Enhanced Electronic Index Allows Access to Extensive Collection of Legal Documents By Topic of Interest

Access Innovations, Inc., a leader in the data management industry, has collaborated with the Iowa Legislative Services Agency to build a customized thesaurus that allows the Iowa Legislature General Assembly to easily access its extensive legal body of existing and proposed laws, bills, acts, and regulations by using controlled, vocabulary-driven indexing in addition to  published indexing codes.

The new thesaurus also allows newly published unstructured content to be tied together across multiple indices and will drive a uniform index.

The six-month project utilized Access Innovations’ Data Harmony® software suite with the goal of providing subscription-based delivery of legal documents derived from uniform index entries. The project team created the thesaurus using MAIstro™, a software tool that includes both Thesaurus Master® (thesaurus and taxonomy management) and M.A.I.™ (Machine Aided Indexer).

Marjorie M.K. Hlava, president of Access Innovations, explained that the new index makes it much easier for the Iowa Legislative Services Agency to deliver precise information to its users much more quickly.

“Before, they might have had 100 different terms covering laws and regulations related to agriculture. In order to find the right citation or receive updates, a user would have to know the correct term as well as the code. Now, Iowa users can enter a single term or the standardized code to subscribe to ‘Agriculture’ and be notified of changes or proposed changes to state laws on this topic. This saves them a huge amount of time and frustration,” she said.

Hlava added she believes the project can serve as a model for other states interested in creating more efficient and effective indexes covering their past, current, and proposed laws, regulations and bills.

The project differed from typical index and thesaurus creation because the Iowa Legislative Services Agency needed to maintain its existing codes from each back-of-the-book index, rather than starting from scratch and creating new codes. One reference alone, the Blue Index, included 2,300 index terms. To create the thesaurus, Access Innovations looked at different methods to apply to each term according to the existing references, tied preferred terms to the existing codes, and added related terms to the preferred terms.

The codes covered previous legislation dating as far back as 1953 to legislation through 2010. Also, the custom taxonomy was built with only four levels in order to meet Iowa Legislative Services’ navigation requirements. Typically, thesauri are not limited by a specified number of levels.

Jack Bruce, a project manager at Access Innovations, noted, “The new index makes it much easier for Iowa to deliver precise information to all their users much more quickly. Their 300-page Iowa Code index is now 22 pages and provides fast, accurate access. I don’t think they could ever go back to the old pre-coordinated indexing days. They were interested in trying it but a bit skeptical at first. Now, they are believers.”

Bruce said that  Access Innovations also provided on-site training and ongoing technical support so that Iowa Legislative Services Agency’s indexing staff  could get used to the new thesaurus, ask questions, and learn in a hands-on environment how to work with it so they could, in turn, show their users how to get the most from it.

“We believe the new uniform index derived from this thesaurus is going to be an extremely efficient way to deliver a huge volume of information in a useful and easily searchable way for years to come,” Bruce said.

Hlava added, “The Iowa LSA is a very forward thinking group with the vision to harness the Data Harmony technology to streamline access to government information, enabling the democratic process in a much more transparent and efficient way.”