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Electronic Crossroads - Public Access to Computerized Environmental Legal Information, Final Report to Environmental Innovation Program

Environmental Law, Technology
Andrews, William J.

The West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation began the Electronic Crossroads project in February, 1993.

The project's overall goal is to enhance public access to computerized environmental legal information relevant to British Columbia.

The project began with three specific objectives:

  • to convert WCELRF's library card catalogue into a flexible, multiuser database,
  • to prepare an annotated, selected listing of sources of computerized environmental and environmental legal information, and
  • to produce a policy analysis report with recommendations.

Personnel and advisory committee

The project manager is William Andrews, Barrister & Solicitor, who took a one year leave from his duties as Executive Director of WCELRF to lead the project. By the end of the project, more than a dozen staff and contract personnel had worked on the project. The project also received assistance from a multisector advisory committee.


Funding for Electronic Crossroads and related subprojects was generously provided by

  • the British Columbia Ministry of Environment;
  • the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office;
  • the federal Environmental Innovations Program;
  • the Notary Foundation of British Columbia;
  • the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia;
  • the VanCity Community Fund; and
  • the Vancouver Foundation.

System design

The project began with the design of an information system, called the Environmental Legal Information Base (ELIB), capable of serving each of the specific objectives. The design phase identified the need for both database capability and hypertext capabilities. Following an extensive evaluation and selection procedure, the project manager selected Gencat relational database software and Folio Views full-text software.

He then created an automated system for converting catalogue information in the database into the full-word-indexed, hypertext Folio Views format for maximum ease of access by users. This system allows cross-references in the catalogue (from item to item, and from an item to the full text of the item -- where the full text is in ELIB) to be turned into jump links in the Folio Views format.

Putting information into ELIB

WCELRF's existing catalogue was cleaned up and imported into the Gencat system. In addition, numerous computerized sources of relevant information were catalogued, and selected ones were annotated. Dozens, and eventually hundreds of electronic books, reports, newsletters and statutes were catalogued and put into ELIB.

A user-driven menu system was created, providing simple access to the information in ELIB (in addition to access provided by the powerful searching features in the Views software). An was also added.

Special ELIB collections were developed on environmental assessment, voluntary legal methods of protecting private land, the newsletters of the B.C. Environmental Network, and the decisions of the B.C. Environmental Appeal Board.

With funding from the Real Estate Foundation, the protection of private land collection was augmented with an interactive educational interface. The user's answers to a series of questions guide him or her to relevant legal information.

In addition, an easy, menu-driven guide to the WCELRF library catalogue was created, to facilitate searches by subject, type of item, location, geographic focus, etc.

Publication Date: 
March 1, 1994
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