we ensure that they are accessible? Do we treat them differently than other types of scholarship in terms of preservation and providing access? When I ask journals about whether they are “archiving” their online only contents like these companions, they often just think I a mean whether older postings are available right now, not whether there are means being taken to ensure that if a server goes down or the technology changes, the content will still be available for years to come. It is also interesting that many stress distinctions between those online companions that the journals perceive as an “extension” of their formal publication with the more casual, informal commentary that is not considered a formal part of the journal from an editorial standpoint. (See Submission Guide for Online Law Review Supplements by Colin Miller for a recent article compiling policies of such companions.)

So who is ensuring that these online companions (and other types of blogs/blawgs in general) will be preserved for future generations? Who SHOULD have the responsibility? Should it belong to the journal itself, the library or any institution with which the publication (or blogger) is affiliated? The Library of Congress is starting to harvest blawgs, but it seems to contain only a small sampling of these companions. The Directory of Open Access Journals has said that it will still archiving open access journals, but it focuses on scientific content and has little law content even its directory thus far. Some law libraries are starting to archive them, but I think many (like ourselves) have been grappling with our policies for doing this and how to create a workflow and infrastructure for doing it.

Also, how are these online companions being found? Westlaw and Lexis are starting to include more of them, but what about law journal indexes like Legaltrac and Index to Legal Periodicals? John Doyle started recently adding them to his fabulous open access law journal table of contents service Current Law Journal Contents. Should it depend on whether it is considered a part of the formal journal or just an informal posting?

From my perspective, even if all of the issues have not yet been worked out, it is better to “capture” now before it is gone. Today, I am excited to beattending a Future of Today’s Legal Scholarship Symposium where I am hoping there will be a lively and informative discussion of some of these issues. When I raised the issue of whether we should be archiving online companions and blogs when they first came out, many people with whom I spoke considered them too ephemeral or insignificant. I am hoping the tide has now changed and the conversation is less about WHETHER we should be doing it and more about HOW!

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