OAI4Courts: overview

Welcome to OAI4Courts

[ In a hurry? View the proof-of-concept app guided tour, then come back and read here ]

[ Most of this is still under construction -- don't be surprised by blind alleys or puzzling incompleteness ]

[ Want to comment or contribute? See here . ]

OAI4Courts is a project that promotes the federation of independent legal websites into large, useful "virtual collections" that span boundaries. The idea is to make caselaw easier to search, find, and understand. We will do this by building platforms that allow caselaw collections disseminated by many different actors -- courts, for-profit publishers, watchdog groups, libraries, academic institutions, and Legal Information Institutes -- to be treated as if they were a single source. This approach will make it far, far easier to build services like cross-site search, current-awareness services, and the like.

As a technical project, that is a goal that is in easy reach. Well-understood standards for metadata interoperability, particularly the OAI-PMH standard for metadata harvesting, have been widely used for similar purposes in the digital-library world for several years. They are only slowly making their way into the realm of legal information. One of our goals is to accelerate that process. At the same time -- like any standard -- success will depend crucially on buy-in from legal information creators and from those who publish their work. That in turn requires demonstration, and that's what we've started here.

If these ideas -- and their implementations -- are new to you, you may want to look at the following (as well as some of the documents in the References list at the left):

Current status

OAI4Courts software is under construction at Cornell. Because it is (as yet) a side project of a very busy crew, progress is slow. A demonstration implementation is available and you can get a guided tour of it here. Interested parties can get code from us that would be sufficient to build a basic working site, but it is not well documented. A pilot project using its ideas is currently underway at SAFLII

The software uses a pre-determined database schema into which sites are expected to import their data; we feel this is a much less difficult task than trying to develop a usable API that will work with any and all platforms. The application is built on Ruby on Rails and does not care very much about which underlying database engine you use, so long as Rails supports it. If you're thinking about putting up an installation, you should first think about how you'll get your data into OAI4Courts. You'll want to look at:

Who are we?

OAI4Courts is a project of the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School.