June 14, 2010
Two CRIV Member Resignations Prompt One Question: Why Has AALL Appointed a Paid "AALL Vendor Liaison" as Gatekeeper between the Committee and Vendors?
Last month two members of CRIV tendered their resignations effective immediately. Lucy Rieger was in her third year of committee membership while Caren Biberman was still in her first year. Why? Well one may say, well, I am saying and am not speaking for either Lucy or Caren, that our association has eviscerated this Committee's mission.
To be clear, let's remember that CRIV stands for the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors. The CRIV Charge includes:
The Committee shall foster positive, constructive and open communication between information vendors and the membership of AALL in matters relating to provision of information in any format.
The Committee shall serve as a forum and resource to provide constructive suggestions to vendors.
The Committee represents the interests of all AALL members, and neither it nor its members will represent or advocate for the benefit of only one publisher or information vendor when acting in their capacity as committee members.
Under the heading "Vendor Communications," the Committee's responsibilities include:
Serving in an "ombudsman" role, work with librarians and publishers to help solve problems of both an individual or wide-scale nature. By monitoring appropriate discussion lists and through other means, identify actual or potential problems that are appropriate for CRIV intervention. Investigate formal complaints and other informal reports of problems, assist in achieving fair settlements, and expedite communication of findings and solutions to the library and publisher communities by issuing reports... . ... Work with other AALL entities to monitor and participate in the discussion of fair trade practices in the legal publishing industry.
Meet the AALL Vendor Liaison. CRIV members aren't allowed to fulfill the above responsibilities. In a nutshell, the Committee is not allowed to communicate with our vendors directly except for the "most mundane interactions" to quote from Caren Biberman's letter of resignation. That's the job of the "AALL Vendor Liaison" now. The what? Our (need I emphasize “our”) association’s Executive Board last year wedged someone who was not a CRIV member between the Committee and the legal publishing industry. By way of an ex-officio appointment, an official compensated AALL Vendor Liaison position was created and added to the Committee.
No, this isn't the usual Executive Board member serving the usual perfunctory Board-Committee role. Nor is it a HQ staffer assigned to help CRIV out by performing grunt work. We pay a working law librarian, just like all the working volunteer law librarians on CRIV, to do this job. The current position holder, Marian Parker, may be well qualified to volunteer her time and expertise as one among many actively engaged CRIV-ers but it certainly doesn't help the library-side of the library-vendor relationship when CRIV is effectively reduced to a committee of one.
Good Idea? Under our Bylaws, Art. IX. 4, "The President may make committee appointments during the President's term of office" but is an ex officio appointment that undermines the mission of CRIV permissible? Under our bylaws, Art. IX. 3, "When the Executive Board creates a committee, the Board shall designate its purpose, term and structure." However, CRIV is a long-standing committee with a purpose and structure that has been in place for years. One could argue that CRIV would have to be replaced with some new committee, let's call it CRIV-Lite, to make last year's Executive Board action right. But, let’s leave the Bylaws issue to association nerds. That's not what is really important here.
What is important is that our Executive Board's action was wrong, dead wrong. Here we are, we being institutional members spanning all law library market segments, in the midst of substantial change -- budget cutbacks, major product roll-outs, etc. -- when the one committee that can help put out fires under its duly sanctioned intervention mandate is reduced to waiting to hear if the AALL Vendor Liaison is, has, or even will consider taking some sort of action.
What have we heard from AALL about the current state of affairs in the library-vendor relationship this year? Ah ... oh, yeah, well Rob Myers, CRIV vice-chair and incoming chair of the Committee received a blow to the solar plexus by TR Legal when he requested that the Company cease its unsolicited shipments practice. That's all I can think of, you? Even CRIV members as a committee have trouble finding out what, if anything, the AALL Vendor Liaison has been doing this year.
Why? To the best of my knowledge this is the first time our professional association has usurped the mission of one of our own duly appointed committees by this means. Why? Is AALL afraid of losing ad revenue by unleashing CRIV to fulfill its mission? Is consumer advocacy an empty promise to the membership? Are there no serious library-vendor matters requiring attention?
When a BigLaw firm librarian who has served on TR Legal and Lexis advisory councils and whose phone calls to WEXIS power brokers will be answered because they know her name resigns during the first year of serving on the Committee like Caren has, folks need to stand up and take notice. The library-vendor relationship is ablaze with serious issues affecting all types of law libraries in differing ways, many with long-term consequences, and more so than at any time in recent memory. Our Executive Board, however, has decided it does not want willing and able experts from the entire spectrum of our membership base to collectively address them with our vendors directly.
I, for one, but I doubt I am the only one, want qualified professionals like Caren, Lucy and others who offer to volunteer their time and expertise to represent our interests in the library-vendor relationship to be able to do so. This is one of those rare AALL committees whose work benefits all institutional members in one of the most important areas of each institution's mission. I do not want their efforts mediated, stymied really, by a vendor relations gatekeeper appointed by the Executive Board. Do you?
End This "Experiment" Now! In my much younger days, when I perhaps naively thought making some sort of contribution to AALL activities was worthwhile, I joined the “little work” chapter committees like Nominations because I didn't have a lot of time to offer but did think persuading dedicated law librarians to become chapter officers was a "good thing." Looks like the de facto CRIV-Lite has become one of those "little work" committees at the national level; no dedicated law librarians need apply unless the membership puts a stop to this "new world order."
Hopefully Caren’s suggestions, expressed in her resignation letter (below), will lead to much needed and quickly executed reforms in Denver. Incoming AALL President Darcy Kirk, Associate Dean for Library and Technology and Professor of Law, Univ. of Connecticut School of Law and our association's Executive Board ought to make it very clear that they intend to put an end to this, let's call it "experiment," that the AALL Vendor Liasion was a mistake and will be eliminated immediately, that our association funds can be put to much better use in other ways to address the library-vendor relationship, and that CRIV has a clear, unfettered mandate to collectively deal with issues by communicating with vendors directly.
Caren has been kind enough to allow republication of her letter of resignation. The letter was sent to Amy Eaton, Outgoing CRIV Chair, Catherine Lemann, AALL President, Rob Meyers, Incoming CRIV Chair, Christine Graesser, Board Liaison, and Marian Parker, AALL Vendor Liaison, last month. I believe it is required reading by all law librarians who give a damn about our association.
The above commentary is mine and mine alone. It’s up to the membership to bring CRIV back to life. [JH]
Biberman's Letter of Resignation from the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors
I am hereby submitting my resignation as a member of the AALL CRIV Committee effective immediately.
I was very excited and honored to be appointed as a member but unfortunately the reality of the AALL CRIV Committee fell far short of what I expected. I would like to share with you my experiences and my thoughts in the hopes that perhaps you will take what I am saying as constructive thoughts and suggestions:
1. From July 2009 through April 2010 the CRIV Committee met once (at AALL) and had one phone conference (which was not until late April 2010). All other communications were via email. I would have liked to see more interaction among the Committee members especially as there were often issues worth discussing.
2. From July 2009 through March 2010 the CRIV Committee (as a whole) never received one communication from the AALL Vendor Liaison, Marian Parker. I was told that the CRIV chair did have some communications with Marian Parker but those were not shared with the Committee for some reason. It wasn't until April 2010 that Marian Parker spoke to the members of the CRIV Committee (I should point out I missed this call as I was in Dallas, Texas for Lexis Advisory Board and TRIPLL). Even worse though, in my opinion, was that there was little or no communication from Marian Parker to the AALL membership even though there were several major vendor issues during this time period. I strongly believe that many members would have appreciated communication from either Marian Parker or the AALL Board concerning these issues and what was being done by AALL to promote the interests of its librarian members. I understand that Marian Parker is now planning to have regular calls with the Chair with information being passed on to the Committee members so I do feel that at least is a step in the right direction.
3. From July 2009 through April 2010 there were often issues that some members of the CRIV Committee would have liked to take action on and each time it was discussed via email the message came back that the Vendor Liaison, Marian Parker, would handle the issue. In fact, when I first suggested an interview with someone from Thomson Reuters re WestlawNext so we could do an informative piece for our members I was told via email that I could not do that and that the Vendor Liaison, Marian Parker, would handle all “issues" regarding WestlawNext. I later was given the go ahead to do the interview and write the article which by the way got mentioned in several blogs as not going far enough. However, I felt constrained to avoid any questions that might be perceived as an "issue."
The long and the short of this is that I feel (as I believe do others) that CRIV no longer is a viable committee due to the appointment of a vendor liaison that AALL leadership seems to want to handle all but the most mundane interactions with vendors. As a member of AALL, I am not pleased that AALL is spending my membership dollars to hire a vendor liaison who has not communicated with the CRIV Committee and the membership and I am troubled by the thought of the Vendor Liaison being the editor of the proposed blog. I think not acting to help "put out the fires" that have arisen has not served the membership well. I think when AALL has members willing to interact with vendors on behalf of the membership as a whole it is unnecessary to hire someone to do the task. I also think there may be an inherent conflict in accepting sponsorship dollars from vendors when one is trying to represent the interests of the AALL membership which is first and foremost law librarians. I honestly don't know whether AALL should or should not accept sponsorship dollars, I recognize that it is a difficult issue.
Given the above I have decided that I need to expend my energies elsewhere and therefore am resigning as a member of the AALL CRIV Committee. I do thank you for the opportunity to serve on a Committee and feel like I now have a better understanding of AALL as an organization. I know there was some feeling at one point that I was making out AALL to be the "evil empire" but that is not at all the case. I do think change is needed but I also recognize we are volunteers doing our best for the organization representing our profession and I do applaud those efforts heartily. I thought long and hard about this email and revised it several times over the last month and sincerely hope you will take this in the spirit in which it is intended and not as a denunciation of AALL. The opinions expressed in this email are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my (firm).
Caren J. Biberman
I do not know anything about what has been going on with the CRIV Committee beyond the information included in the above post and comments but suspect there is more to the story and think the tone of the post was unfair to Marian. In addition to her substantial body of experience in academic law libraries and having worked in significant positions for two legal publishing companies, a unique combination that I suspect very few if any other AALL members can match, Marian is a wonderful person. The piece comes across, at least in part, as a personal attack, and I question why that was necessary. / Nolan Wright, Reference Librarian and Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University School of Law Library.
Posted by: Nolan Wright | Jun 15, 2010 8:32:23 AM
Perhaps the money that could have gone to CRIV for site visits went in part to the hiring of the Vendor Liason as I am under the impression that is a paid position.
I agree the site visits are a crucial part of the role that CRIV should be playing and I not only call upon AALL to restore the budget for site visits but to also rethink the Vendor Liason position.
Posted by: Caren Biberman | Jun 14, 2010 10:30:28 AM
Thanks Caren. I think the site visits are one of the most important functions of CRIV and I have always advocated for them. I was aware (althought I confess that I had forgotten)that the budget had been zeroed out for site visits. I (and the rest of the Committee) were very unhappy, not only with the cut but also the way in which it was handled. We submitted our budget request (I believe it was for $10,000 but it may have been $5,000) and were denied ANY funding for CRIV. We were notified fairly late of the denial and were not given an opportunity to revise our budget request. Of course, given the state of the economy at that moment in time we were well aware that cuts were happening. I think we felt CRIV was a victim of that situation and expected that funding would be restored in future years. I urge AALL and the membership to restore that funding and continue to support the site visit role of CRIV.
Posted by: Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki | Jun 14, 2010 9:51:01 AM
I would like to respond to your comments regarding site visits. Perhaps you were unaware that the CRIV Committee was given no budget for site visits this year by AALL. I suggested the possibility of doing virtual site visits but my suggestions went nowhere. In my opinion it was because AALL did not want CRIV members liasing with vendors and interfering with the work of the Vendor Liason.
Caren J. Biberman
Posted by: Caren Biberman | Jun 14, 2010 8:20:01 AM
I was so sorry to hear of these CRIV resignations. Lucy Reiger served with me on CRIV, and did an excellent job with her program on unfair publishing practices in D.C. last year. Her program and the work she did in planning it led to AALL's comments to the FTC regarding Prenotification Negative Option Plans (http://www.aall.org/aallwash/FTCComments100809.pdf). I don't know Caren well but she is obviously an asset to a committee like CRIV and a consummate professional.
As immediate past chair of CRIV I was involved in the development of the Vendor Liaison position. James Duggan consulted CRIV during the process, and we were asked to review and comment on the job description and the title. I also served on the hiring committee for the Vendor Liaison. There was concern among the CRIV members at that time that the creation of this staff position could interfere with the work of CRIV, and was perhaps a step toward phasing out the Committee. However, I remained hopeful that would not be the result, as I could see (and still see) two very distinct sets of needs relating to AALL and information vendors; the needs of the members (CRIV) and the needs of the Association (Vendor Liaison).
In my view, CRIV should remain the voice of the membership, advocating for what best serves librarians and their patrons. CRIV should also serve as ambassadors of the membership to the information vendors, promoting the expertise, skills and experience of our members. This ambassadorial role is fulfilled in part by CRIV's site visits. The site visits have been criticized over the years as boondoggles of little value. I completely disagree with that characterization and have found them to be extremely valuable opportunities for both the participating librarians and the host vendors. During my tenure on CRIV we established guidelines for site visits(http://www.aallnet.org/committee/criv_sitevisit.asp)in order to equitably distribute the costs, which had previously been entirely assumed by the host vendor. Having the vendor assume all costs for site visits put us in an untenable position, and sharing the costs would place us on an equal footing with our hosts while demonstrating the Association's commitment to the process. I would urge the Association to continue to support CRIV's participation in these transparent outreach and relationship building activities.
The Vendor Liaison's role should be different. One of the responsibilities outlined in the job description for the position states what I see as the right role: "Developing expertise in the appropriate roles of a non-profit, membership association in the areas of information policy and vendor pricing issues."
The reason I see this distinction as particularly important is that the needs of the membership and the needs of the Association are not always aligned. The Association's reliance on vendor relationships to support the activities of AALL has been acknowledged to sometimes create conflicts with what is in the best interests of the membership (see http://www.aallnet.org/vendorrelations/faq.asp).
I hope the Executive Board continues to support CRIV in its mission and finds the right balance between these two competing needs.
Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki, Executive Director
New England Law Library Consortium (NELLCO)
Posted by: Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki | Jun 14, 2010 8:04:15 AM