Librarians at AALL: Hacking the Law

AALL 2015In mid July, law librarians from all across the country gathered for the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL).  This year, the meeting was held in our hometown of Philadelphia, which meant that we were all able to attend and participate in the festivities.  Over the next couple of months, we will be sharing our varied experiences at the conference, to give you all a better idea of how we hone our skills and learn about emerging trends on law librarianship.


Increasing access to the law at the AALL Hackathon

by Ben Carlson

Teams hard at work at the hackathon

Teams hard at work at the hackathon

One of the pre-conference workshops at this year’s annual meeting was the second annual AALL hackathon, held at Peirce College in downtown Philadelphia.  Librarians from many U.S. law schools showed up to try their hand at “hacking the law.”  The goal was to take a publicly available dataset or source of law online, and develop a tool to make it more accessible, more understandable, or present the information in a different light.  The group split up into teams, each with at least one competent programmer, and each team set about trying to figure out what legal information they would be working on, and what they could do to the data to accomplish their goals.

After a long day of hard work, the teams presented their results to the judges in the afternoon.  There were five teams that presented, and each team tried something very different.  The entries included: an aggregator website to search for court and judge Twitter accounts, a Chrome browser extension that would check to see if statutes cited in cases on Google Scholar had been updated since the case was published, and a couple of high school students created a program that would automatically respond to search queries over email or text with relevant search results.

The Winning Team of the 2015 AALL Hackathon

The Winning Team of the 2015 AALL Hackathon

The winning team created a website that took the data from the Popular Names Table of the U.S. Code and presented each named law in descending order of how many Code sections it affected, as a measure of the impact of each law.  This website can be found here: http://lawevents.rutgers.edu/restricted/popnames/, and the resulting data can be pasted into a visualization tool such as RAW (http://raw.densitydesign.org/) for a graphical representation of the results.  More information about the event, including videos of the presented results, can be found here: https://storify.com/richards1000/aallhack-2015

In the end, all the participants did a great job collaborating towards a common goal of open and accessible law, and we learned a lot about how to understand and present legal information digitally.

Stay tuned for more stories about AALL!

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