A recent post by Nate Russell on the Slaw blog begins with a brief discussion of "judicial quips" that scoff at the notion of citing Wikipedia in legal context. This cliched reaction or ridicule, though, can obscure the potential value of taking a crowdsourcing approach to assembling a compendium of authoritative and up-to-date information.
Russell introduces Clicklaw Wikibooks as an emerging example of open access legal information with contributions drawn from multiple sources:
"Clicklaw Wikibooks takes the information locked away in booklets, guides and other resources for self-represented people, and releases it in several different ways to promote accessibility, from EPUBs, to smart SEO-friendly webpages, to books in print, on demand, in libraries, etc.
The Clicklaw Wikibooks platform is a customized install of MediaWiki. As the name implies, its emphasis is on “books” (rather than stand alone “articles” per se). It currently hosts 20 or so titles and it looks and works a lot like Wikipedia, but with some key differences: 1. Only approved editors can make edits — not the anonymous user. 2. Clicklaw Wikibook titles are optimized for export in various formats—with one-click to give you a whole wikibook in digital, printable, and even printed and bound formats."
Based in British Columbia (Canada), a key purpose of the resource is to provide convenient and relevant information to the general public and to public libraries. See the post for more information on how the project is being assessed.
Other crowdsourcing projects exist in the legal world with varying degrees of success, but it remains to be seen whether this approach will catch on—and how it will impact libraries and legal information management.
ALLA(WA) Secretary - Megan Fitzgibbons.
Librarian, University of Western Australia.