May 4, 2011
The World of Actionable Actions: Institutional Buyers, Individual Consumers and the Legal Publishing Industry
The ways and means to reforming the current and long-standing status quo in the buyer-legal publishing vendor relationship will not be quick or easy. But there are ways and means. Just like there is a "universe of thinkable thoughts" (Berring) in the context of legal research, there is a world of actionable actions in the context of conducting business with legal publishers. It is "doable."
However, many professional law librarians have simply given up all hope of accomplishing anything. Why? Could it be because their primary reference point is their own professional association and its dismal track record. Of course, AALL's track record has contributed to the long-standing and progressively worsening status quo in the vendor-institutional buyer relationship.
Let's add, it is also readily apparent that AALL just is not interested in taken a leadership role for the sake of the small public and private sector offices or individual consumers of very expensive print and online commercial legal resources. Is it because they have no professional law librarians on staff? Do we not, as a professional association, have a public responsibility that extends beyond due-paying members? Are we law librarians not in the best position to advocate for all legal consumers based on our collective expertise with the legal publishing industry?
Answering such (rhetorical) questions in the affirmative by deeds, not just words, assumes that AALL officialdom would dedicate time to monitor all developments in the vendor-buyer relationship and then to closely examine (as in read) and widely publicize its analysis beyond the wall garden of AALL listservs. It is not unlawful to evaluate and disseminate critiques of business policies, practices, editorial quality and product pricing schemes of specific vendors and the industry generally under the AALL banner to the public at large. Of course, ad-paying vendors may not be happy and may be sufficiently "displeased" to pull their ad sponsorships. But if we as an professional association do not call it like we see it, our spinelessness just adds fuel to member dissatisfaction with AALL.
Is "Plan B" a concerted boycott of AALL by not renewing memberships? There's plenty of ways to organize summits and continuing education and professional development programs in real time virtually or at a GPS-identifible spot on Plant Earth. Hell, did you, like me, receive an unsolicited invitation to join SLA recently? Did AALL sell its mailing list to SLA? If so, it just might be the best thing our association has done in decades. But I digress... .
Certainly let's acknowledge that there are certain legal restrictions that make it difficult but not impossible for AALL to be an advocate for institutional and individual buyers of products and services from our major legal vendors. However, none of those restrictions stop AALL from issuing consumer informational alerts. Of course, this would require that AALL starts thinking "outside of the box" it has created for itself as an excuse for not doing anything.
What's the real result? The dissatisfaction with AALL's long and unproductive history has led to a pervasive defeatist attitude in the law library community when members think that AALL is the only way to address reforms in the buyer-vendor relationship. That's exactly what some of our major legal vendors want and expect us to believe because AALL's failure of imagination clearly demonstrates its inability to think outside the box.
The world of actionable actions extends well beyond the symbiotic relationship of the status quo created by our legal vendors and AALL's lap dog approach to addressing issues by way of an institutionalized inside-the-box mindset and agenda. But before we go there, the next installment in this series on "The World of Actionable Actions" shall examine AALL's latest inside-the-box effort. [JH]