In mid-March 2020, as we slowly began to comprehend that Covid-19 really was a big thing, my university, the University of Melbourne, almost overnight completely shut down its physical campus and we began what would be nearly a year of working from home. Many of our Melbourne Law School academics, like law academics across the world, began almost immediately writing and providing expert commentary on legal issues raised by the pandemic. The Law School, again like law schools around the world, swiftly established collaborative research groups on Covid-19 and the law, and created dedicated web pages on which their work was published and promoted. One of our academics, Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, asked me in late March if I would compile a bibliography on all legal scholarship on Covid-19 published to date and update it fortnightly for the Law School academic community. My first literature search found about 20 articles, published in scholarly fora such as SSRN and professional literature such as law society journals, so I thought it would be easy to keep up to date! Of course I had absolutely no idea about the vast literature that would emanate from around the world in the weeks and months to come.
Within a couple of weeks we agreed that, in the interests of equitable access, the bibliography should be made available on open access for scholars, practitioners, students and others around the world. So the Law School provided a dedicated webpage, and by April the Covid-19 Legal Scholarship Bibliography was launched. I posted a couple of messages on lists such as alla.anz and int-law and the spike in usage statistics was immediate and dramatic! We can see which countries users are from, and it is gratifying to see that the highest usage is from developing countries – in particular India and Indonesia.
The bibliography was arranged by broad legal topic, with articles arranged alphabetically by author within each topic division, in Australian Guide to Legal Citation 4th ed (AGLC4) citation style and with links to articles etc available on open access. It had a simple menu to navigate the webpage, and no search functionality. As the literature turned from a drip to a deluge, the webpage became longer and longer, and my thoughts turned to a more sophisticated platform, preferably a searchable database, with the proviso that it must be open access.
Moving to AustLII
In late 2020, I was contacted by AustLII, and began discussions with them about the possibility of having the bibliography hosted on their site. The advantages of AustLII are clear: the platform is well known around the world as a reliable source of freely available Australian legal information; it is a stable and secure platform; and AustLII staff also provide the technical support required. I wanted a searchable as well as browsable format, with separate pages for each topic. We agreed that the AustLII Communities Wiki platform would work well; it would also allow others to potentially become editors / contributors (although so far, it’s still only me!). It is not a database, nor does it have particularly sophisticated search functionality, but it meets our needs, at least for now. The discussions with AustLII were fortuitous, as the University was going through the same turmoil as universities around the world, with budgets slashed and mass redundancies looming, and we had no idea if the webpage on the Law School site would remain available, and how it would be supported. The Law School was supportive of the idea to move and signed a memorandum of understanding with AustLII, agreeing to the move and for me to stay on as Editor. This arrangement was also timely, because I had just accepted a job at the High Court Library in Canberra and it would have been difficult for me to maintain the bibliography on the Law School website after leaving the University. We moved the bibliography to AustLII during December 2020, and it went live in January 2021.
The move itself took hundreds of hours over several weeks, and I gratefully accepted the invaluable assistance of my colleague Fiona MacDowall for this work. We checked that all (by then over 2000) records were complete and in Zotero, added topic and jurisdiction tags, and then exported the records from Zotero into the wiki.
Arrangement and Navigation
The basic arrangement we started with has been retained: the bibliography is still arranged by broad legal topic – as well as a book section and a database, blog and website section. In AustLII each topic is on a separate page, and the home page lists and links to the contents. Literature that fits equally into two or more topics is included in all. There is a simple search engine that supports Boolean operators. Links are provided to articles etc that are available on open access – and most of the literature is, I am very pleased to say, freely available.
Publisher Models during Covid, and Open Access
At the start of the pandemic, SSRN’s Legal Scholarship Network was by far the main go to platform for scholarship, because of its model of rapid publication of working papers, pre-published accepted manuscripts etc. SSRN also quickly established a dedicated Coronavirus Hub for early stage non-peer reviewed research. SSRN is still a primary source of scholarship for the bibliography, along with Google Scholar.
For published scholarship, in order to publish quickly, many scholarly journals and publisher platforms quickly introduced ways to fast-track publication, including a faster peer-review process, and publishing accepted manuscripts and advance online articles. Many journal platforms that are normally only available to subscribers or on a pay per article basis made COVID-19 literature available on open access – some of this literature is freely available until a specified date, but much of it will remain free in perpetuity. Many COVID-19 special issues of journals rapidly emerged, and this trend continues.
This dramatic change to traditional publishing models – both the rapid publication and the freely available content – should be applauded. Most of the heavy hitters of journal publishing (with a few notable law publisher exceptions) came to the party: eg: Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Brill, Routledge / Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Elsevier, Sage, Springer – thereby providing equitable access to everyone, not just those of us in institutions who can afford their publications. Many of these publishers also set up Covid-19 scholarship hubs – for example the Cambridge University Press Coronavirus Free Access Collection.
There are now a lot of books on Covid and the law. Several of these have been made freely available. These are listed in the books section at the beginning of the bibliography, as well as in the relevant topic section, if applicable.
Methodology used to Find the Literature
I have alerts set up in Google Scholar, SSRN, Index to Legal Periodicals, Australian Legal Journals Index and HeinOnline. I also check SSRN weekly and other platforms, such as Sabinet, regularly. Many of the alerts lead me onto other literature, such as special issues of journals. While I try to be systematic, and still aspire to cover the field, much of the discovery process is serendipitous (like all research and much library reference work) and I am acutely aware that, despite best efforts, I miss some scholarship (probably quite a lot) and that the reality falls short of the aspiration.
Scope and Coverage
The aim is to capture, as far as possible, all covid legal scholarship from around the world. The bibliography currently includes literature from over 100 countries.
The limit to this geographic coverage is that only material in English is included. This is a regrettable limitation and I am acutely aware that English speaking jurisdictions are over represented, and the bibliography is not therefore truly representative of published literature. However, I speak and read no languages other than English, and the databases and other resources that I have access to are predominantly in English.
Type of publications included
At the start of the project in March 2020, I was including everything – from substantive scholarship to short, highly localised practitioner articles, blogs etc. As the rate of publications increased rapidly, I had to implement some limits in order to try to realistically stay on top of publications. Short practitioner articles are therefore only selectively included, with a greater emphasis on scholarship.
Individual blog posts are not listed, but the Blogs and other online commentary fora that have dedicated Covid-19 sections or much Covid commentary are themselves listed in the blogs section in Part C at the end of the bibliography – for example Verfassungsblog on Matters Constitutional’s COVID 19 and States of Emergency Debates site, and the International Law Blog COVID-19 page.
Part C also lists collections of Covid resources such as the COVID-19 Law Lab and Hein Online’s COVID-19 in America collection, and Covid websites such as the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.
Part B of the bibliography lists International, regional and domestic organisations that have produced Covid guidance or commentary – for example, the UN COVID-19 Response portal, EU Covid guidance, the International Justice Resource Centre’s COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Guidance, and the UK Parliamentary Libraries’ Covid Research.
Bibliographic Management Software
All records are stored in Zotero. The Zotero library is necessary, not only to produce all citations in the AGLC compliant style used in the bibliography, but as a way of ‘future-proofing’ – it is an open source, portable and complete archive of the bibliography that is not dependent on an institutional subscription and can be used to populate any type of host platform. I therefore only include literature from resources from which records can be imported into Zotero. Most publisher platforms have this capability, with a couple of notable exceptions, such as ‘the Westlaws’ – therefore records from Westlaw AU, Classic, UK and Canada are not included. At the start of the project, when the literature was a mere trickle, I was using the Westlaw platforms and manually converting each citation to AGLC style. This was stupidly time consuming and as the rate of publications increased, became simply unfeasible. It is a pity – for example, WestlawNext Canada has a terrific Emerging Areas of Practice Series – COVID-19, as well as many other Covid publications, and these are excluded. I note that over several years I and other librarians have repeatedly asked Thomson Reuters to add export functionality to export .ris files to be added to bibliographic software management programs such as Endnote, RefWorks and Zotero – with zero success. Westlaw UK used to have this functionality – it was removed with no explanation, and we have had no luck in asking for it to be reinstated. Thompson Reuters publications are therefore not represented unless they are included in databases such as Index to Legal Periodicals – and the bibliography would have been a good and free way to promote their Covid resources.
The bibliography now has well over 3000 records. It takes several hours per week to update. I note that I do not receive any payment for the maintenance of the bibliography and I do it in my own time: I do it because I believe passionately that it a worthwhile endeavour and an important resource for librarians, researchers and practitioners around the world, particularly those who may not have access to the same resources as those of us in the west / global north. Equally importantly, I think that this snapshot of law during a time of such global upheaval will be an important historical archive in years to come. I guess it’s a labour of love.
The bibliography is updated with new literature at least weekly. I also periodically check to see if any literature designated as ‘forthcoming’ has been published, and if advance articles have been subsequently designated volume, issue and page numbers. I amend the citations to reflect these changes, and change the links if necessary.
A project currently underway is to provide functionality to sort the bibliography by jurisdiction.
The Future of the Bibliography
I thought that at some point the flood of Covid legal literature would slow to the trickle we saw at the start of the pandemic, and that the bibliography could be retired and archived after about two years. I was very wrong! The rate of publications shows no sign of abating and even after the pandemic is over, if it ever is, it seems clear now that the legal consequences and litigation will go on for years – giving academics and practitioners plenty to write about for a long time. Eventually, we will archive the bibliography, and I have already been in discussions with Hein about this – Hein Online seems the obvious place for such an archive to be maintained in perpetuity. In the meantime, with no end in sight, I will go on, and am very happy to do so.
I hope you find, or have found, the bibliography useful. If you know of resources that are not included, I would be delighted to hear from you!
High Court of Australia Library
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