July 19, 2010
A "Continental Congress" for All AALL Members Attending "Philadelphia 2011: Transparency and Accountability in the 21st Century"?
In case you missed the annual board meeting in Denver, apparently no one could come up with a catchy theme for next year's annual meeting in Philadelphia so there won't be one (!). Was "let Facts be submitted to a candid world" rejected?
As for the open forum session that followed, well, even one knowledgeable WEXIS manager did a little figuratively speaking head scratching over our leaders failure to respond to a couple of questions asked by members. Ah, but that is one of the rules of conduct for the members' open forum session -- you can ask but they don't have to answer. Been there, done that, don't even try anymore.
In response to a reiterated request made public at the open forum, what can possibly be considered "confidential" in the consultant's report that led to the creation and appointment of an AALL Vendor Liaison? I guess we will have to wait to see if the complete or a redacted version of the report is released. The clock is ticking. By the way, did we pay for this report? Was it another one of those "volunteer" assignments with an "honorarium." Some folks are interested in knowing if some (all?) of the $6,014 in the Vendor Liaison line item that was reported as spent in the 2008/2009 budget went to a working law librarian as a retainer and, if so, why the opportunity to grab some AALL $$ was not widely broadcasted to the entire membership.
Philadelphia 2011: Transparency and Accountability in the 21st Century. Now that sounds like a good enough unofficial theme for what I guess we're just going to have to refer to as "Philadelphia 2011". At least "Transparency and Accountability" has a modern ring for going to the city that hosted both the First and Second Continental Congress.
We might not get to the Second Continental Congress' most famous result, The Declaration of Independence, next year. But we can at least aim for an outcome similar to the First Continental Congress, namely, a better and broader understanding of the problems and aspirations of law librarians and the institutional members they represent in the conduct of our association's business even if that means frequent, even heated, disagreements in open sessions as took place during the First Continental Congress.
Apparently one group that thinks this is one very bad idea are some current and former elected AALL officers. Hum... Then there is the rank-in-file of my generation. Many have simply given up on AALL ever changing. To them, I say, this is one screw-up we ought not leave for the Gen X-Yers to try to fix on their own because they haven't lived through the history like we have. To the Gen X-Yers, I would like to say use some of that energy now to help push AALL into the 21st Century. Ignore the institutionalized reasons, some might say excuses, for maintaining the status quo. Seize the moment or live with the consequences that more often than not AALL's institutional presence will continue to be an obstacle instead of an agent of change.
Overdue -- Reinventing AALL for the 21st Century. In addition to repeating the call that the so-called "Vendor Colloquium" should be an open meeting held at next year's annual meeting (which can be conducted without turning into a slug fest) so that all interested members can attend (read, opening the colloquium only to members who can afford a mid-year trip just isn't going to cut it, if anyone is thinking along those lines), it is time we start considering in "first continental congress" fashion restructuring AALL in open meetings.
At the very least we should be considering the reformation of AALL at the national level in terms of membership and the Executive Board along institutional lines (e.g., Private Law Firms & Corporate Law Libraries, Academic Law Libraries (public and private) and Public Sector Law Libraries) . We as a national association of law libraries have evolved to a point where our different institutional interests, issues and concerns are not well represented under the current AALL structure. Similar proposals have been floating around since at least 2002. See, e.g., Richard Leiter's well-reasoned argument at Reorganize AALL's Membership Structures for More Effective Representation of Members, 6:5 Spectrum 4 (February 2002). It's long overdue that we bring this matter to the membership for offical discussion, analysis and, hopefully, reform. Perhaps Rich can enlist a team of forward-thinking academic, private sector and public law librarians willing to consider ways to reinvent our association to accomodate the realities of the 21st Century.
In the very early days of AALL, the push was to bring professional expertise to bear on all types of law libraries that were in most instances managed by someone unskilled in the ways and means of librarianship. Saying "I'm a law librarian" meant something then. But for a very long time now that expression of professional identity has required qualification to provide meaning ... I'm a law firm librarian ... I'm an academic law librarian ... I'm a public law librarian. Have been each at one time or another in my so-called career I can speak from first-hand experience that each of these expressions of professional identity have substantially different meanings. Library management structures, fiscal affairs, collection development, reference and research services, technical services, professional qualifications and continuing education requirements have achieved differing manifestations of professional specialization.
Let's give credit where credit is due. Without AALL the professionalization that now exists might not have been established in law libraries. We've won that battle at the generic institutional level but it is time to face the reality that as professionals employed by different institutions, our practices are fairly specialized. We are more law firm librarians, academic librarians or public law librarians than we are "law librarians." It is time for AALL to move on by serving as an umbrella association for the basic varieties of its institutional members.
By structuring AALL membership and the Executive Board alone institutional lines, I am not suggesting functional crossover interests should be neglected but it is important to remember that we belong to the American Association of Law Libraries, not law librarians. The hue and cry over abysmal programming at annual meetings, the push-off of some programming by requiring law libraries to run their own institutes before the annual meeting, and the ad hoc but organized evening meetings of law librarians in Denver is just some evidence that the current system is broken and supports the argument that AALL needs to be fixed structurally.
The criticism of how our association has been addressing (or avoiding) the library-vendor relationship is further evidence that unless we structurally reform AALL along institutional lines to represent the major types of law libraries, particularly at the Executive Board level (think elected VPs for private, academic and public sectors), there is little reason to hope that the degree of transparency and accountability needed in the governance of our association will ever be achieved. Merely tweaking the current state of affairs is not going to work.
We the People Membership. At issue here is creating a structure that requires institutional representation all the way up our association's decision-making system of governance to guarantee responsiveness to diverse institutional interests. One may say many who represent private, academic and public law libraries are looking to form a more perfect union. Some may view this sort of restructuring as disruptive change. "What, tear up AALL's By-laws!" More, however, may be inclined to view this as a sustaining innovation that offers the prospect of revitalizing AALL. "Yes, time to rethink AALL for the 21st Century!" My hunch is even our vendors would welcome reformation of AALL along these lines because it reflects how they segment the institutional buyer market. [JH]