June 21, 2010
Some Thoughts on Programming at the AALL Conference
I'm Caren Biberman, the newest contributing editor to this Blog. I've been in the legal field for 30 years, first as a practicing attorney and then for the last 17 years as a law librarian. My first full time job as a law librarian was with AT&T. Then I moved on to various law firms in NJ and NY.
I am concerned and angry about the lack of respect for the law librarian profession and the many recent layoffs of colleagues. I agreed to blog so I can talk about issues relating to the profession that I and many of my colleagues feel are pressing. Today's post's subject is the programming at the upcoming AALL Conference.
At AT&T I attended the conference sporadically but for the last six or seven years I have faithfully attended. In the early years I sent justification emails to my boss. I listed each program I planned to attend with an explanation of why attending these programs would be good for my professional development and the company. I remember listing at least 8-10 programs.
This year when I registered I was hard pressed to find more than 2 or 3 that I wanted to attend when I saw programs like: Making Sense of the Federal Census?; Water Water Everywhere; After Hotel Rwanda & Welcome to Sarajevo: Preserving Trial Evidence & Documentation in a Multi Media Age; Hillmon's Bones: Solving a 19th Century Legal Mystery with 21st Century Research. And then there was Glass Half Full Explore Techniques for Putting Optimism to Work as a Management Tool in Difficult Times. Okay, I admit it, I am a born and bred pessimist. But in these challenging times I frankly think you need a whole lot more than optimism to get you through and that's what these programs should be focusing on.
I am not saying these programs aren't interesting. And I know I am infuriating some really great people who have worked hard on these programs. But too many of the programs appeal to a very small subset of the librarian population. Many programs seem to be repeats of programs done at prior conferences. We need to provide programming that focuses on the skills librarians need today. We need to do programs looking at the big picture and not just librarianship. We need to have new and more advanced programming for the members who come each year. Can we really afford to be spending time and our organizations' funds attending programs that don't directly have some tangible benefit? Not in these times.
Frankly, I gave up writing emails based on AALL's programming. Now I focus on the other valuable aspects of the conference. I set up 2-3 sit-downs with vendors to discuss issues that arose during the year. I troll the Exhibit Hall looking for new vendors and products that might be of interest to my firm. I network with other librarians. Fortunately, I work for a boss who finds value in these activities. Unfortunately, that's not the case for a lot of librarians. It is now much harder to get firms to pay for conferences. The lack of relevant programming is a major issue. Quite a few librarians have said the programming at the AALL Conference has declined in recent years and they too are lucky if they can find 2 to 3 programs to attend. Some have simply decided not to attend.
Having done so, I know it is very time intensive to put together a program and applaud all who do. But we need to scratch the programming model and start anew. PLL took steps on its own this year and created a day and one half Summit for private law librarians prior to the conference. It focuses on the business of law, change agency, staffing, etc. and features outside speakers including a law firm consultant, a business librarian and an analyst in the legal publishing arena. It provides a ray of light for law firm librarians. I have signed up for it, if you are a PLL member I hope you did as well.
If the PLL Summit lives up to its promise why go to the AALL Conference? Why not expand it and create our own conference? Well, I would miss out on the interaction with the academic and the state, county and court librarians. There is an untapped synergy among the groups and this is what we need to focus on in our programming--programs that appeal to more than just one type of law librarian and that encourage the groups to work together to keep our profession relevant. We should also reach out to speakers outside of the law librarian community to talk about issues of importance to large groups of law librarians.
We need to expand our focus to the world around us--the law firms, the law schools, the courts and the local governments and talk about the issues facing them. We need to have a clear understanding of what is happening in the organizations we support and be able to react so we become a highly regarded and sought after profession that is relevant to our organizations. Focusing on actual law librarian skills is just part of the story.
I don't pretend to have all the answers. And I do not believe we can do this alone. We need a educational programming professional to work with us. I ask all of you to reach out to AALL and voice your opinion (good or bad) on the programming. Sitting back and grumbling will change nothing.
The opinions expressed in this post are mine alone.
This is an excellent discussion. Having proposed AALL sessions in the past (with more of a firm focus) and having them rejected was tough. Seeing the numbers declining for all conferences these last few years has been even more disconcerting. Lately, I have been wondering if we are approaching a time when conferences are simply becoming out-moded. Firms have been cutting back for years. Even if the economy surged, I doubt this would change. Once you realize a cost-savings, it is unlikely you will give it up when more money starts pouring in. As the percentages of paying members who attend conferences continue to shrink . . . are we putting too much emphasis on them? Would we be better served by more regional or SIS-specific events? I think the PLL Summit is a shining example of where the future may be taking us. The challenge to associations, as I see it, is taking the programming and networking opportunities directly to their members in ways that are relevant to who they are and what they do. SLA had an interesting and successful experiment this year with its Virtual Conference component to its annual. People have been raving about it. Again, is the future speaking to us? I think the days of us expecting members to come to our conferences for this programming are numbered.
Posted by: John | Jun 29, 2010 12:33:30 PM
I'm a member of PLL but don't work in a law firm... so PLL, don't forget us corporate law librarians !
Posted by: Marilyn Bromley | Jun 28, 2010 11:55:04 AM
Many of us attend III Academic Directors Conference, IUG, Educom, SLA, and other very fine program venues. There are really wonderful programming opportunities.
There needs to be higher level programming and more programming with real take aways. I agree with Sharon Bradley - the $ and creative/innovative ways to get speakers are there. We just need to think "outside the box" a bit.
I'd much rather see fewer; but better programming for all than working to slot many days. The other very interesting thing is about the programs we don't do at all. Look at some of the programs done by our colleagues in other professional organizations - there are so many things going on in knowledge management, internet legal regulations, the impact of globalization on legal education and academic law libraries; and the list goes on.
Let's keep trying to make it better - I'm afraid that old adage - if you keep doing the same old things - you will get the same result may be our problem. We need to break out of the mold and go for great programming in a big way.
Posted by: Billie Jo Kaufman | Jun 21, 2010 11:50:11 PM
The Annual Meeting Program Review Committee took a detailed survey of the membership this year, and had a large response to their questions. Their report is being submitted to the board in July. I'm hoping, and anticipating, that some significant changes will be the result and will improve the program options for everyone.
I am the education chair for the 2011 AALL annual meeting, and welcome solid program proposals that do address the concerns and topics mentioned. The programming will be based on tracks: library administration and management; reference, research & client service; information technology; collection development and cataloging; teaching; and general topics. Being aware of the world around us isn't enough; we need to understand how our skills and talents fit into that world.
We hope that having a block of programs on the same general topic that address different libraries and staffing levels (not all in the same program, either)will make it easier to make a case to the boss for attendance. The idea may or may not work, but we need to try something different to better meet member needs.
Constructive ideas on how to make programming better are always welcome. Each SIS has a liaison from the Annual Meeting Program Committee, and there is an AMPC open forum for 2011 programming. Please come if you're in Denver. If not, do send your ideas to your SIS education chair so they can be included in programs proposed for next year.
Posted by: Anne Myers | Jun 21, 2010 12:47:09 PM
A particularly sticky aspect is the "shadow" conference programs that are thrown into the mix. They compete with the official programs and spread attendance even thinner.
I also agree with Caren that we need to bring in more outside speakers. Too many programs are us talking to each other and the same names appear repeatedly. The objection often is the cost for bringing in other professionals. That is a card played way too often. My chapter, SEAALL, could well afford to sponsor a speaker or two.
I suspect there are lots of people who would make great speakers or panelists and would not expect remuneration or expenses but we don't even ask. Perhaps the program proposal form could specifically require the suggestion of a non-AALL member. Just a thought
Posted by: Sharon Bradley | Jun 21, 2010 10:02:01 AM
People have been complaining about programming for years, but like so many other things with AALL, the complaints seem to fall on deaf ears. Maybe with the economy what it is and fewer and fewer people attending each year,something will be done. The problem seems to rest with the way slots are distributed to SIS's. Even the smallest gets a slot. restuling in some of the off-beat and really irrelevant programming that is attended by virtually no one.
Posted by: Winnie | Jun 21, 2010 8:42:42 AM
Perhaps the PLL Summit should be included at the AALL conference as an offering; ditto for the additional fee programs offered pre conference.
Posted by: Mariann | Jun 21, 2010 8:12:24 AM
I am not going this year because of the lack of suitable sessions to justify the expense. I would like to see intense programs on skills we need today like tricks for searching social web sites to locate people, company and other information needed. In the past I have not had to give an account of programs, but this year my boss did ask what was being presented. After taking another hard look I realized there weren't enough to justify going.
Posted by: Kathie Sweeney | Jun 21, 2010 7:36:54 AM
PLL's Intellectual Property group deserves high praise for scheduling an excellent mix of educational programs, networking opportunities, and chances to meet with vendors. As a member of this group I have benefited a tremendous amount over the years from the terrific leadership we have had, and by the willingness of more experienced members to share their knowledge with other librarians.
Posted by: Donna Fisher | Jun 21, 2010 6:39:20 AM