Every year there seems to be a hot topic revolving around some action taken by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Executive Board as we head to the annual meeting. This year is no exception, and the topic involves the expansion of defining who can be a full-fledged member of AALL and what this means for the Association as a whole. I love a healthy debate, so I’m looking forward to talking, arguing, agreeing, compromising where possible, holding my ground where necessary, and then taking action when the discussion is over. As someone that was elected to the Executive Board last year, it is the very thing I signed on to do. Before we all pack up and head to Boston and meet up with our peers, I wanted to put a few personal comments out there on my stance on the issue, and when you see me in the Vendor Hall, or conference rooms, e-board meeting, or even on a tour of the Sam Adams brewery, you can come up and give me your take on the issue, and we can have a healthy debate.

Of course, the usual disclaimers go here, such as, these are solely my opinions are are not a position taken by the full board, yada, yada, yada…

First of all, the issue came up that AALL should restrict membership by adding a category that would essentially ban any member that worked for a vendor from holding any elected office, or be selected by the AALL President or Executive Director to a committee position. The category was created because there were law librarians that worked for vendors, and let’s not kid ourselves, the vendors were Westlaw and Lexis, that held themselves out as full-fledged members because they were law librarians that have gone from one of the three main types of law libraries (Academic, Private, or State-Court-County) and made a career change to go work for Wexis. They still considered themselves law librarians, and wished to be active in AALL as a law librarian who just happened to now work for a vendor.

The initial definition of the “less than full member” category expanded beyond the vendor role and was so narrowly defined that is basically excluded anyone that didn’t work in the four-walls of a brick-and-mortar law library. In my opinion, and one that I voiced loudly, AALL should be proactive in expanding the definition of our membership and not attempt to close ranks and be more exclusive. I didn’t think that this type of membership was necessary, and in fact, I thought it would cause much more damage than good. Instead, I believe that we need to be ahead of the curve in the change in our profession and start welcoming in members that have a vested interest in our profession, regardless if they sit in the library, within a practice group, have moved on to become Deans of a Law School, or have moved on to work for a vendor within our profession, but still consider themselves law librarians.

I know that there are talks out there on listservs and blogs that this exposes the Association to risks of vendors having more influence over the Association by putting their employees in key positions of power. I will argue that I think this is a risk worth taking. My friend, Joe Hodnicki, joked that someone like Dick Spinelli could be AALL President for Life if he wanted to (and anyone that knows Dick, knows that he is one of the most respected and well-liked people in our profession,) even though Dick works for one of the larger vendors in our shrinking vendor pool. If we were to get Dick nominated, and then elected, I think he’d be great. I also think that scenario is one that wouldn’t play out for many years, if at all, due to the adversarial relationship that has happened between AALL Members and AALL Vendors over the past few years. (That’s another topic that you can discuss with me while standing in the line to get another beer at Sam Adams.)

My thoughts on creating a rule to exclude Vendors from participating in decision making roles within the organization falls back to a basic belief that I have that we shouldn’t make up rules simply to protect ourselves from ourselves. This is what I think this rule would accomplish, keep us from having the ability to decided if we wanted someone in a position of power that happens to work for a vendor. I’ll use another friend of mine as an example. Sarah Glassmeyer is a law librarian that went to work for CALI last year and would therefore be excluded from full membership because she would no longer be considered a full-fledged law librarian. I think it would be a shame to have something like this happen, because I think Sarah is one of the brightest minds and forward thinkers of our profession, and she has experience and insights that would be beneficial to the Association. However, she would have to stand on the sidelines because we made a rule that prevented us from even having the ability to choose her for a leadership role. I have enough faith in our membership and our organization to make good decisions when the time comes, and I don’t think we need to enact rules that strip that ability away from us just because we are afraid we might make a bad decision sometime down the road.

So, there… that’s my simplified opinion of expanding the definition of a member of AALL. Feel free to come up to me and tell me I’m wrong, or that I hadn’t thought of something, or to offer to take me out for a beer. I prefer that it be some kind of combination of the three.

I also wanted to quickly talk about the issue that the AALL Executive Board tried to sneak this change in the by-laws through on the sly and that there was some sort of hidden agenda from our Chicago meeting. I can assure you that this was not something that the Board was trying to sneak through. I think there has been lots of folks out there that have come to the same conclusion as I have, and that everything we discussed and voted on was in the Board Book, and available to all members as required by AALL rules. Some argue that the issue was buried in the Board Book, and I have to say that I think that isn’t true. There is a nice Table of Contents at the beginning that points to the items discussed and voted on (there weren’t that many despite the size of the book) and the language and results were there for any and all to see.

That being said, I will say that I’ll bring up the issue of how these types of topics, especially by-law changes, can be better communicated to the members once the Board has acted. However, one of the things that we all have to realize is that we elect members like myself to these positions so that the decision making process can be handled in a way that moves things forward in an orderly method. It is how the Association is set up to run, and there will be times when the Board takes action on behalf of the membership that some will not like. It’s all part of the good and bad that comes along with having a Board and electing them to their three year post. Things can be better, and communication can be better. I’ll discuss this with the other members when I see them in Boston and we’ll find ways to make it better. I can tell you that, to a person, everyone on the Board that I work with has very good intentions, and no one would attempt to bury any issue that comes before us. To say otherwise is simply not true and is pure conjecture on that person’s part. Again, feel free to debate me on that.

I’m sure there are a hundred other issues that I could bring up, such as rewording the language of the draft, how and when the full membership vote will happen, etc., but I need to finish putting my bags in the car and finish my road trip to Boston. Look me up in Boston and we can talk about anything you want. I look forward to seeing everyone there. If you are not going to Boston, then feel free to carry on this discussion via my email, and I’ll get back with you if I have a few moments while at the meeting, or once I make it back to Houston.

  • I agree with your view, Greg, that an inclusive policy better serves the members than an exclusive policy. The Legal Marketing Association (LMA) tackled this same challenge over a decade ago and concluded that our members are best served by having one member category, regardless of job title or employer. There were many reasons, including the regular movement of members between in-house marketing roles, roles as vendor representatives or executives or consulting roles.

    There was vigorous debate, of course, with some members fearing a takeover of the association from vendors who would presumably… what, change the bylaws to require all members to buy products at list prices? Others felt that vendors shouldn't be "in the room" when sensitive topics such as vendor prices come up because… what, the vendors haven't heard these complaints previously? some consultants felt they should be full members but exclude product vendors, because consultants are obviously… what, closer in appearance to in-house members?

    My lame attempt at humor shouldn't mask the seriousness of the debate. Of course there are vendors who use every opportunity to sell from the podium but LMA concluded that there are other ways to manage expectations and behavior than onerous and exclusive member categories. Otherwise where do you draw the line? Is a vendor who can share best practices from 100 firms less qualified to participate than an in-house member who has nothing to say and uses every podium to say it? If a member fails to attend monthly chapter meetings and skips the annual conference one year, are they more desirable to the association than the vendor member who attends events at different chapters regularly and always attends the annual conference, sometimes speaking on cutting edge topics? The point is, the differences between member contributions are far more nuanced than job title or employer would suggest.

    LMA has long had formal vendor input into the association, and the current form is a special interest group whose dual purpose is to advise vendor members on best practices and advise LMA on ways to improve sponsor benefits. As a consultant who was previously a vendor executive and an in-house marketer, I can attest that LMA has long served my needs for a professional association, no matter what my particular role or title over the years. And aren't exclusionary policies akin to what law firm leaders do when they exclude all "non-lawyers" from the room when they decide strategy and tactics, forgoing all the accumulated wisdom of their professional staff?

    I hope AALL finds the outcome that best serves its members, and doesn't use broad policy to protect against a handful of outlier anecdotes of poor behavior. For LMA, we made our choice and have never had the need to revisit it. Good luck with the discussion!

  • Anonymous

    Hasn't SLA always allowed vendor members to hold office? It doesn't apear that any apocolyptic events have befallen that organization. In fact, the vendor librarian relations people used to be the Legal Division Program Planners every year, and SLA always has great programming.

  • Barbara Silbersack

    Yes, SLA Legal Division has always regarded vendors/sponsors as partners; it has worked quite well for 19 years.

  • Anonymous

    AALL is on the verge of becoming completely irrelevant. Cutting edge content is notably absent from the agenda again this year. Many private law lib's don't belong and don't see any reason to. A healthy mix of members is necessary to have a real conversation about the future of legal publishing — not just legal publishing as it pertains to a select group of law schools. The academic contingent is out of line on this one. Sorry!

  • I have to chime in that I think you are flat wrong on thinking AALL is becoming irrelevant. I believe that in this time of massive change, the association has great value. Change brings discomfort, and how the association leaders react may not be what you, as an individual, would do, but just because you may not always approve, it doesn't make the association is now irrelevant.

    As for going back to the old argument of bad programming, again, I have to say that you are wrong. Just one example is the partnering with ILTA to bring in additional expertise to the sessions is one example of moving forward.

    Sorry, I just refuse to agree with all the naysayers.

  • Coming to this conversation a little late but think it is worth noting that SLA has also had vendor members serve on its Executive Board in recent years. Two that come to mind are Past Chapter Cabinet Chairs Libby Trudell and Liz Blankson-Hemans, both of whom worked with Dialog. (Their terms did not overlap.) In addition, Marilyn Bromley of Bloomberg BNA is currently serving as a director on the Executive Board.

    All are consumate professionals with amazing leadership, communication and team-building skills. SLA is/was lucky to have them as part of their executive leadership and continues to make every effort to work with vendors as partner organizations at multiple levels.

  • Michael Ginsborg

    To continue the conversation, I wonder whether Richard Leiter can be engaged to host something like a "town hall" episode of Law Library Conversations?