The Association has no purpose. The Association is being sneaky. What has the Association done for me? Why should I be a member in the Association? There’s a litany of woe (is me) posts/emails burning up the internet regarding AALL.
With the AALL Annual Meeting close at hand (and the Antitrust Policy floating around), I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to catch our collective breath and think some deep thoughts. First, in with the good air, out with the bad. Repeat. Now, isn’t that better?
Now, what is an association? No, I’m not being silly. Most of the communication I have seen indicates that people seem to have lost sight of this basic concept. Simply put, associations provide an opportunity for like-minded people to meet, share ideas, advocate their principles in the halls of government and provide a face to the world at large to explain just who they are. What value do these functions have? Well, let’s focus on AALL.
In the 10+ years that I have been a member, AALL has been an unrelenting advocate for open government. The potential closing of the EPA libraries and making federal filings available to county law libraries are just a couple of examples of the fine work our Association has done in this area. I can’t think of a law librarian who wouldn’t need to access a government document at some point in their career. These documents and resources remain accessible due to the hard work of the association and its members.
The connections I have made have been worth the price of membership. Need a document from a court in Cook County? I just called a Librarian I met in St Louis and got it in minutes. Looking to start a support group for librarians doing CI? Spoke to a friend who introduced me to the PLL Chair who set it up with Headquarters. We had the CI group up and running in no time. Did I mention my co-founders were from Minneapolis and St Louis, not to mention the members of our Caucus are from all over the US? How else would I have made these connections if it weren’t for the association?
Vendor relations have never been the responsibility of the Association other than to pair vendors with customers. Vendor sponsorships just allow the vendors to sell their products to the Association’s members. There is no obligation, duty or any other requirement for the Association to do more than that. In fact, there are good legal reasons for the Association or members not to collude to affect prices. Just as it would be harmful to consumers for Wolters Kluwer, BNA, ThomsonReuters and Lexis to share information about our contracts with each other, the members of the Association as well as the Association as a whole are precluded from sharing that same information. References to the Association as a sweetheart who has done you wrong by not standing up for you miss this crucial point.
It is the responsibility of every librarian to do what’s best for their organization (i.e., Firm, Company, School or Government Library) when it comes to vendor relations. If you don’t like something the vendor does, tell them. If they don’t do anything about it, take your business elsewhere. It is up to the librarian to make sure their organization is aware of the negotiations and their options going in. Let’s face it, this is why they hire us. It’s up to us as individuals to create and maintain a beneficial partnership/relationship with our vendors. The Association cannot act as a substitute for us or a surrogate in our dealings with our vendors.
So let’s take a deep breath and consider the value the Association provides and not focus on “What has it done for me lately?” Take it, Ms. Jackson

I know that the Law Librarian Blog gets plenty of traffic all on its own, but I wanted to lead as many 3 Geeks’ readers over to the LLB for an excellent post from Bryan Carson called “Time to Reinstate the FTC’s Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry.” Carson lays out some of the details surrounding the 2000 repeal of the FTC’s Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry (.doc), and how since the repeal, publishers (not just legal publishers) have fallen back to tactics that the Guidelines were specifically set up to prevent.

Carson points out that the “revocation was taken despite the fact that every single comment received by the public cited the necessity of these guidelines and recommended that they be continued.” He goes on to list some of the abuses that were going on in 1969 (via Raymond Taylor’s 1975 article New Protection for Law Book Users) that prompted the need for the Guidelines’ creation in 1975. See if any of these look familiar:

  • Putting new titles and new binders on old materials (particularly looseleaf items);
  • Including the same book in two different series;
  • Overpricing supplements and issuing new editions rather than supplementing;
  • Issuing misleading advertisements (particularly in terms of works designated as “new,” “revised,” or “enlarged”);
  • Using unnecessarily expensive bindings and formats;
  • Putting local names on books that are not truly local;
  • Adding remotely related books to established sets to assure their automatic sale;
  • Failing to advertise prices of major items;
  • Failing to issue supplements for books that otherwise will soon be obsolete;
  • Issuing treatises in looseleaf form; and
  • Failing to put correct printing date on republished books.
Carson calls for a couple of actions steps needed to correct these types of abuses in 2011.
  1. Reinstating the FTC Guidelines for Law Book Publishers
  2. Expanding the FTC Guidelines beyond Law Book Publishers to include other specialized fields such as the medical industry and other fields that have limited choices in their selection of necessary publications
  3. Seek antitrust exemptions for all library organizations and allow them to ban together in order to give “teeth” to their existing guidelines (which, ironically because of antitrust laws, prevents them from enforcing those guidelines through boycotts or other collaborative efforts.)
It is a provocative read, and one in which I ask that those of you that buy materials from law book publishers would step out of your comfort zone and comment upon – either here, at the LLB post, on law-lib, or at a minimum, call or email a colleague to discuss the issue and think about what needs the next steps taken in addressing this issue. Inaction does not make any problems go away.