In the last week of March 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Law Repositories Conference, made possible by a grant from AALL/Bloomberg Continuing Education Grants Program, and by the sponsorship of LIPA (Legal Information Preservation Alliance) and Bepress. The official title of the conference was “Law Repositories: Shaping the Future,” and it’s never been clearer that this is exactly what we’re doing. Sitting in a conference room in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg, in a hotel surrounded by tri-corner hats and Ben Franklin impersonators, “the future” came to feel like a revolutionary idea.
Birth of the “Repositorian”
In the spirit of invention, a word has been created to describe the repository administrator/librarian, a word which came up several times over the course of the 2-day conference: repositorian. Sure, you won’t find in the dictionary, and most people will not know what you’re talking about. But there’s really no better way to describe the librarians who are doing all of this future-shaping with repositories.
Conference attendees were an interesting mixture of early repositorians, pioneers with downloads in the millions, to those just testing the waters, to those of us who are somewhere in between: we’ve jumped in, now we want to swim out to the deep end. Most law schools represented at the conference had already purchased Digital Commons, or planned to do so, though there were a few DSpace repositories represented.
The sessions offered excellent information for repositorians in all stages of development. A breakout session discussed the best ways to share progress to ensure lasting investment, asserting that the key is to identify stakeholders early on. A presenter with success in attracting various groups to deposit work into their law school repository suggested that the best way to get repository buy-in was to present it as a service: as in, “what can our repository do for you?”
Another session delved into copyright, providing an overview into the tools and workflows repositorians have used to verify copyright before posting an item. The general consensus boiled down to this: post an article only after you’ve done your due diligence, and ensure that you have created and advertised a generous take-down policy.
A debate titled “Is Digitization Preservation?” presented positives and negatives in both directions. For instance, when you’re digitizing, are you preserving the physical item from further damage, or are you doubling the amount of preservation work you have to do by adding digital files to the equation? The only agreement here seemed to be that if you can digitize an item, and preserve both the analog and digital to the best of your abilities, you should.
Beyond Faculty Scholarship
Another revolutionary idea became clear during the conference: the law repository is no longer just the home of scholarly articles. This was addressed in sessions such as “What’s Next? The Future of Content” and “Lightning Talks on Non-Traditional Collections.”
Traditional collections of faculty scholarship are still one of the most important functions of the law repository, but so many are now hosting diverse collections of information that are proving invaluable to the legal community: researchers will now find historic Georgia legal codes, all opinions of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals since 1994, and digital print-on-demand books in law repositories.
This expansion not only energizes and excites those of us who work to make this content available, it also brings more focus to our repositories and our missions as champions of open access and protectors of information. The general attitude towards what should go into the repository seems to be: “Is anyone else providing access to this? Will it be helpful if we provide access? Let’s do it!”
Finally, there were several sessions geared more toward providing practical guidelines for running a successful repository. These sessions, such as “Using Metrics to Make Repository Decisions” and “Lightning Talks on Process” included great ideas for automating back-end processes and representing download statistics and visits in a way that would be interesting to stakeholders.
However, for the lone repositorian (which most of us are) who is responsible for every part of the repository workflow, overviews of creating Python scripts and monitoring Google Analytics via your iPhone to track possible download bots can be overwhelming. The reality is that the day-to-day workflows of most repositorians require that we manage it all by ourselves and can’t spend a lot of our time on any single task. While they seemed to be less considerate of the reality of the law repository landscape, these sessions were useful in that they sparked ideas in which even lone repositorians could find motivation.
I came away from the conference inspired and ready to get back to building our repository. I also came away with a better understanding of the limitations, and the opportunities, of the lone repositorian. I think there is a balance that has to be found by every institution: do what you can, when you can, with what you have.
Overall, it was a great experience and I hope it is repeated next year. Holding this conference annually will only serve to energize our repositorians and, in turn, strengthen our law repositories. I am grateful for the CALL grant which made attending this conference possible.
A brief overview of the conference sessions can be found here:
Repositorians are not necessarily shifting the focus from collections of scholarly work. They are definitely expanding the scope of what would traditionally be included in a law repository.