AALL Government Relations Policy

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Approved by the Executive Board March 2001, Tab 15
Revised April 2008, Executive Board, Tab 2; Revised July 2011, Executive Board, Tab 20; Revised July 2015, Executive Board, Tab 10

I. Introduction

Founded in 1906, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit, professional organization dedicated to promoting and enhancing the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to fostering the profession of law librarianship, and to providing leadership in the field of legal information. AALL members work in academic, private, and federal, state, court, and county libraries, serving government officials, the bench, the bar, legal scholars, and members of the public.

The AALL Executive Board has endorsed this policy to direct the Association's public policy and advocacy work. This policy is necessarily broad to guide AALL’s Government Relations Office staff and to permit the Association to be agile and timely when responding to developing public policy issues.

AALL provides leadership and advocacy in the fields of legal and government information and information policy on a diverse set of topics, ranging from the creation and dissemination of government information to copyright to the privacy of library users. The exponential growth of the Internet as a central point of access to information has raised legislative, policy, and technological issues that are critical to ensuring permanent public access to trustworthy legal information. Due to the special training and expertise of its members, AALL is well-positioned to influence these issues.

II. Government Information

Accessible government information, including legal and legal-related information, is both an essential principle of a democratic society and a valuable public good created at taxpayer expense. Federal, state, and local governments have a duty to create, collect, and disseminate government information and to ensure equitable permanent public access to official government information. Federal, state, and local governments should create comprehensive and coherent policies for managing government information in all formats, and for making those materials permanently available to members of the public, regardless of their income level or geographic area.

A. Government Information in Digital Form

AALL believes that government information disseminated via government websites must be available at no cost and that federal, state, and local governments should adhere to the following “Principles and Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Websites,” adopted by the Executive Board in March 2007:

      1. Information on government websites must be accessible to all people.
      2. Information published on government websites must be trustworthy and reliable.
      3. If an electronic version of legal information is official, it should be designated as such by statute or rule.
      4. Information published on government websites should be comprehensive.
      5. Information on government websites must be preserved by the entity, such as a state library, an archives division, or other agency, within the issuing government that is charged with preservation of government information.

AALL strongly supports enactment of federal, state, and local laws, such as the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, that further the principles outlined in this section of the policy.

B. Government Information in Tangible Form

Government information in tangible form should be available to the public at no cost. If fees are mandated, they should be kept low enough as to cover necessary expenses and not provide a significant barrier to access. Any revenue garnered by governments from the sale of print publications should be reinvested in the infrastructure that delivers government information to the public.

While it is the government’s responsibility to create and provide access to government information, the commercial sector often plays an important role in its collection and dissemination. Members of the public are served by a multitude of information providers, and no public or private entity should enjoy a publishing monopoly over any type of government information. No private or public sector entity should limit the dissemination of government information through exclusive contracts, resale restrictions, or other restrictive trade practices.

C. Universal Citation

Federal, state, and local governments should provide a universal citation for government information that is made available for public use. A universal (or public domain) citation system is both medium- and vendor- neutral. As a matter of public policy, the binding pronouncements of governments, such as case opinions and statutes, belong first and foremost to the people they serve and should be accessible to them easily through universal citation.

AALL recommends that federal, state, and local governments adopt AALL's universal citation formats, as described in the most recent edition of the Universal Citation Guide.

D. Depository Library Programs

Members of the public have a right of access to comprehensive government information, including access to the basic materials necessary for legal research. Primary legal titles fundamental to our democracy should continue to be disseminated to depository libraries in print until the government entity can ensure the authenticity of, permanent public access to, and preservation of the digital version.

Federal depository libraries operate under a statutory obligation to make government information available to the public. The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) should ensure a system of equitable, effective, no-fee, efficient, and dependable dissemination of and access to government information. Government information provided to the public through a depository program should be available permanently in readily accessible forms and should be authentic and trustworthy.

As the government continues its shift to a primarily digital environment, depository libraries are increasingly important channels through which members of the public access government information. The Government Publishing Office, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the courts, and federal agencies have a responsibility to disseminate this information. Federal government information, including legal and legal-related information, should be disseminated through a depository and access program with central authority, Congressional oversight, and the ability to enforce agency compliance through relevant laws, regulations, and other policies. Congress should provide adequate funding for the FDLP.

State and local governments should create and maintain their own comprehensive depository and access programs. These should operate under a statutory obligation to make government information, both print and digital, available to the public at no cost. States should provide adequate funding for these depository programs.

E. Freedom of Information and Public Access to Government Records

Public access to information under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and applicable state public records laws is vital for a healthy democracy. FOIA and state public records laws must be strengthened periodically to ensure effective transparency in government. Government agencies must ensure that requested records are released in a timely manner; in a form that is useful to the requestor, including through digital means; appropriately redacted to protect personal privacy; and permanently maintained, accessible, and searchable online. The federal government should create an easily searchable portal for all digital records released under FOIA.

Statutes and regulations governing security classification should be construed to promote open government while acknowledging the need for FOIA or other public records exemptions. By statute, the burden should be on the government to sustain a claim of exemption. Laws should be written and administered with a clear presumption in favor of disclosure. FOIA must be strengthened and enforced to ensure that openness and transparency prevail, regardless of the Administration, presidential signing statements, or claims of executive privilege. State public records laws should similarly be based upon transparency and openness, keeping exemptions minimal.

F. Protection of Privacy in Government Records

The protection of personal privacy is a core value of our society. AALL supports comprehensive national and state privacy laws to safeguard the rights of all members of the public and to insulate sensitive personal information in government records from disclosure.

III. Copyright

A. Balancing Rights of Users and Owners

An equitable balance between the rights of users of information and the rights of copyright owners and licensors is essential to the free flow of information. United States copyright laws should maintain this balance by interposing the fewest obstacles to the free distribution of information in all media and formats. AALL supports fair use (section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act) as a means of providing access to copyrighted material; the library exemption (section 108), which allows libraries to make and distribute copies of works for specific purposes; and first sale (section 109), which is essential to libraries’ ability to lend.

AALL supports the continued movement of materials into the public domain when their copyrights expire. When information is in the public domain, licensing regimes should not impose barriers to the access or use of information. AALL also supports adequate funding for the Copyright Office, which is well-served by its home in the Library of Congress.

B. Public Domain Status of Government Publications

Government information, including the text of all primary legal materials, such as judicial and administrative decisions, statutes, and regulations, must be in the public domain and available to the public without restriction. AALL supports a general prohibition against copyright restrictions on government works. AALL opposes any copyright claims, restrictive licenses, royalty arrangements, statutory or regulatory revisions, or interpretations of federal, state, or local laws and regulations that restrict access to, or the use or reuse of, government information.

IV. Privacy of Library Users

AALL opposes legislation, regulations, or guidelines that erode the privacy of library users and confidentiality of library records or that has the effect of suppressing the free and open exchange of ideas and information. There must be effective oversight of laws that have expanded surveillance on library users. Public access to information must be tempered by privacy rights concerning personal information held by the private sector and the government, including the confidentiality of library circulation records and online search histories.

V. Openness in Government

Federal, state, and local governments should be committed to openness, transparency, public participation, and collaboration. AALL supports net neutrality, which has kept the Internet open and non-discriminatory and allowed it to thrive. AALL also supports a legal and regulatory environment that fosters an efficient and economical flow of digital information to and from libraries. In particular, a system of affordable telecommunication rates for competitive speeds should be provided to libraries.

VI. Preservation

Continued access to legal information depends on its preservation, and governments must support appropriate preservation activities for legal information. Preservation activities will differ depending on the format of the information, but the outcome of the activities must be legal information that is long-lasting and durable. For more information, please see the AALL’s Preservation Policy.

A. Physical Preservation

Most of the paper produced since 1850 has a high acid content that drastically reduces the life of books. The burden of preserving the intellectual content of these deteriorating books falls on libraries. Therefore, AALL supports governmental and other efforts to establish, fund, and coordinate library preservation activities such as preservation photocopying, microfilming, data scanning, and de-acidification programs, and the development and revision of national standards which will guide the preservation of print materials.

AALL encourages government publishers' routine use of permanent paper to eliminate exorbitant costs associated with reformatting and mass deacidification. Other measures, such as de-acidification programs, must be undertaken to limit further loss of paper documents.

B. Digital Preservation

Digital government information must be preserved to ensure its equitable permanent public accessibility. As with its print resources, government has an obligation to guarantee the authenticity, integrity, permanent public access, and preservation of its digital information. Leaders in library, government, industry, and academic circles must cooperatively design and deploy coherent strategies for archiving digital information and adapting preservation to new technologies.  

VII. Standards

AALL has a leadership role in working with governments to develop appropriate national and international technical standards for information dissemination, bibliographic control, authentication, and preservation.

VIII. Public Law Libraries

Public law libraries are critical to the knowledge base and economic and social well-being of our society. They are often the primary source of legal material and informational assistance for self-represented persons. Adequate funding of all public law libraries, including federal, state, court, county, and local libraries, is essential to ensuring the ready availability of legal information for all who seek access to the justice system.

IX. The Law Library of Congress

AALL supports the Law Library of Congress for its critical role in comprehensively collecting legal information materials and as our de facto National Law Library. The programs and services of the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress are important in fulfilling the mission to serve effectively the Congress, the courts, federal agencies, and the public. Law libraries rely on the Law Library of Congress to fulfill their own missions.

AALL urges Congress to support with necessary funding and authority the Library of Congress and Law Library of Congress's priority initiatives, such as efforts to preserve and disseminate historic Congressional materials; the classification of volumes to the K class to ensure continued accessibility; the identification, cataloging, and preservation of rare and unique legal materials; and the completion of storage facilities to ensure sufficient space to acquire and maintain legal materials.

X. Intellectual Freedom

AALL endorses the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and supports the right of libraries to disseminate materials on all subjects. AALL opposes government censorship and supports nondiscriminatory access to information for all library users.

XI. Conclusion

AALL has a long and productive history of working with government officials to influence a range of public policy issues affecting law libraries and law librarianship. To promote this policy, AALL will inform its members of current information policy issues, offer its expertise in developing laws, policies, and practices consistent with this policy, and actively assist elected and government officials to enact such policies.