10/1/12

AALL Bylaws Change: "The Members of AALL ARE AALL"

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Tracy Thompson-Pryzlucki sent the following letter to AALL members this morning to explain why she is supporting the changes in AALL Bylaws (PDF) that expand the definition of Active AALL members. I asked Tracy if I could repost her letter on 3 Geeks as a continuation of the conversation started last week with an open letter against the amendment. Although, I am a backer of the amendment, I do appreciate the membership's ability to express their opinions and have an open discussion of both sides of the issue. I agree with Tracy in that the way our members work is changing, and AALL needs to be ahead of this change in order to make sure we do not lose members simply because we feared that two vendors might find a way to take over the association. I do understand that fear, but I don't think that we can let a worst-case scenario cause us to become a more exclusive organization in a time where we need to become more inclusive. Of course, Tracy says it much more eloquently than I.

Voting starts today. AALL members should receive an email from the organization with instructions to vote. Regardless of if you vote yes or no, I encourage you to read the amendments, look at both sides and vote what you think is best for the association. - GL


Good morning!
I am so grateful to these members who are engaged enough in their association to get this conversation going! A bylaws change should get our attention and get us thinking about outcomes and consequences, intended or otherwise.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the bylaws change (as a member who may or may not be currently excluded from participation in the highest ranks of AALL) and in the end I am in favor of the amendment, and for reasons that I hope are not dismissed as self-serving. I should note however, that I am now and have always identified as an 'active' member. And even if the bylaws change is not approved I plan to continue to self-identify as an active member until I am officially notified that I am denied that status. The current bylaws language is subject to interpretation, and if pressed I suppose the case is easy for me to make, as I do physically "work in a library." However, if NELLCO were to relocate to office space outside of the Albany Law Library, would I then be relegated to Associate Membership status? I don't think that achieves any perceived goal.

Here are my reasons for supporting the bylaws change:
1) While I do understand the concern that big money vendors could 'stack the deck,' the likelihood of that happening, in light of (1) the nominations process and (2) the membership's voting power, seems obscure.
2) The Members of AALL ARE AALL. If we find this does in fact lead us in the wrong direction, we can change it.
3) Vendors are now fully active in the association in every aspect except Board service, and many have volunteered their time and talents for years. AALL should be able to leverage that expertise and reward that commitment with Board service when it's warranted.
4) Membership categories are self-selecting, and are not being actively policed by AALL. And who is the arbiter? There are too many what-ifs and no one to adjudicate and enforce.
5) I don't think a handful of well-resourced people with ulterior motives, even if they were to collude, can overcome the morality of the individuals within the membership.

If the membership of AALL really thinks this proposed change poses a threat to the Association's integrity, my suggestions would be either:
  1. try to describe the very narrow category of people you are trying to exclude and recommend a clause that would cover that instance or
  2. consider recommending the revival of an ethics committee within AALL as a more comprehensive solution to the kinds of concerns you are raising.
I look forward to this continued discussion.

Cheers,
Tracy
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Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki, Executive Director
New England Law Library Consortium (NELLCO)
Albany Law School
Schaffer Law Library

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5 comments:

Roger Skalbeck said...

As we ponder AALL bylaws changes, I wonder what folks think about this:

Would we ever want our association president to be somebody who currently works for a major industry publisher? Would we elect somebody who had worked for ProQuest AND an ILS vendor such as SirsiDynix?

Well, as it turns out, the Special Libraries Association did just that. So did the Ontario Library Association. So did the Canadian Library Association.

Would law librarians ever interact with somebody like this?

Here the answer is also YES.

The person I'm referring to is Stephen Abram. He spoke at the 2012 PLL Summit, and he's been a library association president three times.

Stephen Abram is currently employed as Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Markets at Gale Cengage Learning (read: a publisher). He's a smart guy. He's also a librarian.

As you ponder the AALL bylaws vote, think about what the changes mean to you. Maybe they are not that bad. I've already voted, and I hope people look at the facts AND opinions on the matter to make an informed, personal decision.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Greg Lambert said...

Thanks Roger.

I also wanted to point out that SLA's recent president, Cindy Romaine, was a vendor. Some of the same AALL members that have voiced their opinion against this change were some of the same people that were so excited about and contributed to Cindy's Future Ready 365 project. This isn't to say that a vendor member will automatically rise to be President of AALL, but the fear of that thought seems to be driving a number of members to voice their opposition.

Granted, many members have other objections, but it seems that most of the objections revolve around this issue.

Change is scary. Becoming a more inclusive association does bring certain risks of changing the personality of the association. However, remaining stagnant in an environment of substantial changes risks falling behind the curve and suddenly finding the organization is not prepared to shift with that change. I think that the risks voiced by the opposition are worth taking in order to better position the association for the future.

That being said, I hope that all members take a look at both sides and determine what decision will be better for the association, and go vote.

Michael Ginsborg said...

Greg,

Thank you for presenting opposing views on the proposed membership bylaw amendment. I represent just my own view in these comments.

Defenders of the "no" vote have presented additional arguments elsewhere, including in response to Tracy. Unfortunately, AALL does not have a centralized digital forum that would better approximate a live debate. So blogs like yours help fill the gap. (We will also lack a permanent record, of the kind that Annual Proceeding debates require.)

No one wants to impugn the integrity of members who represent legal information businesses. Everyone can agree with Roger that their employment does not make "vendor" members "bad." But good people can have conflicts of interest as a result of their employment and not of their choice or design. The conflicts may be serious but less than obvious to them and other members.

One core question concerns a potential conflict between the consumer interests of law libraries and the responsibilities of legal information businesses to secure profit. Where there is a conflict, vendor members must act in the interests of their employers. Why does this conflict implicate our Association in an ethical problem?

Unlike the other library associations Roger identifies, AALL has, for decades, pursued a form of consumer advocacy through CRIV and, lately, through the Consumer Advocacy Caucus. Vendor members may never run for Board office, although Roger's examples Roger suggests otherwise. At any rate, nominees for Board office must support, and should promote, the Board's policies and actions, including those that protect consumer rights for law libraries.

So the Board will appear to have less incentive to take robust stands on consumer advocacy. For suppose the Board champions consumer advocacy in ways certain legal information businesses oppose. The Board would then risk creating potential conflicts of interest for their employees if they wish to run for Board office. Moreover, vendor members who seek nomination may be unfairly disadvantaged if their employers oppose more rigorous consumer protections for law libraries. These members will appear to bring a conflict of interest to Board office if elected - an ethical liability that does not cloud the nominations of other candidates.

Under these circumstances, I remain puzzled about why AALL can not craft a compromise. An ethics committee could engage the membership in the process, as "no" voters recommend.

Greg Lambert said...

Michael,

As always, I appreciate your response, passion, and demeanor on this debate.

I will say that one of the reasons that I fought to make the definition as broad as it is, is due to the fact that once you start trying to draw a line of which vendor is worthy and which vendor is not worthy, those restrictions tend to have unintended consequences and we end up excluding certain people simply because we fear something else. My intention was that we make the definition broad, and rely upon the sensibilities of the membership to determine where to draw their own lines based on the situation at any given time. I understand that my approach may be too broad for some members, and I understand their reluctance. However, I still believe that drawing arbitrary lines in the sand of who can and who cannot be a member, simply for fear that they somehow influence how we react to vendors, isn't worth the risk of excluding competent people simply because we feared the company they work for.

Michael Ginsborg said...

Greg,

I appreciate your thoughtful reply and your dedication to AALL. A reasonable compromise by its nature involves drawing a line acceptable, though not preferable, to most of the membership, especially in controversial matters. The membership did not have sufficient opportunity to participate in the line-drawing process - as they did in 1987 and 1999 - when the outcome otherwise was forseeably controversial.

The only point of disagreement appears to concern conferring the right of Board election on representatives of legal information businesses. One possible compromise might be to call for a single exception to the proposed Bylaw. Under this exception, we could extend the right of Board election to representatives of commercial enterprises with law library experience, but deny the right to other commercial representatives. Now I don't prefer this outcome, but I could live with it. At any rate, whether or not the proposal would gain acceptance, I find that members like me never had opportunity to propose a compromise, to propose an ethics committee that might craft one. In a matter of this importance, I believe that the membership needs that opportunity to participate. A yes-or-no vote falls short of the participation I would have liked.

Michael

 

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