Harvard digitising 40 million pages of case law for free access

Harvard Law’s collection has about 43,000 case law books with the oldest collection dating back to 1647.

Harvard University is digitising nearly 40 million case law pages to ultimately give everyone access to the collection for free through the internet.
“We're all bound by the law,” Adam Ziegler, managing director of the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard, told WBUR’s BostonomiX blog. “We're all bound by the decisions that judges issue, we ought to be able to read them, and we ought not have to pay to read them.”
Harvard Law’s collection is vast and comprehensive. It has about 43,000 case law books and Ziegler and his team estimate each book has 921 pages. The oldest decision dates back to Rhode Island's Court of Trials circa 1647, the Boston NPR station noted.
“We want the law, as expressed in court decisions, to be as widely distributed and as available as possible online to promote access to justice by means of access to legal information,” said Ziegler.
The massive effort dubbed the Caselaw Access Project is also hoped to spur innovation and drive new insights from the law, Ziegler added.
“So what's going to result from this project is a huge database of electronic, digital court decisions. And the world of law has never seen that before,” he said.
The Harvard Law collection is second only to the Library of Congress collection, reported WBUR, and it includes civil and criminal case law decisions from every state and federal court.
The books are currently kept in the Harvard Depository, a sprawling, hidden and tightly monitored complex atop hills 25 miles away from campus.
From there, the books are transported to the law school library, meticulously taken apart and imaged by a high-speed scanner which takes four different images of each page at 100,000 pages a day.
After being imaged, the books are also given metadata that identifies the case, the judge the court and date of issuance. This makes the information open to being mined unlocking its potential.
WBUR said that Harvard has granted Ravel Law, a company it has partly owns, an eight-year exclusive contract to use the case law information.
The unbound books after being processed are hermetically sealed and then sent to a storage facility in a limestone cave in Kentucky.
“It's important to have it, just in case. If we need to reboot our democracy for some reason then we'll have all these books in Louisville. But also if we do our job right then that book will be a backup that's only needed if only something goes wrong,” Ziegler told the NPR news station.

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