Update on the National Inventory of Legal Materials

by Emily

During the past 3 years, more than 350 AALL volunteers have contributed their time as part of their state working group to help AALL create the first-ever National Inventory of Legal Materials. After countless hours of research, calls to government offices and conversations with colleagues to discuss their findings, volunteers created state inventories that contain invaluable information about more than 7,000 legal titles from all three branches of government in print and online.

This fall, the AALL Government Relations Office and Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) completed our preliminary analysis of the inventories and posted the results on AALLNET. We’ve also linked to each of the 51 inventories so that anyone can see the underlying data.

Volunteers are currently working to complete the federal inventory, which includes information from all three branches of government such as decisions, reports and digests (Executive); court opinions, court rules, and Supreme Court briefs (Judicial); and bills and resolutions, the Constitution, and Statutes at Large (Legislative). Most recently, the GRO has been working with library students at Catholic University who each “adopted” two agencies and spent their fall semester inventorying agency legal materials and answering a series of questions about each title as part of their Legal Literature course. Thanks to their hard work, we have another 300 titles to add to the federal inventory. AALL’s Native Peoples Law Caucus is also working with us on ways we could develop a tribal inventory.

In addition to providing a comprehensive look at the legal materials each branch of government makes publicly available, the inventories assist us in identifying trends and problems. For example, we learned from the state inventories that eight more states have designated at least one online primary legal resource as official, bringing the total number doing so to 24. We also found that nearly 30 states have included some type of copyright notice on one or more of their online primary legal materials.

Most recently, thanks to the Catholic University students’ work, we discovered that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had included a copyright notice on every page of their website. We immediately recognized this as violation of 17 USC §105, which states that, “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.” I contacted the IRS with my concern earlier this month, and a few days later after some discussion, the notice was removed. IRS officials recognized the problem as an oversight during the design process of the new IRS website, which launched this summer. Had our dedicated students not noticed this copyright symbol as they were inventorying IRS legal materials, the IRS website would still be carrying the misleading copyright notice.

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The Government Relations Office is grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who have made this project possible. If you’re interested in contributing to the Federal or Tribal inventory, please contact AALL Public Policy Associate Elizabeth Holland.

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