September 26, 2021

Library of Congress and Harvard University Form Historic Collaboration on Islamic Law Collections

From LC:

This 1967 edition of the official gazette of the Government of Dubai is among the documents researchers will have access to under a new collaboration effort between the Law Library of Congress and Harvard Law School.

Both institutions will help increase access to foreign country legal materials, and collaborate on building a “SEARCHstrata” tool using AI/Data Science approaches

The Library of Congress and Harvard Law School have initiated an unprecedented, multifaceted joint collaboration to identify, select and assess the copyright status of materials focusing on national legal gazettes.

The effort, initially set for three years, will coordinate access to, knowledge-sharing, and legal analysis of Library of Congress’ collections related to Islamic law, including national legal gazettes, manuscripts and other materials. It will also improve a reader or researcher’s ability to search those sources, using new data science tools and faceted searches tailored to Islamic collections. The joint objective is to expand scholarly analysis of and greater public access to relevant legal material.

“We are delighted that we will be collaborating with Harvard on expanding access to our foreign legal gazette collection through a joint copyright clearance mechanism. This is one of a few areas of collaboration that we are further exploring with the objective to expand scholarly analysis and greater public access to legal materials as part of our greater mission,” said Aslihan Bulut, Law Librarian of Congress.  

“This collaborative effort with the Library of Congress will expand access to and insights from the extensive and growing collection of primary sources at the Library, which provide the essential grist for the transformative work of any researcher, historian, and lawyer,” said Intisar A. Rabb, Professor of Law and History and Director of the Program of Islamic Law at Harvard Law School. “We are particularly elated that we have a spirit of open access and exploration of new frontiers: these sources — combined with careful research and data science tools — will make for unparalleled research advances for scholars of Islamic law and other fields, worldwide. 

As part of this collaborative effort, both the Library of Congress and the Program in Islamic Law (PIL) at Harvard Law School are conducting a copyright evaluation of the legal gazettes and sharing the results. The legal gazettes play a vital role in legal practice and in scholarship because they are the primary sources for law in foreign jurisdictions and are often the only place where a law is published in that jurisdiction. This joint effort will greatly expand access to the Library of Congress’ gazette collections, which have been acquired since the mid-19th century for about 300 national and subnational jurisdictions.

As part of this joint effort, the Library of Congress will digitize the selected materials and make them publicly available on its websites, following copyright clearance. Harvard’s Program in Islamic Law may repost content on its affiliated websites and digital platforms — expanding access to the Harvard community and the world. Instead of searching for laws in each country on separate websites, scholars will be able to access these gazettes in one place once they have undergone a copyright assessment and a determination has been made that the documents are free of copyright restrictions.

The Program in Islamic Law and its SHARIAsource Lab is also working on building an AI-powered search tool, “SEARCHstrata,” for more effective searches and links of bibliographic metadata and “named entities” within that data (people, titles, places), for which the Law Library at the Library of Congress will serve primarily in an advisory role. This tool will offer improved searches of Islamic collections at the Harvard Libraries and Library of Congress than are currently available. With tools for transliteration, visual browsing and faceted searches, users around the globe will be able to, for the first time, view and create comprehensive collections of all relevant material housed in these libraries, access collection titles and authors in remote environments, and create their own “shelves” in a virtual library.

This joint collaboration will open possibilities for answering new questions about Islamic law and history, and related fields in Islamic studies more broadly, on a global scale. By allowing scholars to see the scope of historical and modern collections and to access contemporary legal materials in one place, this collaboration will make research more efficient and meaningful. This expansion of new searches and documents in the public domain makes them far more accessible so an even greater audience of scholars can engage with them. This greater access can potentially expand scholarly analysis and insight, as well as promote research and education.

The Library of Congress collections reflect the variations among many jurisdictions, from countries, such as Brunei or Syria, that have adopted Islamic law or “Sharia” explicitly to other countries, such as India or Nigeria, that have a mixed legal system of English common law, Islamic law and traditional law. Other jurisdictions, including the European Union and the United States, incorporate Islamic law through special courts in matters of family law or personal status such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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