[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]

Since my post last week (A modest proposal), I’ve discovered that I’ve hit a nerve.  I’ve received several off-the-record responses as well as a few blogged ones, the most recent of which was from Caren Biberman this morning.  I have to say that several things have become apparent to me:

  1. I’m not as “connected” as I thought I was.
    I was unaware of the reports and decisions referenced by Caren in today’s post.
  2. There are quite a few PLLers who feel disenfranchised by the current programming at the Annual Meeting
  3. I have trouble seeing how a registration rate of less than 7% of the PLL membership in the pre-meeting Summit can be pointed to as a positive.
  4. Out the 100 people register for the summit, how many are attending the meeting? This to me would be a telling statistic.
  5. Over 1000 viewings of the post, but only 6 comments.  Hmm…

So, to address each of these:

  1. Why isn’t there better communication between AALL and the membership? Every posssible avenue should be used:
    AALL email list.  
    If it works for the President’s Letter, it can work for these kind of hot topics.
    SIS and Chapter listservs
    My experience with blogging has shown me that only when you let the widest possible audience know do you truly have a meaningful dialog.
    SIS & Chapter Leadership
    These are the people who are more closely connected to the membership, whether geographically or through their library.  Shouldn’t they be utilized more effectively?
  2. This is truly disheartening and should be a major concern for AALL.  The membership of the single largest segment of the association should be made to feel a part of the group.  The consequences of not being inclusive would result in a splintering of AALL, an eventuality no one would like to see.  I have made lasting friendships at the Annual Meeting with people from across the country and across disciplines.  
  3. I’m happy that over 100 people have registered for the Summit, but that means that about 1400 people didn’t.  The question we should be asking ourselves is “What can we do to bring more people to the Annual meeting?”
  4. Relating to 3, how many of the 100+ are sticking around?
  5. This appears to be the “Third Rail” of AALL politics.  Everyone wants to change but very few are willing to speak up.

My suggestion is just one possible solution.  Tracks are not by their nature exclusive.  People will remain free to choose to attend programs that match their interests, regardless of SIS affiliation.  The purpose of tracks is to ensure that needs of each group are being met.

Perhaps the AALL Business meeting in Denver is the proper venue to bring this discussion into the open.  I think that any discussion that has the success of the Annual Meeting and, above all, the Association as its goal is inherently good for the organization.

  • Another good posting, Mark. I agree that the Annual Business Meeting would be a good place for a discussion, but a discussion board for this would be useful as well, especially for those PLL members who are not attending the conference. If they are not attending due to the lack of suitable programs for their needs, then that needs to be heard- what would they find of interest that is not being offered, etc.?

    I have heard from several PLL members that they are not attending the conference this year because they cannot justify the expense for the slate of programs being offered. On a related note, I am also wondering how many private law firm librarians opt to attend SLA vs. AALL because of programs offered.

  • Anonymous

    I've gone to both SLA and AALL over the past few years and have usually found the SLA programs to be even more lacking than the AALL programs for private law librarians.

    I hope everyone is looking at Mark and Caren's discussions as a way to improve AALL programming for private law librarians, and not as another reason to flee to SLA. Those that fled to SLA a few years ago ended up watering down both association's programs.

    One other point that needs to be made is that there seems to be a hope that better programming brings better attendance because PLL members can justify the expense to their employers. If you fit in one of those categories, then you need to chime in on what type of programming would resonate with your employers (to a point that they will pay for the programming.) The process of having to turn in proposals nearly 10 months before the next conference makes this difficult at best, but that's the current process. If you have something that is a "must" in order to get buy in at your firm, then either propose it, or get on the listservs or blogs or whatever and shout it out loud and clear so that others can put the programs together and get it submitted.

  • Caren Biberman

    With regard to your question as to how many of the librarians attending the PLL Summit will also be attending the anuual meeting it is my understanding that all but a few will be attending the annual meeting.

    I agree that 100 out of 1400 may not seem like a great percentage. However I know many PLL members are not attending the annual meeting. Also attending the Summit means for many an extra two nights in a hotel plus the extra cost of the summit. Finally there are some PLL members who will be attending leadership training on Saturday so were unable to attend the Summit. So I think its an extremely respectable showing for this program.

    I agree we need to be more vocal. There is a Members Forum following the Annual Meeting. I think that is one avenue of voicing concerns.

  • Anonymous

    Given that travel budgets for many firms competing for Profits Per Partner in a certain ranking have long been cut to zero, having the meeting in Denver is part of the problem. To attend an AALL meeting, the gathering has to be in a city where I can go and not incur a cost.

    Like the convention, y'all need to consider going virtual for programs and meetings.

  • Anonymous

    PLL programming can only be chosen for the Annual Meeting if it is proposed. PLL folks have a bad habit of saying "I want, I want" but not taking the time to say "How can I get the programming I want and what can I do to make it happen?" The Summit is a good start, but we have to do more. PLL members, it's time to take charge of your own careers and your association. Stop whining and start working. Volunteer. Be willing to think you're an expert on something and propose programming. Nothing changes until you make it change.

  • Anonymous

    If PLL's can't get funding from their employers to attend the Annual Meeting, perhaps they can get some funding from elsewhere. AALL, as well as Chapters, and some SIS's have grant opportunities. If you are able to attend AALL, or was able to attend a meeting recently, please consider donating to one of these groups. It doesn't take much – ten dollars here, twenty there, and pretty soon, we have enough to help send someone to AALL.

    Then, if people know that they'll have a way to get to AALL, then there would be more incentive to improve the programming.

  • I have to say that I really don't think that what Mark, Caren or Nina have written should be categorized as "whining". Pointing out concerns, giving past examples of how the process works (or doesn't work), and laying out suggestions on different approaches to the structure of the conference is what I call "getting the discussion started."

    I know that all of these folks have submitted a number of proposed programs for AALL, so it is not like they are simply yelling from the sidelines… they are in the game.

    Although I haven't written any of the posts, I did get a few off-line messages from a number of people, both inside and outside of AALL, and there seems to be a general understanding that there needs to be some changes in how the conference topics are selected, and empathy for all of the Special Interest Sections and sub-sections out there.

    I applaud Mark, Caren and Nina for getting the discussion going… and I assume that we are only looking at the beginning of a dialog that will work to improve the overall process. It should be interesting to see where this goes over the next year or two.

  • Anonymous

    The whining remark was not directed at Mark, Caren, or anyone else who is trying to effect change. The whiners are those who say they want something and then do nothing to get it. I applaud the questioning, but want to be sure that PLL members understand that change will only come if they make it.

  • I agree with Greg (shocking I know!) that the fact that this discussion is taking place is a strong indicator that something, whether or not it my proposal, needs to be done to address this. As someone who has submitted both programs and workshops for several years running, I think the process is unnecessarily convoluted and I would love to hear from anyone out there suggestions on how to improve it.

    Jan's point about attending touches a nerve. Although the grants are a great resource, they can only help so many people. We need to motivate the firms to provide the support so they can attend these programs.

    I was speaking yesterday with a good friend of mine who has been involved with AALL for years and a good point was raised. In the best of years, you can only expect about 50% of PLL at the most to attend. We need to to target these people with programming to get them to come back. If they come back, maybe more vendors will participate. There is a ripple effect here we seem to be missing.

    Jan also had this great suggestion:
    "One idea would be to do what the highly-successful and wide-ranging SXSW conference does. People submit proposals which are then voted upon as part of the process. More details here:

    This also means that almost 700 people will not get to attend. We need to expand the virtual offerings as well so these folks do not get left out.

    So much for a brief comment.

  • I posted this on Caren's blog initially. It was then suggested that I share it here as well…

    This is an excellent discussion. Having proposed AALL sessions in the past (with more of a firm focus) and having them rejected was tough. Seeing the numbers declining for all conferences these last few years has been even more disconcerting. Lately, I have been wondering if we are approaching a time when conferences are simply becoming out-moded.

    Firms have been cutting back for years. Even if the economy surged, I doubt this would change. Once you realize a cost-savings, it is unlikely you will give it up when more money starts pouring in. As the percentages of paying members who attend conferences continue to shrink . . . are we putting too much emphasis on them? Would we be better served by more regional or SIS-specific events? I think the PLL Summit is a shining example of where the future may be taking us.

    The challenge to associations, as I see it, is taking the programming and networking opportunities directly to their members in ways that are relevant to who they are and what they do. SLA had an interesting and successful experiment this year with its Virtual Conference component to its annual. People have been raving about it. Again, is the future speaking to us? I think the days of us expecting members to come to our conferences for this programming are numbered.

  • Anonymous

    I've been attending regional or national conferences for nearly twenty years now, and agree that the AALL programing has been somewhat disappointing the last few years. I've worked in environments where I knew I would get to go to a conference and ones where I literally do not know until March or April (for AALL) or a month before (for regional).

    As to the comment about perhaps going to a regional or SIS-specific conferences/events, I'd be very hesitant to go down that path. I've had attorneys be amazed that I could get copies/documents/borrow books from other firms/courts/universities, in a large part because I've made those personal connections at conferences. It is very beneficial to meet/talk with people in other regions, especially when my employer is expanding into new cities and regions.