I have a few questions to ask AALL members that are inspired by both the SLA project I wrote about yesterday, and from Joe Hodnicki’s post on New Year’s Day that takes AALL to task about using blogs to get information out more quickly to its membership. Hodnicki specifically focuses on the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV) and the Executive Board – which I will join as a member in July. I’ll point out a couple of issues that he makes, but I encourage all AALL members to read Joe’s post, and contact me directly on what you think AALL and/or CRIV should do to better serve the membership of the organization.

Here’s a snippet of what Joe thinks about why AALL has “failed” in using blogs as a method of consumer advocacy:

It is a fair assessment to characterize 2010 as the year AALL failed to use the blogging platform for consumer advocacy after the example set by many law librarians in this web space, as if an example even needed to be set.
… the only reasons I am left thinking that AALL officialdom does not want to or has no intention of creating a “home base” for the vendor-buyer relationship in the blogpshere must be because either (1) they simply do not want to frankly address these matters which are important to the membership or (2) their inability to produce substantial results behind closed doors will come to light by addressing them publicly when no response is forthcoming from vendors.

And here’s what Joe thinks a “CRIV-Unleashed” Blog could accomplish:

CRIV is sufficiently large in membership and stable in the duration of membership terms to keep a Vendor Relations group blog going as a long term collaborative effort informed by the opinions of many, not one. Of course, it needs to been more representative of all major market segments. Assuming that, if CRIV-Unleashed regularly publishing content that matters to institutional buyers in a timely manner is the objective, it will acquire an audience and will become a “home base.”
… Our major vendors will read a CRIV-Unleashed blog. Perhaps vendors should be invited to guest write posts on topics CRIV requests them to address. Most vendors have an official policy of not commenting to individual blog posts directly very often. Perhaps they will after too many “vendor X could not be reached or refused to comment” when queried about the topic of this post before its publication.

Now one of the things that I think that even Joe would have to admit is that logistically, it is pretty easy for an individual to snap off a blog post about a current event… it probably isn’t quite a simple for a representative body like CRIV, or whoever talks for “AALL” as a member organization. However, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to do. For example, CRIV puts out the CRIV Sheets on a monthly basis. Could that be changed to a blog format that would allow for faster dissemination of information, along with a comments section that the members could use to ask questions or give their own testimony on an issue? The AALL President releases a monthly email to the membership. Could that be expanded to a blog format as well? Should AALL have a blog similar to the SLA Future Ready 365 blog, that could work as a platform that the members could use to discuss a topic of interest to the organization?

Here are the questions:

  • What are your thoughts on a member-organization like AALL using the blog format to disseminate information, solicit feedback, or be used to enable group discussion of a topic? 
  • Would the Executive Board, or AALL Administrative Staff, or special groups like CRIV use of blog platforms be something that would interest the membership? 
  • Would you read these blogs? 
  • Would you comment on these blogs? 
  • Would you contribute and write on these blogs?

Let me know what you think.

  • Indeed I do admit Greg that "it probably isn't quite a simple for a representative body like CRIV, or whoever talks for “AALL” as a member organization" to put out a blog post like any independent blogger might do. Some deliberation within CRIV is required, some investigation too, no doubt.

    But the blog platform does provide a way for timely publication once the work at hand is done. And if a CRIV blog's editoral assignments were well structured, certain members could be responsible for certain topics, posts could be saved as drafts for the rest of the committee to read, suggest edits, etc. before publication.

  • Thanks for your post Greg, and for your request for input on these issues as your contemplate your work on the Board. As I'm sure you and your readers know, the questions of CRIV's role vis-a-vis AALL and the membership is not a new topic of conversation. This is one that continues to rear its ugly head. And unless and until some truths are acknowledged and embraced I think it will continue to be a struggle.

    First and foremost I think it's useful to clearly identify the stakeholders. There are 3: Legal Information Vendors (vendors); Legal Information Consumers (consumers); and AALL. AALL is in a difficult spot in this triangle. They are a membership organization, and among their members are both vendors and consumers. AALL's relationship to vendors is necessarily quite different from consumers' relationships to vendors. They have different needs and expectations. AALL relies on information vendors to support the work they do for the membership through sponsorships and other financial mechanisms (ads, etc.). In addition, they rely on dues revenue from vendor members of AALL. AALL, while a professional association, is still a business. The reality is that they have an interest in their vendor relationships that the members don't necessarily share.

    The relationship between members and vendors is more straightforward. One is a 'manufacturer' and one is a consumer. Supply and demand. In its simplest form, the goal of the manufacturer is to maximize profit and the goal of the consumer is to get the best deal on a product they need/want. That DOES NOT mean vendors want to gouge consumers and consumers want to stick it to vendors. There are a lot of ways to maximize profit or get the best deal. Especially if you're thinking about long term relationships rather than just the transaction at hand.

    So when AALL decided to create the Vendor Liaison position several years ago it made perfect sense to me. I could see the need for a liaison between the ASSOCIATION and the vendors. AALL is a legal entity with both legal and fiscal interests that warrant protection. AALL is concerned that any action taken by members acting on behalf of AALL could result in a loss of revenue or in antitrust violation claims. As an independent non-profit organization these are real concerns. As members, we should recognize this and understand that there may be internal conflicts between our needs and those of our association.

    In my view, CRIV's role is to serve as ombudsman between vendors and the MEMBERSHIP of AALL. Here is the exact text of the purpose of CRIV from their profile page:

    "The Committee shall facilitate communications between information vendors and the members of the Association by monitoring complaints and providing constructive suggestions to vendors of information in any format. The Committee shall educate members on constructive ways to communicate with information vendors."

    This is a crucial role. Especially in these times of volatile format and technology changes coupled with an economic crisis. Librarians need to be our own best advocates, and CRIV can help us not to be whos down in whoville. We need CRIV to continue to meet this need of the membership. (And my own personal aside/axe to grind = site visits should remain a key function of CRIV! Maybe a topic for another time.)

    My closing thought is that we need to continue to be more open about the needs we each bring to the table and the potential for conflict between those needs. What really hurts us all is a lack of frank discussion and transparency.