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Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

The Day the Server Died

The library’s server was out of commission for two days last week. Luckily, we were closed one day, fall quarter hasn’t started, and we have a back up for the circulation system. Plus we could search (sort of) our collection on WorldCat.

Dead servers are one of the reasons why distributed digital deposit is a key element in providing access to information. But, we don’t have much technology money (thus the old server). Collecting our own copies of electronic content is an aspiration, yet given our fiscal reality, it’s not going to be practical for a while. After three years of budget cuts, the University of Washington has lost half of its state funding. We are all feeling the effects.

So I’ve been printing out documents, as a very small way of contributing to the greater good and serving our patrons. At least that’s what I think I’m doing. It’s not something I hear a lot about, but I can’t imagine that other librarians don’t do this. Maybe we’re too embarrassed to admit we print electronic documents?

Our policy is to very selectively print documents for the collection. The selection decisions need to be consistent with our collection development policy, but also take into account the ease of printing and binding (not too long, not too short, PDF preferred). We also consider the ease of use by the public. The perfect example is Washington State judicial benchbooks, which are guides used by trial judges, but often used by patrons without lawyers. For many years, because we are a public law library, we received the benchbooks, and other publications from the Administrative Office of the Courts, in paper, for free. Now the benchbooks are on CD ROM and we have to pay (not much, and I’m not complaining about this given the state budget).

We recently acquired the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction on CD ROM, and chose to have it printed, even though we had to spend scarce staff time to put all the documents in one PDF file so it could be send to the copy center. The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction handle a wide variety of traffic violations and misdemeanors, including reckless driving, driving under the influence, and driving with a suspended license. These courts also issue domestic violence protection orders and no-contact orders.

It is a much smoother reference transaction (for both patron and public service staff) if the staff has a book to put in the hands of a patron with an issue in traffic, family, or juvenile court. Although we have many public workstations, these patrons are often challenged, and challenging. “It’s on the computer” can be a barrier to access.

In a perfect world, we’d have the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction in print, on the original CD ROM, and downloaded to our local server, which will never die. But for now, two out of three will have to do.

Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act

Another note-worthy item from this past summer is the approval of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) by the Uniform Law Commission, also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), at its annual meeting in July.

A uniform law is a legislative proposal drafted by NCCUSL, a non-governmental body. Once approved, state legislatures are urged to enact the law, thus developing a uniformity of law across the states (think Uniform Commercial Code).

UELMA takes an outcomes based approach, and requires that official electronic legal material be authenticated, preserved, and accessible for use by the public. For purposes of the Act, legal material includes the state constitution, session laws, codified laws or statutes, and state agency rules with the effect of law. States may also choose to include other types of legal material such as court rules, judicial decisions, and administrative decisions.

NCCUSL’s approval of the UELMA is a particularly exciting development, full of possibility. The extent of the impact will, of course, depend on what happens now in the 50 states. Librarians, library associations, and all supporters of permanent public access to legal information should pay attention, make their voices heard on the state level, and work with their legislators.

In my view, UELMA is a positive step toward permanent public access to state law.

For more, see the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act committee page, which includes approved text, drafts, and issue memoranda.

AALL Government Relations Policy

Thank you, James, for the opportunity to guest blog. I look forward to sharing information and telling stories. We’ll see how September unfolds.

In July, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Executive Board approved a new Government Relations Policy. The policy covers the dissemination of government information, as well as intellectual property, privacy, and preservation. I hope to blog about some of these issues in the future, but reading through revised policy, I was most pleased to see a new section (Section VII) on support for law libraries. AALL calls for adequate funding for the FDLP and state depository programs, as it always has, but there is a new emphasis on strong support for public law libraries, including state, courthouse, county, and local libraries.

I’ve spent 20 years at an academic law library that is open to the public. We have a public mission, as a state institution and as a depository library. We provide reference services, and print and electronic collections to the public, which includes self-represented persons. But our primary purpose is to support the research and curricular needs of the University of Washington School of Law faculty and students. Although we serve many people without lawyers, it’s the public law libraries of our state and region, most notably the King County Law Library, that are truly on the front lines of providing access to justice. These important, and often fragile, parts of our government and legal information ecosystem deserve strong support.