Global Legal Information Network: An Interview with Donna Scheeder

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I was intrigued by Donna Scheeder's presentation on the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), which she gave during the 2008 IFLA World Library and Information Congress (www.ifla.org) in Quebec City. Not only is it a fine example of an information resource for the global legal community, but it also presents valuable lessons for cross-cultural digitization projects beyond the topic area of law. I caught up with Scheeder, director of law library services for the Law Library of Congress, a month after IFLA, at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, Calif., and asked her to explain GLIN and answer some of my questions about the best practices revealed during the project's planning and implementation.

On its website (www.glin.gov), GLIN is described as, "a public database of official texts of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations. These GLIN members contribute the full texts of their published documents to the database in their original languages. Each document is accompanied by a summary in English and, in many cases in additional languages, plus subject terms selected from the multilingual index to GLIN."

That describes the fait accompli. According to Scheeder, the genesis of the project came from the realization at the Law Library of Congress that, although they wanted to collect the laws of the world, acquiring these primary and authoritative sources in paper was a slow process. She credits Law Librarian of Congress Rubens Medina with the idea of engaging the governments of other countries in the creation of a shared electronic resource. This international cooperative would encourage comparative legal research and benefit everyone. Much of the credit for the success of GLIN goes to Janice Hyde, the project officer.

Beyond that, globalization, interconnectivity, and the ability to engage in partnerships means information professionals now have the capacity to build global virtual libraries. In the legal field, people are dealing with issues that do not respect or recognize national boundaries. Take companies doing business in other countries. They need to understand the laws of those countries. If a business deals with foreign investment, legislators are very interested in knowing how other countries have handled specific legal issues. This provides some guidance for lawmaking in their countries.

Even something like the notion of "family" can vary widely from one place to another. In Africa, the definition of family may not align with the definition of family in Western Europe and North America. Suppose, posits Scheeder, someone from Swaziland, legally residing in the U.S., wishes to bring in a family member. What, in legal terms, constitutes "family member" in Swaziland and how does that translate to the legalities surrounding entry into another country? Is there a treaty in place to help decipher the relationship? What the law is in Swaziland could well be a valid concern of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and vice versa. Other topics with widely divergent legal views around the world include such things as divorce and stem cell research, to name only a few.

THE ESSENTIALS OF GLIN

GLIN is a global, intergovernmental, nonprofit, multilingual, and cooperative organization that numbers some 50 countries (as of September 2008) as members, with more interested in joining. The latest to join is the U.K., and other European Union countries have evinced interest. Countries in the cooperative have agreed to enter their laws and other legal material, including judicial decisions, legislative records, and other legal writings, into a common database, according to agreed upon standards. Scheeder emphasizes the difference between a database and a knowledge management tool. "Databases have information, but knowledge management tools add context that is contributed by knowledgeable contributors. …