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March 23, 2011
Is AALL Future Ready? On Public Responsibly Based on Professional Expertise (Or at what point do we stop talking and seize the moment for consumer advocacy?)
As a follow-up to this LLB post, A Pound of Flesh: Free Speech in the Context of the Desperate Bargains Made between AALL and the Legal Publishing Industry and Individual Institutional Buyers and Their Vendors, let's recall Vicki Szymczak's (Library Director and Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School) recent LLB post, Is it time to stop talking yet? Vicki's post was published before A Pound of Flesh but I believe her post echoes, at least in part, on the theme of fear of reprisals written in A Pound of Flesh by stating:
Talking does air the dirty laundry – well, as long as you are allowed to write about the dirty laundry that is.
As noted in A Pound of Flesh, there is a tendency based on confidential communications I have received during the last several years that fear of reprisals is very real. Fear of vendor reprisals can't survive if a consumer advocacy initiative gains widespread support; but it can render any initiative stillborn by disabling means to build the needed support. The first critical step at remedy requires open acknowledgment of the fear and how it paralyzes any attempt at reform. Fear of reprisal would have no basis if legal publishers did not already unfairly leverage their market positions to advance unfair or anti-competitive business. So the fear itself attests to the urgent need for reform.
This problem extends beyond individual law librarians to our professional association that is supposed to represent us. Faulting AALL for falling short in consumer advocacy risks official criticism by ad hominem. Outspoken critics will be characterized as "naive," misled by "noble sentiment," or ungrateful for what AALL leaders do. Those seeking advancement in AALL will have all the more reason to avoid speaking out. AALL should provide a sanctuary from self-censorship rather than serve as its accessory.
When law librarians do go out on a limb and speak out, the road to action is long and winding. In asking is it time to stop talking yet, I believe Vicki is implying that "we've talked this to death, it is time to act." I think that says something about the current state of affairs in the AALL-membership and vendor-buyer relationships.
Here's what AALL Officialdom Will Say. "We are drafting a Shared Principles document" (read unenforceable) "and an Action Plan" (meaning someday we will try to do something but it will only be as effective as the "goodwill" of legal publishing community permits) as a by-product of the behind closed doors AALL's Vendor Colloquium which will be open to comments to members uninformed by what took place there. Oh well, "talk" or official AALL business conducted as usual.
In her post, Vicki writes
The U.N. accomplishes a lot just by talking. But they accomplish a lot more when they send in peace keeping forces. ...
Talk as much as you like, but, the colloquium cost us money. I just don’t think it is how I would like to spend money on this issue. So many of us feel that something is just “wrong” with the legal publishing industry. There are too few players, the prices are ridiculous, and the business practices are suspect. We’ve tried guidelines, we’ve tried talking, we’ve tried cancelling.
AALL is not a military "peace keeping" force that our major legal vendors have to worry about. Something else is needed. Then, again, perhaps "we" do simply don't matter unless a concerted effort involves all stakeholders, such as, for example, concerned members of the ABA, SLA and other groups --- none of which were invited to participate as official representatives in AALL's Vendor Colloquium. If that is the case, law librarians have to fill the leadership vacuum because of their expertise by speaking out for all legal information consumers first. Don't expect AALL to have the necessary institutional nervous energy to take up that charge.
Is AALL Future Ready? In Using Nervous Energy to Fuel the Future, John Digilio, National Manager of Research Services for Reed Smith, LLP, SLA Chicago Chapter, Legal Division Chair, and blogger at iBraryGuy, writes:
[T]here is so much nervous energy in our industry these days that I dare say it is palpable to each of us as library and information professionals. The good news is that we have an important choice to make. We can let this energy weigh heavily upon us and drag us down or we can choose to harness and channel it in ways that make us truly future ready.
Beyond all else, nervous energy is still energy and in energy there is amazing potential for great things. The trick is harnessing it and putting it to work for you. We can get caught up in all the bad news we see in the press or the fiery exchanges that seem to pop up online from time to time and we can fret and let that fear of the unknown drag us our down. Or, we can take that nervous energy and use it to fuel the optimism, activism, and creativity we need to shape the future of this industry. That is carpe diem, my friends. That is future ready!