Friday, February 12, 2016

The "No's" Have It : AALL Members Embrace Tradition and Reject Transformative Rebranding

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The American Association of Law Libraries Board (and myself by proxy) received a harsh rebuke from the AALL membership when the rebranding vote results were announced today.   I wasn't surprised that  the name  "Association for Legal Information" was rejected. I was stunned that it was  voted down by a  huge majority. I expected a close vote. Boy was I wrong.

According to an announcement by AALL 59.1% of the members cast ballots. 81.9 %  (1998 members) voted against the new name. 19.89 % (498 members) voted in favor of the  new name.

I wasn't actually all that crazy about the "Association for legal information,"  but it was infinitely better than sticking with AALL, and I didn't have a better name to suggest. As far as I can tell neither did anyone else. Many people suggested that they might have voted for the change if the word "professional" were added to the end. The Association for Legal Information grew on me and I think the change would have had a revitalizing impact on the association. What went wrong?
  • Was it a failure in the process of "socializing" the proposed change?
  • Should there have been a town hall devoted to live discussions of the name change at the annual meeting?
  • Was it the absence of the word "professional" in the name?
  • Was it the prospect of "outsiders" non-librarians becoming members?
  • Will there be another vote on another name or will it take another 100 years to get to a reassessment of the name?
It is a curious outcome considering the overwhelming evidence that the number of law libraries and consequently the number of law librarians will continue to shrink. Reminds me a bit of the Shakers Sect that died out because absolute adherence to their core beliefs destined them for absolute extinction.

Will A Great Migration Follow? Frankly, I know that many private firm colleagues  did not vote because they regard AALL as irrelevant to their careers. Other former librarians who have transformed themselves into digital pioneers have  already  chosen membership in  ILTA  over AALL. The vote could accelerate an exodus that had already begun.

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Name Change
When I was Chair of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section in 2014 I proposed changing the name of the SIS. Instead of going directly to a vote, we floated a series of "trial balloons." We conducted several straw polls in advance of the final vote to get a sense of what kind of change the members were open to. The goal of the Board was to at the very least eliminate the absurdity of having the SIS named for a place- the library.  It became clear that members could stomach  adding a reference to information professionals but they were unwilling to eliminate all reference to libraries or librarians. My successor Cheryl Neimeier continued the process and successfully initiated the vote in which the members agreed to change the name to "Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals." It didn't go far enough for me, but at least the members were willing to acknowledge  and  welcome colleagues who were no longer working as librarians or working in libraries, but who had moved into  non traditional rolls in areas such as  competitive intelligence or knowledge management.
I Have an MLS But I am Not a Librarian
I haven't been employed in a traditional librarian role for at least 20 years. I respect that many of my AALL colleagues do work in libraries and may well work in traditional libraries for the next 20 years. On the private law firm side of AALL many law firms have already eliminated their print libraries and many more will go digital in the next 5 years. I am baffled at the unwillingness of my AALL colleagues to enlarge the association tent to embrace the needs of colleagues who are out on the forefront of change... members who have moved into "non librarian" roles outside a library environment but who continue to play a vital role in enhancing access to knowledge.

A colleague who specialized in technical services once commented to me that "catalogers" were the only "real" librarians and reference librarians were imposters - they were a much later addition to the profession and didn't qualify as true librarians. If that is true that the first discipline of librarianship was cataloging -- imagine how research librarians would feel if they had to join "The American Catalogers Association"  An uncomfortable fit at best. 


  1. So ... you're saying that 80% of the voters were wrong. I think many among the 80% would disagree (and even say why if you'd like); but to each their own.

    I don't see why your post couldn't essentially start and stop at: "Many people suggested that they might have voted for the change if the word 'professional' were added to the end." What in particular would you say is wrong with "Association of Legal Information Professionals"

    Right now is too soon to propose a vote on that alternative. But there's no reason for such a proposal to wait 100 years, or even 1 year in my view.

  2. I think that a fair number of voters were actually open to a name change, but they felt that the new name was even worse than the existing one. I don't find this surprising, as the new name was vague and its acronym (which most people use in place of a name) competed with an already established and respected one in the field of law. Those in favor of the new name seemed not to recognize that these were legitimate concerns, and put down opposition as being musty and antiquated librarians. This was disappointing as it shut down thoughtful debate. I strongly believe that if the AALL Board had actually had given options for new names at the outset and gathered input at an earlier stage, the proposed name and the vote would have turned out differently.

  3. I voted for the name change but expected it wouldn't pass but not by such a wide margin. It would be very interesting to know the institutional demographics eg how many law firm librarians vote for/against.

  4. Had you published your thought-provoking post, Are Librarians Wearing a Glass Ceiling? The American Association of Law Libraries Members Final Chance to Vote For the Future, as soon as the furor over the name change began, it might have changed some minds. It changed mine.

  5. The tone of this article is exactly the problem with the entire rebranding initiative.

  6. I think many of us who voted no are not resistant to change. I think we do need to evolve and change. My problem was a) with the name chosen; b) how AALL went about the process; c) AALL itself as a viable organization for today's world; d)other changes being more important than a name change.

    I think this vote was a mandate in fact. A mandate that AALL itself needs to evolve or as you say go the way of the Shakers.

    Perhaps the fact that you aren't employed in a traditional librarian role was one of the reasons you were surprised by the vote. I don't think us traditional librarians were surprised in the least.

  7. I also voted "no." I am open to name change. In fact, we need it. I just did not think the proposed name was a good fit either. I think when this issue comes up again, that a few options need to be "tossed" around and obtain feedback on several options.

    1. I also voted "no" but am open to a name change - and, in fact, agree that that needs to come soon. I would have voted for "Association of Legal Information Professionals" had that been the one that passed the Board, but it wasn't and the process itself was flawed.

  8. I think the fact that this surprises you points to the larger problem that the association leadership is out of touch with the membership. If we’re going to change the name of the association, we need a better name than Association for Legal Information. By removing any word referencing people from the name, AALL is effectively saying the people in this equation don’t matter. This is counterproductive to the stated goal of staying relevant. The association needs to be about people first.

    If our goal is to stay relevant, we need real change and we need to deal with actual problems. In the law firm environment, which is where I work, the biggest hurdle to maintaining relevancy is competing with marketing, IT, and attorneys whose entire role is to support their practice group. These groups have convinced the people that matter that they can do what librarians do with a better understanding of the end user attorneys. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about how we are perceived in our workplaces and deal with the answers we find, instead of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not a problem. Can these groups do our jobs better? If so, why is that?

    The name of the organization is almost irrelevant. Nobody that I work for cares what associations I belong to. They certainly don’t care what the names of those associations are. All they care about is getting their needs met. If we’re no longer perceived as relevant, it is because we are failing to meet the needs of our users.

    We’re wasting time talking about a name change.

  9. Jean, your analysis of why the name change initiative was so thoroughly trounced misses the point. I think you need to realize that the vast majority of members of this association are not "chiefs" and do not work at an AMLAW 200 firm. Your peers at other huge law firms have been advocating for name changes in their work environment at their firms and at others for years. The names library and librarians have been eliminated from the equation at most AMLAW200 firms. But the vast majority of your colleagues in this organization are content with being referred to as a librarian and are proud to be working in a library and do not work at an AMLAW200 firm. We will go the way of the Shakers? I don't think so.

  10. I I dropped my membership in AALL several years ago when it felt like an academic debating society. Personally I feel like I needed to move on if the association was not willing to think bigger. Maybe the reason it was so lopsided was that those who want the change have voted with our feet.

  11. Jean, your analysis of potential reasons why the AALL name change initiative received a thrashing misses the point. You must realize that the majority of the membership are not "chiefs" and do not work in an organization that has a "chief" in charge of the library. Nor do they work for an AMLAW 200 firm. The "library" leadership in AMLAW 200 firms have been advocating for many years to change the name of the "library" and the titles of the "library" personnel in these organizations. Essentially to drop the moniker "library". Most of these firms have already made these changes. It seems to me that the majority of AALL membership are content with being a librarian and proud to be working in a library. Will we go the way of the Shakers as you suggest? I doubt it.

  12. From your title, you seem to know what all of the members were thinking when they voted. This is the kind of click-bait rhetoric that doesn't help the association or its members. In fact, it creates an environment where we don't actually listen to each other.

  13. Genuine question from across the pond - the Board didn't want to be 'American' any more..?

    1. I believe the rationale is that AALL already had non- US members and they wanted to welcome more. In addition, at least in law firms, there are members who oversee staff outside the US. THe world is globalizing members have to acquire and manager international business and legal information as well as staff. The law is globalizing, firms are globalizing and it would make sense for the professional organization to position itself and by proxy it's members to understand, respond to and participate in and help prepare the members for the impact on globalization. These are my personal views and I am not speaking for the AALL Board, who may have a different take on this issue.