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Time to Be the Change — Rebranding AALL to The Association for Legal Information

Over the next month, members of the American Association of Law Libraries will vote on whether to change the name of the organization to the Association for Legal Information.  I will be voting yes, and I encourage all members to take the time to research and think about what the rebranding and renaming initiative means for the association, the profession, and yourself. This is important, and no member should stand on the sidelines and let others cast votes in your absence. The rebranding effort is a huge undertaking by the leadership of the association, and is step one of many in helping the association change to meet the needs of current and future members.

Nearly six years ago, I penned a post called “This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Law Library! – Time for a Law Library Revolution.” In that post, I point out the new and creative ideas and services created by law librarians, and the desire of those who wish to steer the profession back what they believe to be the core function of law librarians in acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. Here is a sample of my thoughts on what happens when the library pendulum shifts toward new and progressive ideas, and the desire for some to move that pendulum back to the center.

Whenever the law library gets progressive and starts promoting new ideas, those ideas get spun off into their own departments and the creative law librarians leave the library field to join these departments. Things like Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, and even some Marketing and IT ideas that were created in the library now exist outside the library. So it seems that the general direction the law firm libraries have taken in the past 15-20 years is to get us back to what we were doing in the 1980’s.

My thoughts back then were focused on the moves by law firms to place library functions under the IT and/or Marketing departments. My thoughts now are that six years have nearly passed and while this is still a conversation within the industry, the next wave of change is already taking place. A new outsourcing movement is occurring in the Northeast where entire law library functions and personnel are not only removed from a Library Department, they are being removed from the law firm completely and now work for a Library Consulting company. We are still arguing about where we exist within the firm, while the leaders of the firm have moved on to deciding if we even belong in the firm at all.

The only thing harder than adjusting to change, is pretending that the change hasn’t already happened. As General Shinseki so eloquently stated, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” The Law Librarian profession has changed, and is continuing to change. That is not a bad thing, it is just the reality of the profession. It is up to the leaders within our profession to position the association, and prepare its members to lead and direct the changes, rather than react when it is too late.

During this decade, the corporate law firm libraries have vanished, the private law firms have undertaken massive changes in structure, and the government law libraries have transformed themselves into a new function surrounding access to justice. The academic libraries haven’t had the drastic changes in structure, but they are not immune. We saw hints of change at Harvard with John Palfrey’s brief reign, but not nearly what I envision will happen over the next ten years to what the pain of decreased admissions and the burden of student debt brings to the entire law school organizational structure.

Times for law libraries aren’t simply changing — they have already changed, and the next wave of change is already upon us. It’s time that all of us understand that, and stop thinking of ways to move the library pendulum back to center. That pendulum no longer even exists for many of us in the profession.

This brings me to why I am voting “yes” on the initial phase of rebranding AALL by changing the name to the Association for Legal Information. The profession has changed and it is time for the association to lead and prepare its members for the next round of changes, rather than lag behind and react after the fact.

The profession’s core functions are still based on acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. However, those functions will be more of a commodity than an added value. It’s all those other functions that we as librarians have produced over the years that will create the value the profession produces. Information to Knowledge, and Knowledge to Intelligence, and Intelligence to Experience, and Experience to Expertise are the key factors going forward. It starts, but does not end with the information we gather and maintain. The association needs to position itself to lead on developing these value added functions, while continuing to support the core functions.

The Association for Legal Information is where we start with the rebranding of our association and profession. This will be the springboard to help us leap to the next iteration of what being a law librarian and legal information professional means, and the value we bring to the legal industry as a whole. The rebranding is not about leaving law librarians behind. Far from it. It is about augmenting what we do, and bringing new ideas and new experts into the field to use as specialists, and for us to learn from them in return. It is about Law Librarians being the change and leading the way into the future.

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