AALL Annual Meeting San Antonio, 2014
This year’s AALL Annual Meeting in San Antonio was abundant with meetings, sessions and activities. Busy with the conference and tucked in the cool temps of the convention center and hotel meeting rooms did not leave much time to notice the mid 90 degree heat outdoors.
The conference was packed with round tables, chapter and special interest section meetings. That daily schedule was early morning until evening. The sessions that I attended were very extremely valuable but the highlight was the pre conference Hackathon.
There was a deep dive offered on institutional repositories. Using Digital Commons as a platform, Duke University Law totally digitized its six law journals. Pennsylvania State University Law School also digitized its Journal of Law and International Affairs. Librarians from both institutions presented the challenges encountered and strategies used for meeting them. Both schools presented the download statistics versus the print subscriptions to their administrations and faculty to support the decision to turn to digital format. “Print on demand” was also presented as an option for those faculty who must have the print copy.
Another session on “Making a MOOC” was presented by Loren Turner of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and Kyle Courtney of Harvard Law. Kyle described ways to use images legally in digital presentations. If an item is used solely for aesthetics, using materials from Creative Commons or images from flickr was emphasized. Checking for open access or public domain availability is also an option.
The University of Florida’s Levin College of Law was contacted by Coursera, one of the premiere MOOC platforms, to make a legal MOOC. Loren recounted the experience of offering a legal MOOC, The Global Student’s Introduction to U.S. Law, to international L.L.M. students around the globe. Law has a special place in massive open online courses since case law and statutes are open access and freely available. Loren narrated how excited international students were to be able to access actual law materials given that many of them could never have such access to such materials in their own countries.
For me, the highlight of the AALL Annual meeting was the pre-conference workshop, my very first hackathon, entitled the AALL Hackathon: Building the Information Future. It was exceedingly popular with about 30 librarians present. Unfortunately, only one of the ten programmers who had enrolled turned up. So there was a deficit of programmers. The class was divided into five groups yet only one had a programmer. Luckily, several of the librarians remained, eager to brainstorm and learn.
We realized that due to the lack of programmers, our team’s project would be much more conceptual rather than a finished product by the end of the day and we worked within that confine. Our team was fortunate to have a member who was familiar with designing user interfaces and this aided our project.
Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Foundation opened the Hackathon with a talk about his organization and the benefits of hacking for civic causes. Sunlight aims to “use technology to make government more accountable”.
We called our team’s project OSACCO, the Online State Administrative Code Consolidation Organization. As law librarians know, websites for state administrative codes can be quite unintuitive, leaving users unable to find the information that they are searching. Archived state administrative code in an electronic format can be very difficult to locate as well.
OSACCO’s goal was to make current and administrative state codes easily and freely searchable, yet provide a robust and uniform way to search and access both archived and current administrative codes. This would hold true whether one was searching within an individual state, a selection of states or across all states.
A consistent interface and display page would be used, highlighting a field, keyword or natural language and boolean searching capabilities. The concept was to have one legal institution or perhaps a AALL Chapter take responsibility for an individual state’s code or a region of states. In order to find legal institutions or AALL Chapters who could be responsible for this task of storing a specific state or a region of states’ administrative code on their servers, crowdsourcing would be utilized.
The source code, written by a computer programmer, which would be used to scrape the state’s administrative code website information for past and updated versions would be made available as open source on a site like sourceforge or github.
The goal would be to then have the delegated institutions within that state regularly scrape the state administrative databases for any updated information and collect the archived and current code information and store it on their own servers. Once this was accomplished, a database consolidator, an organization like CALI or Cornell’s LII for example, would be found to host the information collected from all the fifty states. The consolidator’s role would be to then consolidate the administrative code information kept on the 50 different servers onto its own server. The consolidator would also routinely scrape those 50 servers for updates and archive older versions of the administrative code.
Our team member Iain Barksdale, Head of Reference Services Librarian from the University of Alabama School of Law, who envisioned this model, found it quite sustainable as individual states or regions would be responsible for that area’s information being scraped and updated while the consolidator would be responsible for updating and storing the informational on the national scale. This would help to evenly distribute workload. Mirror sites for the servers would also be key in keeping the information online and available in the event of a problem with a server in one location.
While our team was unable to actualize the project without a programmer, we are confident that OSACCO is a viable project worthy of realization at a future legal hackathon. The benefit of having easily accessible and archived free state administrative code, using a friendly interface, would be great to the lay person as well as professionals in the legal community.
The knowledge and experience that I garnered from attending AALL this year was immeasurable and technologically applicable to law libraries today. I have been able to update my librarian toolbox with knowledge about institutional repositories, massive open online courses and hacking for civic causes in the area of law.