Here you’ve put me in an awkward position.

See, now I have to defend AALL’s annual meeting program, and that really isn’t something I wanted to do.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the criticism of AALL’s programming you need to catch up. First, read Some thoughts on Programming at the AALL Annual Conference, then A Modest Proposal on Programming at AALL, then Dream Big or Comments on “A “Modest Proposal on Programming at AALL” and the Report of the AALL Annual Meeting Review Special Committee, Programming at AALL – A Modest Follow-Up…, and finally My Experience in Participating in the AALL Programming Process or AALL Educational Programming Needs to go Back to School.

Just to tell you where I am coming from in this discussion: I have worked at an academic library for the last year and a half, and spent 5 years before that as a firm librarian.

There seems to be a lot going on in these various posts and I’ll try to break it down.

Several of the blog posts and some comments say there is not enough relevant programming for firm librarians. But as a former firm librarian I can see relevant programing at almost every time slot. The very first time slot includes sessions on supervisory skills and digital collection development. Sessions on authentic online legal information, copyright, and instruction skills are also have relevance to firm librarians. From my own experience, I could see relevance in sessions on FOIA requests, accounting skills, and even historical legal research. I think, selfishly, one of my own sessions, Going Mobile: new tools to keep your library’s information moving is very relevant. At the firm I was at every lawyer had a Blackberry. Just today I heard a story of lawyers at one firm demanding IT support their iPads.

I suspect the real underlying complaint is not that there is a lack of relevant sessions, but a lack of sessions specifically targeted to firm librarians. For example, the Copyright session is not “Copyright for firm librarians,” it is a general copyright session. This complaint is, in my opinion, slightly more valid if somewhat untrue.

Like Nina Platt, I do not see firm librarians getting the short end of the stick. In fact, part of the problem with annual meeting programming is that it seems too often to try to cater to everyone and in some respects ends up not catering to anyone in particular. One of the surprises I’ve found as I’ve become more involved with AALL as an academic librarian is that many academic librarians don’t think AALL does a good job of catering to them at all. So while firm librarians may think they have it bad, they are not alone, they are not victims (despite Nina Platt’s anecdote), AALL needs to do a better job of catering to all their member’s needs.

Mark Gediman at the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog suggests breaking up the conference into tracks based on type of library. This solution may certainly be worth a try. And apparently the Private Law Library section Summit was created in response to the problems firm librarians have had with AALL programming. I can’t say that as a firm librarian I would have been uninterested in the PLL Summit agenda, but the agenda does not seem particularly geared towards firm librarians compared to the general annual meeting agenda.

The first part of the summit addresses persuasive communications, time management, better presentations, and business skills. These are not skills unique to law firm librarians and some even seem to be addressed by AALL regular programming. For example, annual meeting program E1 is “Using Pecha Kucha to Enhance your presentations.” Comparing the summit agenda with the annual meeting programming you will see additional items already covered in the annual meeting.

I think the need for such a summit would be a little more convincing if the opportunities for such a thing hadn’t already existed within the AALL annual meeting. Besides the examples I’ve already mentioned there is also the Lawberry Camp unconference I’ve worked on with Sarah Glassmeyer. When we were originally proposing the unconference we asked both PLL and the Academic section to co-sponsor it. We then wanted to include the Court section, thus trying to include all members. When PLL and ALL-SIS seemed to not be interested we abandoned that plan.

Lawberry Camp is currently free, and Sarah and I are dedicated to keeping it at a very low cost for members in the future as well. Firm librarians would be welcome to come to the unconference, start up firm-specific round tables, give firm-oriented lightening talks and get to interact with librarians from other library types. We would also be willing to work with them to provide some sort of forum within Lawberry camp, as we’ve tried to do with attendees of the cancelled Creative Commons workshop.

Now, some criticism of AALL programming is warranted. At the recent CALI conference a random law school IT worker sitting next to me on a bus complained about the programming process and how onerous it was. And the process for presenting this year, my first experience, has not been pleasant.

But AALL has made some efforts to improve. Already AALL has shown a willingness to try adding tracks to the conference, moving around deadlines, and hopefully more improvements will come. Furthermore, AALL goes out of it’s way to ensure firm librarians are recognized in AALL leadership, committees, and organization.

There’s plenty to criticize with the AALL annual meeting. But having now attended AALL as a firm librarian and an academic I’m not convinced that firm librarians have a particularly strong grievance against AALL compared with the grievance every member should have over the current programing process.

4 responses

Do you want to comment?

Comments RSS ?

Good points. I’m a firm librarian, and I’m undecided on the issue but leaning towards the opinion of Mark and ‘the 3 Geeks’. The issue for me is that, yes, I can attend a general tract session on presentation skills, copyright, or digital collection development but I find that the take-aways that I can directly apply at my firm are limited simply because the law firm patron and the law school or court librarian patron are so different. I don’t think that difference can possibly be understated.

Personally, I find the sessions presented by law firm librarians to be above and beyond the best of the conference.

June 29, 2010 8:04 am

I agree with Nicole regarding the applicability of sessions to firm libraries. When I attend any conference (AALL, SLA, Internet Librarian, PLI, etc.), I always am extrapolating how I can apply what is being discussed/ taught in individual sessions to the law firm library environment, regardless of who the target audience of that session is. That should be a “best practice” for every conference attendee and I believe that most attendees do this. That being said, as Nicole states, it can be difficult to make those applications, especially if sessions are focused on specific types of library patrons.

Hopefully this all will create much needed discussion within AALL and its members regarding how programming can improve. This also necessitates that those who are unhappy with it have to step up and not only share why they are unhappy, but also ways they feel it can be improved. Speaking as someone who has submitted sessions for the last few years, I know the current process is cumbersome, time-consuming and held too far in advance. I like the idea of having tracks. I would also like to see a survey done to identify topic areas that people would like to see covered by sessions. It would help focus content vs. having people guess as to what they think people may find interesting or applicable. I would also like to see more virtual session offerings since it may be easier and more cost-effective for people to attend those than the annual conference itself, given the budget realities these days.

June 29, 2010 11:36 am

No one would dispute that SXSW is a very popular event that has a wide variety of audiences. They ask that people submit proposals, which are then voted upon as part of the selection process. More details here: This model could work for AALL, too.

June 29, 2010 1:08 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.