The Law Library of Congress: Digital Legal Resources

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The Law Library of Congress is a branch of the Library of Congress and holds the largest single collection of legal materials in the world. It began as an in-house reference library for members of the U.S. Congress but has vastly expanded since its early days. It now serves the public in addition to Congress, and its mission is “is to provide authoritative legal research, reference and instruction services, and access to an unrivaled collection of U.S., foreign, comparative, and international law.”

In addition to the 2.9 million bound volumes and several million items on microform, microfilm, and microfiche that can be viewed in person, the Law Library of Congress also has a wide variety of digital collections available through its website. Some of the available texts are commonly used in American law, like historical and/or current versions of the U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, and Federal Register. Other collections provide digital access to materials that U.S. attorneys are less likely to encounter on a daily basis, like the collection of Foreign Legal Gazettes. Foreign legal gazettes are primary sources of law published by governments that may contain legislation, regulations, decisions of governmental bodies, court decisions, international agreements, and more.

The Law Library of Congress also has several digital collections of historical legal materials for both U.S. and international law or the law of other countries. For example, the Lincoln Collection provides digital access to materials related to President Lincoln's legal career in Illinois, presidential documents related to his actions in office, and transcripts and reports of the trial of the conspirators to his assassination. The John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trial of 1770 Collection digitized reports and transcriptions of that trial, giving a window into a key event in American colonial history. Researchers can see some very different types of legal documents in the The Spanish Legal Documents (15th-19th Centuries) Collection, including briefs (in this case, forensic writings related to disputes on inheritance and titles of nobility, taxes, church privilege, etc.); documents pertaining to the Spanish Inquisition; papal bulls and ecclesiastical concordats; and laws, statutes, instructions and decrees of Spanish kings and government officials. For this collection and others, the Law Library has experimented with crowdsourcing translations to open up access.

In addition to digitizing print materials, the Law Library of Congress also preserves born digital legal materials, including websites related to the federal judiciary, U.S. Congress, foreign and international law, and legal blogs. The library runs legal research classes and maintains an archive of past presentations, which is a particularly good place to find research assistance on aspects of international law and the law of other countries.

Finally, the library's blog, In Custodia Legis, is always worth checking out for posts highlighting resources across their collections, like a recent post on the legal history of pigeons or one on research strategies for Indigenous Law.

Posted by Ellie Campbell on Fri. September 24, 2021 10:00 AM
Categories: Uncategorized

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