January 13, 2010
Taking the Proverbial Bull by the Horns: AALL as an Agent of ChangeLooking back in LLB Turns Five Years Old: Another Day, Another Post, I mentioned that it was a fair assessment to characterize 2009 was the year the legal information professional blogosphere became the consumer advocate for legal resources users, individual and institutional. This is not a situation where, as an old German proverb says, "a bad cause requires many words." This is a situation where a good cause requires words spoken out loud, clearly stated, and followed up by well-publicized concerted action.
Where's the Leadership? Isn't it about time for AALL to catch up to its membership in a vocal, that is to say, very visible way? Enough with the very occasional behind closed doors Chicago-style politicking with legal publishers. As librarians we call for greater transparency in government to make government more accountable, responsive and better informed. As association members, isn't it time to call for greater transparency in AALL governance for the same reasons and purposes?
There's something called Web 2.0 that AALL might want to investigate to learn how to listen to and then act upon its members' concerns in a timely manner. Member engagement may be slow in coming forward because, well, many believe it is just a waste of time; no criticism of AALL staff intended or implied. I personally think it is long over due that we increase AALL's staff for advocacy to address the well-known outrageous practices of some very expensive legal publishing vendors and support the free access to legal information movement in a manner more substantial than appearing like a bobblehead doll even if that means our membership dues have to increase (although I would look at increasing our advertising rates first).
Time for an Internal Transformation. The current AALL "professional association" model is fast becoming utterly irrelevant for advocacy purposes; the committee structure isn't very productive and will not improve unless committee members -- all working law librarians -- have professional association staff at their beck and call to support activities under their direction.
Let's start with the Executive Board. Wouldn't it be a good idea to elect three vice presidents, one each representing the major sectors of our institutional members: academic law libraries (public and private), private law libraries (firms and other) and public law libraries (state, county, courts, etc.) with some real authority to direct association staff and also require them to meet with AALL staff face-to-face in Chicago or by video conferencing on a regular basis?
President? Sure, someone who can string a sentence or two together for PR purposes but more a figure head position. A Secretary-Treasurer? Sure for fiscal bean counting purposes. Directors? Hardly necessary if the Executive Board also includes VP-Elects for each institutional sector.
After some 30 years, I've seen a very noticable -- really hasn't it always been obvious -- trend. Academic law librarians fill our elected Executive Board positions more than any other institutional segment but issues, concerns and decisions made by firm libraries drive the market place and law firms typically have been under-represented on AALL's executive board. Maybe AALL will even schedule annual meetings at a time more convenient for firm librarians to attend if a change such as this one were to be implemented.
Hello, AALL -- the summer is the busiest time of the year for firm librarians; just because academic law librarians are coasting in July isn't a good enough reason to schedule annual meetings then. We would see many more firm librarians attending and contributing if our annual meeting was scheduled at some other time. We would even get better hotel rates if we piggy-backed on AALS annual meetings in early January.
On Being an Institutional Also-Ran. Why do individual law librarians have to create their own online petitions drives? Why do others have to "nudge" AALL to take action by blog posts? This is unacceptable and is making AALL nothing more than an also-ran in matters that are and will be transformative, that are becoming and will most definitely be paradigm-shifting akin to scientific advancement as a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions" that Thomas Kuhn observed in his 1962 classic The Stucture of Scientific Revolution. AALL stands unprepared like a department store manikin frozen in time in a window display while its dues-paying institutional members scramble onwards.
Many in our profession were not even born when Kuhn's work was published but certainly will be dealing with the consequences of the revolution now taking place in access to legal information. As a professional law librarian who came up the ranks from library school in the generation that understood the "magic" of fee-based online legal research in 1980, I have some experience with revolutionary change and believe I've earned the right to say, "WTF - get on with it or get out of the way, AALL." The Association's institutional presence is fast becoming an obstacle in the hillclimb legal information professionals are ascending to address the matters at hand.
Remember the old proverb, "an obstacle is often an unrecognized opportunity." In this case, many law librarians are thinking it might be time to invest their institution's membership dues and their professional efforts in some other existing or new organization. I, for one, think it is long overdue to give AALL a good, swift collective kick in the pants. How would you rate AALL's performance in achieving its leadership and advocacy goals expressed in its 2005-2010 Strategic Directions? Is there any reason to expect substantive improvements from AALL's Executive Board Strategic Directions Committee?
It's About Tactics. Let's remember that the concept of strategy was borrowed from the military and adapted for use by collectives like associations. It is a way of referring to what one plans to do to counter another's actual or predicted moves where the other is defined as one holding an antithetical position. In terms of strategic advocacy, anyone maintaining or creating barriers to access to legal information stands on the one side; everyone trying to knock down barriers to access stands on the other side. Strategy, thus, spans the gap between policy and tactics. Let's assume all law librarians share the same policy ideals. Many members may find the Association's strategy acceptable. Far fewer law librarians find AALL's tactics successful. AALL's tactical execution of its 2010-2013 strategy is what ultimately will matter.
Let's close with another old German proverb -- a little too late, is much too late. That characterizes AALL's contribution as an agent of change in the 21st Century so far. [JH]
Someone pointed me to your post when I was in the process of expressing my frustration that the CRIV Committee (of which I was appointed a member this past July) doesn't seem to do anything about what I perceive as major issues affecting librarians that should be addressed with the vendors. The refrain seems to be now that there is an AALL Vendor liason who addresses these issues but I never hear about anything actually being accomplished. Another NY librarian suggested that AALL doesn't consider advocacy of its members interests in opposition to the vendors as part of its mission. It appears to me that a great deal of financial support for AALL and its programs comes from the vendors. Perhaps that is part of the problem. How can AALL truly represent law librarians when it gets financial support from vendors?
One of the reasons I sought to be appointed to CRIV was that I recognized that private law firm librarians are woefully underrepresented in AALL's committees and leadership (mostly because we dont have a lot of free time to devote to professional development and organizations).
Anyhow I read with great interest your post and agree with much of what you said. Perhaps it is time for a new organization or at least change within AALL. The question is, how is that going to happen?
These comments are my own and are in no way being made on behalf of the CRIV Committee or my firm
Posted by: Caren Biberman | Jan 14, 2010 8:14:27 AM
I don't find the the argument that law firm librarians aren't attending AALL because firms are no longer picking up the tab to be persuasive. Academic and public law libraries aren't writing blank checks anymore either. One might make the very telling argument that law librarians don't find the annual meeting worth paying for out of their own pockets.
Scheduling the annual meeting at a time more convenient for firm librarians remains the issue, regardless of who is paying for attendance -- it's summer program time. One might even make the case that if summer associates and freshly minted law grads were better trained in legal research skills, more law firm librarians would be able to attend...
The larger, more significant issue, is increasing participation in AALL governance and meetings across all sectors of our institutional members. Annual meeting scheduling is just one instance of this issue.
Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | Jan 14, 2010 5:01:16 AM
If you were to survey law firm librarians that don't attend the Annual Meeting or get involved with Association work, I think you'd find the reason is a lack of financial support rather than scheduling. (Though January might be difficult, as it's the beginning of the fiscal year in many firms.) Ten years ago, it wasn't unusual for a firm librarian (especially the director) to enjoy the benefit of firm-paid membership. Many received support to attend the Annual Meeting. Participating in association work has always been a challenge for firm librarians, because it's typically in addition to the 40+ hours of work per week. As most of you probably know, the financial sitaution for firm librarians has worsened dramatically in the last couple of years. For those that are still members, involvement is even more challenging as we're pressured to be more and more efficient (to maximize revenue).
(This is my personal opinion and in no way represents my employer or AALL and its Executive Board.)
Posted by: Janet McKinney | Jan 13, 2010 2:58:28 PM
I agree with much of your post -- especially your idea for having 3 AALL vice-presidents who represent the three categories of law libraries. Academic law librarians have been so concerned about many of AALL's practices (especially their coziness with vendors) that we formed the Society of Academic Law Library Directors two years ago. Approximately 160 of the academic directors are members, and we are determined to address those issues that AALL seems so eager to avoid.
Posted by: Gail Daly | Jan 13, 2010 7:08:28 AM
"Maybe AALL will even schedule annual meetings at a time more convenient for firm librarians to attend if a change such as this one were to be implemented."
Give me a break. AALL has already cut the length of the annual meeting, with the bulk of it occurring on the weekend, in response to the complaints of firm and court librarians.
Posted by: Rob T. | Jan 13, 2010 6:26:02 AM