What have you done for me lately?

The Association has no purpose. The Association is being sneaky. What has the Association done for me? Why should I be a member in the Association? There’s a litany of woe (is me) posts/emails burning up the internet regarding AALL.
With the AALL Annual Meeting close at hand (and the Antitrust Policy floating around), I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to catch our collective breath and think some deep thoughts. First, in with the good air, out with the bad. Repeat. Now, isn’t that better?
Now, what is an association? No, I’m not being silly. Most of the communication I have seen indicates that people seem to have lost sight of this basic concept. Simply put, associations provide an opportunity for like-minded people to meet, share ideas, advocate their principles in the halls of government and provide a face to the world at large to explain just who they are. What value do these functions have? Well, let’s focus on AALL.
In the 10+ years that I have been a member, AALL has been an unrelenting advocate for open government. The potential closing of the EPA libraries and making federal filings available to county law libraries are just a couple of examples of the fine work our Association has done in this area. I can’t think of a law librarian who wouldn’t need to access a government document at some point in their career. These documents and resources remain accessible due to the hard work of the association and its members.
The connections I have made have been worth the price of membership. Need a document from a court in Cook County? I just called a Librarian I met in St Louis and got it in minutes. Looking to start a support group for librarians doing CI? Spoke to a friend who introduced me to the PLL Chair who set it up with Headquarters. We had the CI group up and running in no time. Did I mention my co-founders were from Minneapolis and St Louis, not to mention the members of our Caucus are from all over the US? How else would I have made these connections if it weren’t for the association?
Vendor relations have never been the responsibility of the Association other than to pair vendors with customers. Vendor sponsorships just allow the vendors to sell their products to the Association’s members. There is no obligation, duty or any other requirement for the Association to do more than that. In fact, there are good legal reasons for the Association or members not to collude to affect prices. Just as it would be harmful to consumers for Wolters Kluwer, BNA, ThomsonReuters and Lexis to share information about our contracts with each other, the members of the Association as well as the Association as a whole are precluded from sharing that same information. References to the Association as a sweetheart who has done you wrong by not standing up for you miss this crucial point.
It is the responsibility of every librarian to do what’s best for their organization (i.e., Firm, Company, School or Government Library) when it comes to vendor relations. If you don’t like something the vendor does, tell them. If they don’t do anything about it, take your business elsewhere. It is up to the librarian to make sure their organization is aware of the negotiations and their options going in. Let’s face it, this is why they hire us. It's up to us as individuals to create and maintain a beneficial partnership/relationship with our vendors. The Association cannot act as a substitute for us or a surrogate in our dealings with our vendors.
So let’s take a deep breath and consider the value the Association provides and not focus on “What has it done for me lately?” Take it, Ms. Jackson

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Anonymous said...

Three legal publishers control about 90% of the legal publishing market in the United States.
"Taking our business elsewhere" therefore does not represent a viable alternative to seeking collective remedies through government intervention, especially when the resulting impact of bundling practices creates significant barriers to entry by competitors.

Sharing contract terms does not lend itself to your analogy betwen legal publishers and their customers, even though both are by definition market participants. AALL was supporting the Information Access Alliance (IAA), an organization that appears to have ceased activity. At a DoJ Antitrust Division hearing in 2006, an attorney for IAA recommended "prohibition of the contractual constraints that exacerbate
and block market responses to bundling practices" - including an end to non-disclosure clauses in vendor contracts. (http://www.informationaccess.org/bm~doc/iaa_doj_ftc.pdf) AALL also discourages use of such clauses in its Fair Business Practices Guide and Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources. Sharing information about bundled prices and other contractual terms can aid contract negotiations of individual law libraries. Individual use of shared information does not in any way entail illegal collusion, any more than individual use of pricing information in Ken Svengalis' Legal Information Buyer's Guide and Reference Book would. At any rate, individual law libraries have no practical means to collusively price-fix or otherwise restrain conditions of competition among legal information vendors.

Anticompetitive and unfair business practices in the legal information industry have for years concerned many AALL members. The economic crisis has amplified their concern. Is it unreasonable to ask the Association to effectively respond to these concerns? We can surely seek a more effective response from the Association without in any way failing to appreciate the value of its other important contributions.

KenHirsh said...

I agree with much of what you write here. However, the draft antitrust policy, which Ms. Janto assured us would not pass in its present form, flies in the face of the very benefits you rightly attribute to association membership. The draft guidelines, which were plainly copied from a set designed for producers, not consumers, prohibit discussion of topics which librarians are likely to want - make that need - to discuss. Plainly, librarians do not set the prices for the products they buy. Calling for a boycott may violate the Sherman Act, telling a colleague what we paid Westlaw or Lexis last year should not.
But the hot and heavy discussion over the antitrust policy also has obscured discussion of other important matters under board consideration, such as a caucus policy and a request that the bylaws committee review the membership categories.
My own concern with all these activities, and one that may be animating much of the discussion elsewhere, is a perception of the lack of transparency. Yes the board agenda is available online, but I don't recall the officers drawing any attention to it before Monday's message from Ms. Janto. Are we bad association citizens because we did not automatically think to look at the agenda on our own? Yes, we can send messages to board members, or even phone them. But where is the opportunity for public back-and-forth on these issues. And conversely, how can we introduce such opportunities without putting a hamstring on a board duly elected to govern the association? I hope we're all involved in seeking answers to these questions.

Caren Biberman said...

If vendor relations aren't the responsibility of AALL then why do they have a Committee on Vendor Relations? Why do they have a Vendor Relations Liaison? Why did they have a Vendor Colloquium? They can't have it both ways. Either they are or they are not. If they are then they should allow for open discussions and debate on issues such as an antitrust policy and a consumer advocacy caucus. If they are not then they should do away with CRIV and the Liaison and not worry about adopting an Antitrust policy.

Greg Lambert said...

I think that what Mark means by vendor relations not being AALL responsibility is somehow making the vendors set their pricing and make that pricing transparent so that everyone knows what everyone else is paying for the same products. Almost all of us sign nondisclosure agreements about pricing and now we want AALL to somehow come in and save us from these agreements. That part just seems unrealistic given the way the market works in legal publishing. I hear stories of how AALL rolled over when the DOJ came asking about the vendor mergers, but I seem to remember Bob Oakley arguing against the mergers, but being ignored and dismissed by the DOJ. The current attitude in the US government about antitrust issues are very lax (just look at other media and telecommunication mergers) and it would take a major change in this attitude for the government to see 90% of the market being controlled by 3 companies. That just does not seem to hit the antitrust radar. I don't know of any other member association that demands its association work to expose pricing like law librarian expect AALL to do. I've talked to people with ILTA, Assc. corp Counsel, SLA, ALA, LMA, ect. And none seem to place this kind of demand on its associations.

AALL can set the stage for law librarians to meet, talk, discuss, train, and coach each other on dealing and understanding vendors. I don't think that AALL is the platform for us to work around our nondisclosure agreements that we signed when negotiating our own contracts.

Caren Biberman said...

I don't recall mentioning nondisclosre agreements in my comment. And frankly anyone who knows me knows I don't need any help negotiating. I was merely replying to Mark's stated assertion "Vendor relations have never been the responsibility of the Association..." and making a valid observation that if that is the case they need to dismantle CRIV and not have a vendor liasion. I frankly don't like that AALL very quietly put on the Agenda issues such as an antitrust policy and a caucus policy without so much as a open discussion with its members. That should be the focus of everyone.

Joe Hodnicki said...

Only 10+ years Mark -- like since 2000? Not a newbee but certainly not a member living within a fairly long history of AALL. Try a 30-40 years perspective ... do your homework, research the past, compare it to the present.

NB: When someone like Kathie Price concludes a presentation at Harvard with an out of context remark while looking in the direction of AALL's Vendor Liasion, saying, not a direct quote -- AALL must confront publishers over antitrust issues before it is too late, do consider that your take on AALL may be a tab too naive. Perhaps ommission by a relatively shorter perspective.

When talking with younger law librarians, I once was amazed, now accept as a given, that the context from which they tend to form there opinions is fairly ahistorical. Light bulbs go on when context is provided by we aging and decrepit Bloomer law librarians. Many of us have given up on AALL and are justified in doing so.


Kathie has been around 40-plus years BTW. Played the "game" as in serving on multiple AALL committees, as being an AALL President. As in serving as the Law Librarian of Congress (1990-94), as in serving as director at Duke, Minnesota, NYU Law and FU Law.

Anonymous said...


Being old doesn't make you wise. Constantly complaining that AALL is always wrong doesn't make you right. It just makes you look old and bitter. Maybe it is time for you to retire and let all of these inexperienced law librarians that have entered the profession since like (gasp!) 2000 lead us and you can go complain about something else.

I think I speak for the silent majority that your constant rants that everything AALL does (it seems like you write something every day, especially toward conference time) is getting old, and makes you look like the Fox News of law librarianship. One Rupert Murdoch in the world is enough. Of course, just like Fox News, it seems that you get a thrill out of what you do and you get enough people to buy into your rants that you will probably never go away.

Anonymous said...

The American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and American Association of College and Research Libraries have held panels on "Big Deal" subscriptions and supported research on their devastating consequences to libraries. The Information Access Alliance, when active, recommended government remedies of unreasonable bundling practices that manifest single-firm anticompetitive conduct. AALL had committed itself to increased consumer advocacy following the 1996 merger in its "2005-2010 Strategic Directions," and then did little more than issue a comment opposing withdrawal of the FTC Guides. At any rate, the economic crisis has accelerated the cumulative costs of anti-consumer practices in the information industry, increasingly imperiling the sustainability of many libraries, and not just law libraries. We have a right to petition our government for remedies. No one thinks that in the present regulatory climate a petitioning campaign will prove easy. In fact, we can credit AALL for other petitioning successes against the odds, and we should not underestimate its untapped promised. A long-term strategy to gain government intervention can succeed if AALL forges coalitions with allied consumers, such as the ABA and other library associations.


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