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.