Collecting State Court Files: How Law Schools and Libraries Can Preserve History (and Use Technology to Do It)

Rachael Samberg, Stanford Law School

In 1875, a jury committed Mary Todd Lincoln to an insane asylum. Recently, two Illinois State Supreme Court justices discovered her trial papers still on file with the Cook County Clerk. A thousand miles away in Houston, a task force has just helped overhaul the Texas court records preservation rules, so that files like John Wesley Hardin’s murder trial are spared from destruction.

These state court files are research and teaching gems. Whether a story is big or small, the state court records that tell it may be irreplaceable. Insuring preservation is no easy feat, however, as each state’s preservation rules differ. Even if a court clerk wanted to save everything, storage expenses and space constraints make this impossible, and the costs of digitizing every paper record are likely prohibitive. Law schools and libraries, however, may be uniquely positioned to come to the aid of these files!

In keeping with the "some assembly required" conference theme, this session will explore how law schools and libraries can collaborate to preserve state court records, and what logistical, statutory, and technological issues they should consider. We will discuss a Stanford Law School collection of California court records, and the planned work to make them available for research and teaching. In the process, we will highlight efforts like those of the Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force, which relied on multi-agency participation to galvanize interest in preserving state history. Hosted by Rachael Samberg, Stanford Law Librarian, this session should be an energizing platform for all those assembled to generate ideas about how we can work together!

Schedule info

Time slot: 
21 June 10:30 - 11:30