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Michigan Law Library Lends Documents to Haiti Project

Earthquakes, hurricanes, and cholera have conspired to devastate Haiti in recent years. While residents, governments, and aid workers have joined forces to improve the basic necessities of Haitians—health, housing, food—Jerry Dupont, '67, realized his expertise could help the island nation as well.

"I was talking to Kent McKeever, the director of the law library at Columbia. We were chatting about the earthquake in Haiti, and we said we ought to be able to do something," Dupont recalls. "I said, well, we can build a library."

Dupont, the founder and longtime executive director of the Law Library Microform Consortium (LLMC), didn't waste any time. He worked with Columbia Law and the Library of Congress to begin collecting titles, such as Haitian constitutional documents, judicial publications, and treatises. Then he asked a few other law schools to assist, including his alma mater. Dupont served as assistant director of the University of Michigan Law Library until 1973, when he left to establish the University of Hawaii Law School Library.

In all, the LLMC's Haiti Legal Patrimony Project has collected more than 700 books and other documents, with 75 coming from Michigan Law. The only libraries that contributed more were the two core donors to the project: Columbia Law and the Library of Congress. Resources have been donated by dozens of libraries around the world.

"It shows how libraries collectively think. You can never say Harvard has everything, Michigan has everything," notes Dupont. "There's a lot of stuff scattered around. Two unique titles were even found in Germany."

Several people at the Michigan Law Library helped to locate the titles regarding Haiti, including some that the project had requested and some that Dupont hadn't identified until learning that U-M had them. "Jerry had to track these libraries down, going to smaller and smaller libraries until he found everything he was looking for. It was a treasure hunt," says Bobbie Snow, an assistant director of the Law Library and the U-M leader of the effort. "It's a huge bibliographic project."

Now, the LLMC is in the process of scanning the books and other materials, most of which are on loan and will be returned to the library of origin. From there, a massive digital record will be created that combines the strengths of the various collections.

How the images will be delivered for use by the people of Haiti is still under negotiation, Dupont notes. An outside agency, possibly the Digital Library of the Caribbean at the University of Florida, may host the free service until the Haitian government can take over.

While the primary beneficiaries of the project are the people of Haiti, Dupont points out that the resources also will help researchers around the world. "Libraries now will have access to a much richer collection than they otherwise would have," he says.

Notes Margaret Leary, director of the Michigan Law Library: "This project is an excellent example of the way collection development policies result in the whole being much greater than any one library."—KV

 

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