[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]

Scene: A dark room, the only light coming from two guttering candles sitting on a large weathered wooden table.

Seated around this table are several hooded figures.  A black velvet bag marked with arcane symbols sits in the center of the table.  One of the figures stands and addresses the group:
“OK, here’s the next submission.  Ready? Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock!”
This is how I picture the AALL program selection process.  
The recent blog post from Caren Biberman (“Some thoughts on Programming at AALL“) clearly expressed the frustration that Law Firm librarians are feeling, and let’s be honest, have felt for years about the program offerings at the AALL Annual Meeting.  
I believe that there are a few factors at work here:
1.  A greater percentage of the active members of AALL are from academic and government institutions.  This can skew the program selection process due to a having a different set of priorities rather than a desire to discriminate against one group.
2.  Firms are tighter with professional development dollars, limiting attendance at these meetings.  A librarian commented to me yesterday that she couldn’t use the program offerings to show her firm how it would help her be an asset to the firm.  Instead, she had to use the intangibles of networking, vendor contacts and new products that might be useful to the firm.  A much more difficult case to make.
3.  As someone who has submitted several programs over the past few years, I can tell you first hand that AALL has the most difficult program submission process of the major legal associations.  This definitely has a chilling effect on submissions.
Here is my modest proposal:
I think the annual meeting programs should be organized as tracks broken out along the lines of the major SIS’s (PLL, Academic, Courts & Govt) with an extra track for law librarianship, cross-disciplinary programs (i.e., “How to get published”).  The National Online Meeting and the ILTA Annual Meeting are organized along these lines.  This would allow the individual groups to determine the programs that best meet the needs of their members.  It would also get away from offering programs that may be skewed toward one group but isn’t readily apparent from the description. The audience that a program is geared to would be obvious from the track it is in.  For example, budgeting for firm librarians is a completely different process than it is for academic or government librarians. 
The PLL Summit this year is an attempt to address this need.  However, the time and additional cost for housing and admission are barriers for firm librarians to attend.  If the Summit were folded into the Annual meeting, it would give the firm librarians something that they could show their firms to better justify the expense.  I think implementing this could also result in increased attendance for this group.
I’m all for being inclusive.  I’m thankful to AALL for providing me with a venue to connect with colleagues from across different libraries as well as from across the country.  I think that anything that brings more people to the Annual Meeting is good for both the profession and the Association.

  • Amen, Mark. I couldn't agree more. I confess that as a PLL librarian, I've found less and less useful programming at AALL conferences and this makes it very difficult to obtain funding for attendance. Having to add an extra day and pay extra money to attend a day of PLL programming is just out of the question.

  • Tracked programming would also address the needs of technical services librarians who have also for years felt that their advanced tech services topics get rejected in favor of broader "crowd-pleasing" programs (which, aren't actually pleasing folks!).

  • Anonymous

    Excellent and so valid.
    Your "gen" (and so sorry for "key digesting" you), has so much to give. Keeep on editing us!
    Linda Will

  • Anonymous

    I agree. I have no interest in attending AALL because it does not apply to my needs as a firm librarian. Whereas the offerings of the PLL Summit were right on target.

  • I am attending AALL for the first time in years for a number of reasons, but also because of the PLL Summit. I was shocked to find NO programs on Monday that grabbed my attention. I hope I don't regret attending.

    Tracked programming is also used at Internet Librarian. The call for programs comes out in January and can address recent topics.sc

  • Marilyn Bromley

    As I commented on Caren's blog, don't forget about the PLL members who are corporate law librarians…admittedly a small group.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you Mark. There had been a survey earlier this year about AALL programming but I have not heard anything about the results. Using the current configuration of SIS groups to assign programs is not working.