Time to Be the Change — Rebranding AALL to The Association for Legal Information

Over the next month, members of the American Association of Law Libraries will vote on whether to change the name of the organization to the Association for Legal Information.  I will be voting yes, and I encourage all members to take the time to research and think about what the rebranding and renaming initiative means for the association, the profession, and yourself. This is important, and no member should stand on the sidelines and let others cast votes in your absence. The rebranding effort is a huge undertaking by the leadership of the association, and is step one of many in helping the association change to meet the needs of current and future members.

Nearly six years ago, I penned a post called “This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Law Library! – Time for a Law Library Revolution.” In that post, I point out the new and creative ideas and services created by law librarians, and the desire of those who wish to steer the profession back what they believe to be the core function of law librarians in acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. Here is a sample of my thoughts on what happens when the library pendulum shifts toward new and progressive ideas, and the desire for some to move that pendulum back to the center.
Whenever the law library gets progressive and starts promoting new ideas, those ideas get spun off into their own departments and the creative law librarians leave the library field to join these departments. Things like Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, and even some Marketing and IT ideas that were created in the library now exist outside the library. So it seems that the general direction the law firm libraries have taken in the past 15-20 years is to get us back to what we were doing in the 1980's.
My thoughts back then were focused on the moves by law firms to place library functions under the IT and/or Marketing departments. My thoughts now are that six years have nearly passed and while this is still a conversation within the industry, the next wave of change is already taking place. A new outsourcing movement is occurring in the Northeast where entire law library functions and personnel are not only removed from a Library Department, they are being removed from the law firm completely and now work for a Library Consulting company. We are still arguing about where we exist within the firm, while the leaders of the firm have moved on to deciding if we even belong in the firm at all.

The only thing harder than adjusting to change, is pretending that the change hasn’t already happened. As General Shinseki so eloquently stated, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” The Law Librarian profession has changed, and is continuing to change. That is not a bad thing, it is just the reality of the profession. It is up to the leaders within our profession to position the association, and prepare its members to lead and direct the changes, rather than react when it is too late.

During this decade, the corporate law firm libraries have vanished, the private law firms have undertaken massive changes in structure, and the government law libraries have transformed themselves into a new function surrounding access to justice. The academic libraries haven’t had the drastic changes in structure, but they are not immune. We saw hints of change at Harvard with John Palfrey’s brief reign, but not nearly what I envision will happen over the next ten years to what the pain of decreased admissions and the burden of student debt brings to the entire law school organizational structure.

Times for law libraries aren’t simply changing — they have already changed, and the next wave of change is already upon us. It’s time that all of us understand that, and stop thinking of ways to move the library pendulum back to center. That pendulum no longer even exists for many of us in the profession.

This brings me to why I am voting “yes” on the initial phase of rebranding AALL by changing the name to the Association for Legal Information. The profession has changed and it is time for the association to lead and prepare its members for the next round of changes, rather than lag behind and react after the fact.

The profession’s core functions are still based on acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. However, those functions will be more of a commodity than an added value. It’s all those other functions that we as librarians have produced over the years that will create the value the profession produces. Information to Knowledge, and Knowledge to Intelligence, and Intelligence to Experience, and Experience to Expertise are the key factors going forward. It starts, but does not end with the information we gather and maintain. The association needs to position itself to lead on developing these value added functions, while continuing to support the core functions.

The Association for Legal Information is where we start with the rebranding of our association and profession. This will be the springboard to help us leap to the next iteration of what being a law librarian and legal information professional means, and the value we bring to the legal industry as a whole. The rebranding is not about leaving law librarians behind. Far from it. It is about augmenting what we do, and bringing new ideas and new experts into the field to use as specialists, and for us to learn from them in return. It is about Law Librarians being the change and leading the way into the future.

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Anonymous said...

I don't mind a new identity or rebranding, but Association for Legal Information feels like it ignores the people behind the information. It also sounds vaguely like a group of publishers, or some sort of information collection cooperative. So I am leaning toward voting no, not for the idea of change, but for the ill-considered name promoted as change.

NwN said...

What is the opinion of Graduate Schools of Library and Information Science on this matter? I would like to hear their view on this critical issue before it is too late?

Anonymous said...

I wish Greg would have also addressed why American is no longer valid in the name. Other countries are keeping their name as part of their association titles.
If you do read the justification for the name change, take some time and discover how many essays and blogs don't even address that part of the issue. They ignore it, as Greg did.
We need that discussion. We have never held a conference outside the United States and while we accept members from other countries, so do other state specific associations.
I would argue it takes a huge chunk of our identity by removing the location.
The other huge chunk is removing any semblance of a profession.
For Legal Information does not connote a group of professionals or professional services.
"For" is one of those prepositions that connotes very little.
How can you tell a Dean or corporate boss that you are part of an Association for
Legal Information and expect to sell your membership dues or conference registration.
The name doesn't even connote a profession. It sounds like a lobby advocacy group.
What I have found in almost all of the essays and blogs in support of this
specific name change is a very good argument for change, but very weak
arguments for this change. I sense excitement for a name change,
but not this name change, not even by the proponents.
This name change also gives the sense of desperation, that we are losing our identity,
if not some of our jobs, and if we make our name as an association more inclusive,
we can stem the tide. I don't think our name really has much to do with it.
However, I am not tied to the words library and librarian.
But I also don't think that is the problem.
The problem is that like many professions today, we are splintering, shrinking
and expanding at the same time, changing our daily tasks and our long term goals.
Yes, it is change, but the name change seems like change for the sake of change
rather than an inspiring thoughtful better descriptive name.
My preference would be American Association for Legal Information Professionals.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there is a lot of "wordsmithing" going on with the name. From what I've read, this is an up or down vote, and as Jean O'Grady pointed out in one of her emails to the group, "don't let perfect get in the way of the future."

Anonymous said...

I've read opinions on both sides of the re-branding effort. I will always consider myself a librarian first and foremost, but I find myself not caring one whit what the Association calls itself anymore. I have been majorly disappointed with the AALL in general and the offerings at the Institutes (with the exception of the PLL programs)and am thinking of switching to the SLA.

Anonymous said...

Greg: Thanks. You are one of the few, not currently serving on the board, to have spoken in favor of this name. Having gone through the FAQ, read the pro/con comments and having attended one of the webinars--I was not positive how I would vote this a.m. I respect and voted for many of the current board members. That has weighed heavily in my mind as I wonder what have I missed. While your posting might, under normal circumstances bring out a yes, in this case, it did not. Why? This a.m. within "minutes" of receiving my vote information, I received an "official" briefing message telling me to vote yes. Not a message encouraging me to vote, not a message laying out the pros/cons, but a message from the Association telling me I must vote yes. That is the type of electioneering I find to be deeply offensive. Had I been a committed yes, it would have caused me to seriously change my vote. In this case, it reinforced a need to vote no and hope that down the road, an effort will be made by the board and membership--not a consultant--to come up with an appropriate name change. However this vote ends up, there will be a need to outreach the other side--good luck to the current board and you and the next board.

Greg Lambert said...


I saw Keith Ann Stiverson's message that you are discussing as the official briefing message, and there is nothing in there that tells you to vote yes. I do see that Keith's briefing lays out why she is voting yes (she is the President, and this is her briefing), and I have no problem with how she laid this out in the briefing. There's nothing that tells you to vote yes. It merely says to vote.

The Board's responsibility is to put out what it thinks is best for the association and promote why they believe this is in the best interest of the association. The period of time between the Board's presenting the proposal to the membership and the voting period was used to allow the membership to present the pros and cons. I know that a lot of members would preferred to have had a discussion before the Board voted, but that is not the facts we are dealing with here. The board voted to present this change to the membership. Once that was the ability to tweak the name ended. It was either let the process go to completion, or have the Board vote to resend the proposal and start again. They have obviously decided to let the vote of up or down, go through.

I understand that there are a lot of things that people are unhappy about this whole process. Many people voiced their displeasure about only getting an up or down vote. It is good that members have engaged in the comment period, and they have the absolute right to vote the measure down. I don't think there is any electioneering or any kind of under the table agenda going on. This is merely the process that the AALL rules allow the board to present the measure to the members, give them a period of discussion, and 30 days to vote for or against.

I've heard what the members have been saying during the discussion period. While I am in favor of the name change, I understand, and have listened to those that disagree with my view. I read every email. I understand the legitimate frustrations that members feel in thinking that there was not enough discussion allowed before the Board voted to present this to the members. Once this process is finished, I think there will need to be a post-mortem on the process, and discuss, as the adults and professionals we are, what was good, and what needs to be fixed in future situations like this.

We can walk away a month from now when the vote is official, and be upset at the process, or we can talk to one another and figure out ways to make the process better. I will work toward the latter.

centrodejusticia said...

People complained about the name of the iPad as having every problem they could think of when they came out. These days, nobody runs around complaining about a confusion between the ubiquitous devices and feminine hygiene products or any other nonsense. Let's embrace change as law librarians and evolve along with the profession towards the Association for Legal Information. It may not be perfect, nor appeal to everyone but. it will be a positive step forward.

Scott said...

"Time to be the change." An excellent sentiment. But why should we change to "Association for Legal Information," whose acronym is already taken by a well-established legal organization, whose meaning requires explanation to the uninitiated (and even to many of the initiated), and which leaves out who or what is associating? Why this change? Why this name instead of, say, "Association of Legal Information Professionals"?

Moreover, "time to be the change" seems to imply that people who oppose this name oppose change. That reminds me of a parody of political ads on South Park: "Prop. 10 is about children. Vote Yes on Prop. 10, or else, you hate children. You don't hate... children... Do you?"

We don't have to favor a change to "Association to Legal Information" -- or even any name change -- in order to support new activities and emphases by our association. I'm voting no, because I believe this name change is not the change we need.

Anonymous said...

ALI is a good acronym. However, it is shared with the American Law Institute (www.ali.org) - will that be an issue? Would the new website be www.alinet.org? ("ali.com" takes you to Muhammed Ali's website.)

Scott said...

In the last paragraph of my initial comment, when I said "Association to Legal Information," I meant "Association for Legal Information." It just goes to show that even the preposition matters. :)


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