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Recently, a few Chicago-area librarians gathered to discuss preservation of local and state legal information. My library at Chicago-Kent College of Law hosted the meeting, and those in attendance included representatives from the Cook County Law Library, the City of Chicago Law Library, the Chicago Public Library and the University of Chicago’s D’Angelo Law Library. Our agenda: what needs to be done, who can do it, how can they do it, and are there other partners that can help do it.   You might think that with such a broad agenda that we were led down a meandering discussion path, but within 90 minutes this small group was able to identify and agree on two digitization projects, develop a list of potential partners, and issues that needed to be explored.   We left the meeting feeling motivated and with an achievable goal.

In the spirit of starting with a manageable focus, our group identified the Chicago Opinions of Corporate Counsel and Assistants, and Chicago agency regulations as our first print and born-digital priorities for digitization projects.  Why these in particular? Among the libraries represented, a complete set of the Opinions exists making for an easy, almost effortless project. At least two funding sources are being investigated to support the project. The born-digital priority was equally easy to identify and of universal need, the capture of Chicago agency regulations. With three LIPA institutional members in the room, two who are already using Archive-It, this will not only be a highly valuable, but easily managed project.  So now we know the “what”, and the “who”. As we explore funding, the “how” will become clearer and a timeline will develop.

Our group also discussed possible state government documents for digitization. However, there is a troubling copyright issue that surrounds state government documents.  Unlike federal government documents, which are almost always in the public domain, state government documents are not. By default, state government documents receive copyright protection. There are some states that view their agency documents as being in the public domain. However, there are states that are deliberately ambiguous about copyright, such as the state of Illinois. The question of state copyright is a significant issue for an institution wishing to digitize historic state publications, capture and archive born-digital publications, and to share these materials with the public. In April 2014, the National Conference of State Legislators held a webinar on this topic that LIPA members can view.

The possibilities for preservation projects are endless in Chicago and Illinois. Potential partnerships are out there just waiting to be tapped. For example, the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) has floated the idea of an “Angel’s project” whereby conservators would donate labor to a preservation project. AIC is currently seeking partners in Chicago in terms of material and/or labor.   The newly appointed Illinois Recorder of Decisions, a librarian, has reached out to the Chicago Association of Law Libraries (CALL) as potential partners on projects.

This group is still unnamed, but I am confident that our conversation has just begun. If similar conversations are taking place in your area, please share your ideas and projects with your fellow LIPA members. Every library can, and should do something to help with the massive job of preserving and making permanently accessible the most important legal materials in our communities.