October 2, 2012
It's Time for a Do-Over: Just say "no" to AALL's proposed membership bylaw change
In a nutshell, our elected AALL officials' case hinges on the notion that the legal information profession and industry has change. Therefore AALL's active membership category should reflect this to allow “any person who is interested in the objectives of the Association” as full Active Members. However, AALL does not explain in any specificity why this "change" requires including commercial vendors in the active membership category. About a quarter of a century ago, you know when a substantial consolidation of the legal publishing industry was taking place, a proposal to extend to commercial vendors active membership status was rejected. It was a wise decision then. It remains so today. The landscape of the commercial legal publishing industry has not changed.
When considering the bylaws ballot, remember what the "objectives of the Association" are:
AALL Bylaws. II. Object:
The American Association of Law Libraries exists to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the public, the legal community, and the world, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy, in recognition that the availability of legal information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society.
Providing legal information to all people as a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society is a noble cause. Providing online legal search services at relatively low cost in a market-based economy is one way to go about meeting that objective. Are our major vendors supportive?
Just ask any member of Ohio's Consortium of County Law Library Resources Board for a little insight. The Consortium is a state agency funded by mandated county law library contributions. The Consortium can contract for online legal search plans that give county law libraries the option to acquire at costs lower than what any individual county law library's purchasing power might obtain. It has made some headway in doing so. The Consortium would like to offer Ohio county law libraries WEXIS public access plans to fill in a gap that exists in the state's cooperative purchasing system. While Lexis has offered a plan, Westlaw's offer has anti-competitive strings attached (think along the lines of only being good if the Consortium does not also offer a Lexis patron access plan option to county law libraries).
No doubt plenty of other examples can be provided. For example, a couple of years ago Lexis refused to license state statutory code content to Fastcase for its relatively low-cost but professional grade search service because Lexis owned the copyright to the code headings. Fastcase does offer competitively low-cost "patron access" licenses to advance the Company's public service mission. That however doesn't mean I am in favor of granting active membership status to employees of
- Fastcase because of its public service mission but not Lexis because the Company's refused to license state primary law content to Fastcase
- Lexis because it offered a competitively priced patron access plan to Ohio county law libraries but not to Westlaw because its offer had anti-competitive strings attached.
I think you get the idea. This is a can of worms that needs to remain closed.
Commercial vendors are "interested" in AALL objectives -- being supportive of them is an entirely different question. Some concerned AALL members take the matter of a conflict of interest policy seriously in this context, suggesting either addressing the issue before or after changing the membership clause. Does anyone really believe AALL has the guts to enforce one?
Should active membership be extended to
- entities who employ legal information professionals whose jobs may once had but no longer are within the org chart of a law library or legal information center? Absolutely.
- non-profit entities involved in the provision of and/or promotion of legal resources that employ legal information professionals? Yes, why not. They are on the same page as those of us who are trying to provide legal resources to our users by representing our institution's best interests.
- for-profit entities who have an "interest" in the "objectives of the Association"? No. Associate member status is good enough. Of course, if one takes the "objectives of the Association" seriously some for-profit entities would have to be kicked out.
The safest way to protect our elected officers from themselves is to just say "no" to the membership bylaws amendment as drafted. Then a do-over would be possible. [JH]