We never know just which snippet of information we might need to make a case, track an idea, or check up on an elected official’s record. We just want it to be there when we need it. We seldom think about what it takes to collect, organize and package the information so it’s at our fingertips – literally – on demand (or request if we are properly restrained Minnesotans.)
A recent project sponsored by the Legislative Reference Library and funded by a Legacy grant, offers a glimpse into the ways in which state agencies are collaborating and innovating to assure access to legislative information. For just a minute, consider this microcosm of what it takes to make access happen.
For many years the Minnesota Legislature has faithfully recorded daily deliberations. In recent years the audio record of the House since 2004 has been available online. Because the Senate record for 2004 was available in audiocassette format only anyone wishing to track a legislative proposal’s path through the legislative maze needed to go to the Legislative Reference Library or the Minnesota History Center to listen. You may wonder why anyone would want to do that, but hold that thought for the moment. Trust me, this matters to lots of advocates, lobbyists, the media, concerned citizens and researchers of every stripe.
Because they cared about the frustrated searchers, thinking librarians at the Legislative Reference Library applied for Legacy funds to convert the audiocassettes on their shelves to digital format so it would be available online. Sounds simple but it is a labor intensive, time-consuming process – but they did it. Now issue trackers, including legislative staffers, lobbyists, advocates and the general public, will find the record of both houses 2004-present online – at their fingertips. And now the Library has a better idea of just what it will take to make their vast audio archives available online.
Investment in the process is more than outweighed by the fact that essential information is available whenever, to whomever, wherever and for whatever reason. The goal of access demands vision, focus, commitment, support, hard work and oversight. Consider that eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty. 21st Century technology changes the means, but not the end envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
For a quick introduction to this finite but significant project check this two-minute video.
To delve more deeply into the process of how to track the evolution of Minnesota laws, check the legislative history on the LRL website, a digital treasure trove that will walk you through the links and stories of Minnesota’s law, lawmakers and the impact of both.