A few minutes ago, AALL President, Keith Ann Stiverson, made the announcement that the members of AALL voted down the proposed name change to Association for Legal Information:

The proposal to change the name of American Association of Law Libraries to the Association for Legal Information has failed by a vote of 1998 (80.11 percent) opposed, to 496 (19.89 percent) in favor. A record number of members voted on this proposal, with 59.51 percent casting a ballot.  

The fact that 60% of the members took the time to vote, showed that the issue was important, and the fact that 80% of those votes were a “no” to name change, drove home a point that I’ve heard from the members over the past few months. It is clear that the ALI name was not the one members wanted. It was also clear that many of the members were open to the idea of change, but that members wanted much more of a voice and the ability to comment and bounce ideas before an up or down vote is made.

While there are a very small number of members that felt that AALL as “American Association of Law Libraries” was just fine, most of the people I talked to made a comment similar to this:

I am fine with rebranding the association and even changing the name… but just not this name.

I am happy that the members made their voices heard. I am happy that the AALL Board took the initiative to put this challenge out to the members and get the conversation started. This is not the end of the conversation, by any means. This is the beginning of a longer conversation, and a chance to look at the good and bad of what’s happened over the past couple of months and how to move on in a respectful way to the next step in the process.

This is still fresh in my mind, so there are a few ideas that I’m bouncing around in my head, and would like to discuss as we move forward:

  • I think members are still receptive to a name change (AALL (alone), changing Libraries to Librarians, adding “Information Professionals” to AALL, or adding Professionals to ALI. But, I don’t think anyone has the stomach to try this right away. Let’s put a pin in this one for now, and move on.
  • Rebranding goes on. No one is standing still. Members, Board, Stakeholders, etc. We all know that the association needs to adapt to serve its members and to increase awareness of the stakeholders in what we all bring to the table within our organization, and the overall value of our profession. That discussion moves forward.
  • I think the Board “heard” the members when it came to involvement and discussion prior to voting. I, for one, as an incoming Vice President/President Elect, heard that message loud and clear.
  • I think most of the members understood what the Board was attempting to do, and even when they disagreed with the Board’s actions and ideas, did so respectfully. There was no evil intent. If you think there was, I suggest that you re-evaluate the situation and give the board the benefit of the doubt here, and move forward.
  • There will be no running to the doors. AALL is the association for those of us that call ourselves law librarians. No other organization focuses more on our profession. We can face the future together, we can argue and debate the path, but at the end of the day, we come together for the greater good of our profession.
  • That said, our profession is changing. Librarians, Lawyers, Analysts, Writers, Researchers, and other professionals within the legal field have many things that we can learn from each other. Looking to bring in non-traditional roles into the ranks of the Law Librarian association does not make us weaker, it makes us more diverse, and stronger as a whole. Law Librarianship is still the pivotal function of the association, but narrowly defining who fits that role is a disservice to all who can benefit from the association.

Although this was a record number of people that turned out to vote, there were still over 4 in 10 of us that didn’t vote. That, to me, is a red flag. As I move forward over the next couple of years and move from Vice President to President, I would like to find ways to reach out to those other 40% and find ways of motivating them back into the ranks of active and contributing members. I also want to make sure that the other 60% also remain active and seek out ways that we can help ourselves, each other, and the profession.

  • The last paragraph of your post, at least in part, sees the glass as 40% empty. I'm seeing it as 60% full. There must be a practical limit on participation by members of such a large and, in some ways, distant organization, with no means to require participation and little means to incentivize it. 60% strikes me as near the limit. (I'm guessing there's a sociology paper somewhere to support my view.) In any event, I think you'd agree that it's a remarkable turnout.

    Before we move on, we should probably briefly consider why there was a disconnect between the Executive Board (100% for) and membership (80% against). We don't need to rehash the entire process or make the Board members feel bad (because, as you indicate, the Board had good intent). We just need to learn how we can lessen the chances of future disconnect. As you note, involvement and discussion by the members will be important in moving forward together.

    • Scott,

      Definitely a glass 60% full. I would have liked it closer to 70%. It was an online vote and 30 days to vote. I just had someone tell me that they didn't even know a vote was going on. That's a bit of a gap that I'd like to narrow.

  • Anonymous

    I hope that AALL leadership takes a hard look at itself and the process after this. The board was unanimously in favor of this idea and throughout the campaign publicly refused to acknowledge that those in opposition to this change might have valid points. Now maybe that was a tactical decision. Fine. If it wasn't, then perhaps some consideration about what this means is in order. I take absolutely no pleasure in the fact that our leaders seem out of touch and have behaved, in my humble opinion, badly.

    • I think the leadership learned and will adjust. I think your accusation of bad behavior by the board is way off. Let's move forward and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

  • Anonymous

    Scott, you assume that more than 60% of the members *care* to participate or follow what's happening in AALL. That isn't realistic. AALL is not a nation-state, a municipality, or a political party. Thus, 40% non-participation is not a failing of the democratic process. (Yes, I know what that implies about the USA.)

    AALL is a professional organization. A significant number of its members are interested in it only for discrete and isolated purposes–journals, job ads, networking, whatever. Some chunk is associated with AALL only because law library employers pay for across-the-board membership for everyone in the organization.

    The idea that AALL is or should be all things to all people–that it should seize the field of legal information, whatever the hell that means–is ridiculous. Indeed, it's exactly what some of us rejected about this whole ill-conceived effort.

    What you need to take from this is that 80% of those of us who do care think the board's proposal was foolish. I suggest to you that A LOT more than a "very small number of members" think AALL works (at least) well enough and that the board should be focusing on something else. If you don't see that, perhaps you should try a well-crafted survey or other information-finding tactic to investigate the membership's opinions, because the "assume the board knows best" strategy didn't work so well.

    • It was me, not Scott, that made the mention. If you read what the board did, it was very similar to what you mention. A third party surveyed the membership, conducted interviews with a veried range of members and crafted a response, and presented a vote to the membership. If you step back from the ALI vote, the rebranding effort is working. You can take the cynical view of board knows best, or you can look at this as a step in a longer conversation. If you know anyone on the board, you'd know it is the latter.

  • Anonymous

    I personally know quite a few people on the board and that's why their behavior was so puzzling in this instance. Clearly you're not interested in my perspective. I can respect that.

    • Then talk with them. When anonymous comments go out questioning the motives of well intentioned people, I will challenge you. I respect your opinion, but that doesn't mean that I won't challenge it.

  • Anonymous

    As one who voted, I also filled in the comments field when I cast my vote. It would be interesting to know what comments were received (in a general sense, without any specific identification). In my comments I indicated that Professionals could have been a part of the Association of Legal Information name. Voted for the change, and clarified my vote with a comment. Ours is an association always is willing to share information and ideas, as with so many other associations and groups we strive to improve our skills, outreach, and membership to remain relevant in a fast-paced information-laden society. If nothing else, this has opened the door to more discussion of how best to go about that.

    I appreciated the time and effort involved on the Board's part. I also am amazed by the number of members who took the time to vote. The inclusion in the voting results of breakdown of type of library and years an AALL member also is somewhat indicative of yay or nay support for the name change. For myself, as a longstanding member, I was ready to move from "Libraries" to "Professionals", but even without that term I felt it was time for change.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking as one of the 40%, I'm totally fine with rebranding but think "ALI" is a terrible choice. So I wasn't going to vote yes, but I was also reluctant to throw my hat in with the more vehement no voters, because I really don't think the status quo is ideal, and I was pretty turned off by the allegations of malicious intent. So I dithered, and eventually I just skipped it. Attribute it to the stripping of nuance involved in a straight up-or-down vote, I guess, not apathy.

  • 40%, thanks for the comment. That makes sense to me, and gives me a perspective that I hadn't thought of. One of the problems with tossing out a post this close to the results is that you don't have the benefit of time to hear the "why" of what people voted, or didn't vote. Thanks for cluing me in!

  • The first Anonymous comment says, "The board was unanimously in favor of this idea and throughout the campaign publicly refused to acknowledge that those in opposition to this change might have valid points." Unlike Anonymous, I don't conclude that the board members behaved badly. However, I do think Anonymous is right in perceiving that the board members didn't acknowledge valid points against the proposal. (Did I miss any comments by board members expressing reservations? There were so many comments on this proposal, I may have missed some.)

    I think we would benefit by encouraging careful consideration and reconsideration of our positions, and discouraging defensiveness. For what it's worth, I started by reacting positively to "Association for Legal Information"; then thinking some more and deciding against the name; then supporting keeping "American Association of Law Libraries," and most recently being convinced by arguments in favor of "Association of Legal Information Professionals." I wonder if any board members had a similar journey after they selected "Association for Legal Information." If they did, I wish they would have said so or would say so now.

    In any event, my main point is that board members — and other association members — should remain flexible in the next round of rebranding and in other important matters in our association, until a decision must be made.

  • Anonymous

    I'm the anonymous from 1:08 pm–there are a lot of us running around, I guess. I am sorry for getting your name wrong, Greg. I do know who you are and who said what, I just had a (brief, I hope) moment of incompetence. My apologies to you, and to Scott as well.

    The method the board used was not at all what I would suggest. I took the branding survey in question, and I found it…lacking. Actually, if it was any indication of the general work product from the branding consultant, I think you should ask for our money back. One thing it most certainly did not do was ask about new names for the organization–I do not recall that it even suggest the possibility of a name change.

    If the board felt a new name was called for, it should have suggested so to the membership, asked us for potential new names, surveyed us on our opinions about the various options, and engaged us in the kind of conversation on values and identities that we only got after the board presented it's "unanimous" single option. Then and only then, it might have been appropriate to hold an up or down vote on any option that percolated out of the process.

    Consensus building does not occur through the kind of take-it-or-leave-it process that we actually got. I, for one, do not mean to impugn the character or the intentions of board members. However, good people make mistakes (see my 1st paragraph). I suggest that the 80/20 split be read as an indication the membership viewed this as a particularly egregious one.

    I further suggest that all of you on the board think about whether the re-branding effort itself is the best use of your time or the association's resources. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think a significant portion of the 80% would say "No" to that, too.

  • Anonymous,

    I think there is a lot of truth in your statement, and I do not disagree with your overall assessment of the situation. Sometimes leaders need to take a chance to get the ball moving on a topic. I think, however, think you are wrong that 80% of the membership would say that the re-branding effort is a bad use of association's resources. The fact that many of the comments talked about the need to move forward (albeit, in a different direction from name changing), shows that there is an interest in re-branding the association, but with more of a give and take from the members before up or down votes are required. I think everyone sees that. Everyone!

    Re-branding is a catchall for changing the manner in which the association works with its members, represents the industry, and relates to the stakeholders whom we report. I've said it many times, and in many ways, this was a first step in determining how the membership wants to proceed. The 80/20 split was not simply 80% saying status quo. I know that's probably not what you are saying, but that's how it reads. We can pile on this one piece of the process, or we can continue a conversation to move forward. The membership had its voice heard here. That's not a bad thing. Pretending that the conversation ends here and that the association and its representatives should abandon the overall concept of re-branding, is not where I believe the members really want the association to go. Let's keep moving and discussing what's important, and where we need to go. The board has heard this… I hope the members who felt left out of the initial conversation hear it too.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I did not say 80%, I said "a significant portion of the 80%." But, why quibble? Neither of us can say what the portion may be. Thus, I suggest that part of the ongoing conversation should be about whether we need to be spending time and money on this in the first place, or whether we would be better off spending it on projects directly related to the association's existing mission, goals, and focus. It's probably not wise for either of us to prejudge the answer to that question.

  • Great post. I found this information very informative and helpful, thank you for the post.

  • You only change a brand when it's in peril, not when the acronym doesn't quite fit anymore. Kudos to the 80% of the members who know that AALL is a strong brand that has eclipsed its acronym much like GE, IBM, NBC, and others. Brands take many years and lots of effort and money to build. Discarding a brand should be a rare event.