Thursday, September 27, 2012

AALL Bylaws!

Dear OOTJ readers,
I am posting this here on behalf of several colleagues. This will appear a number of other places as well, in hopes of beginning a more meaningful dialog or at least thought process, just in time for the vote on the AALL bylaws change.
Betsy McKenzie

Dear Colleagues,

As members of our Association, you will soon be asked to cast your vote on the issue of the Proposed 2012 Amendments to AALL Bylaws. The proposal seeks to eliminate the category of Associate Member and allow “any person who is interested in the objectives of the Association” as full Active Members. The language that will be removed from the present Bylaws, should we vote to adopt this proposal, is highlighted below:

(1) Active: Any person who is interested in the objectives of the Association and works with legal information in a library or information center or provides library services on an independent contract basis.

The reasons for this proposal are presented in the Executive Board’s recent FAQ (frequently asked questions (FAQs), and the main purpose for the amendment hinges on a desire to “align member categories with the changes that have occurred in the legal arena due to economic conditions and evolving legal information demands.” While the goal to make Active Membership possible for former librarians who leave traditional law library environments is admirable, we feel this proposal is overly broad. In most cases, employers pay the dues of members. Vendor employees of profit-making entities that are regularly engaged in business transactions with librarian members, are primarily accountable to the entities’ respective corporate authorities and shareholders, thereby not being as freely “interested in the objectives of the Association.”

This change would make it possible for vendor-members to serve on the Executive Board.

As stated in our Bylaws:

II Object:

The American Association of Law Libraries exists to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the public, the legal community, and the world, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy, in recognition that the availability of legal information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society.

Concerns about vendor participation on the Executive Board level include:

• According to an article published in AALL Spectrum, April 1999, ( one of the reasons to change our Bylaws to a two-tiered membership structure was to “expand the category of ‘member’ to include others not working in law libraries.” Because of a membership survey conducted during the Bylaws change in membership status, “the right to hold elective office on the Executive Board is reserved for the new category of ‘member,’ which includes active and retired members. This was the one privilege members of the Executive Board heard from members that should be excluded in an expansion of rights and members.”

• At this critical time in the history of publishing, and the rapidly evolving shape and nature of information management, it is imperative that we, as an organization in support of curators of legal information, represent our needs and goals, without conflict of interests or possible impediments to our mission.
• If vendor members served on the Executive Board they may be able to influence the outcome of our primary objective, as stated in our Bylaws (above).

• It may appear that opposition to the Bylaws reflects an unreasonable, distrustful fear that vendors will “take over” the Association. We embrace and seek many levels of partnership in our future endeavors. The overwhelming concern is the inherently conflicting interests and goals that arise even in the day-to-day work of the Association. While there is a conflicts policy in place for Executive Board member activities, vendor membership raises the possibility of more frequent conflicts of interest. As part of the Bylaws change proposal, The Association would benefit from a discussion of how the current conflicts policy has been applied and how it would be applied in this new context.

• Approval of the Bylaws as proposed would necessitate that the organization articulate whether it is representing libraries or the larger legal information industry. Partnership is distinct from and possible without full or joint membership. Traditionally, the organization has been expected to act as a voice for law libraries and those working for them. Are we changing the makeup of the organization? Are we removing the advocacy role? Who will speak for consumers of legal information if not law librarians?

• This change may result in an inherent unfairness to smaller publishers. Larger and more affluent publishers could enroll more voting members into the organization exerting more influence through sheer voting power and creating the potential to fill leadership roles.

• The desire to expand the definition of Member beyond traditional librarian roles is admirable, but could be addressed in alternative ways. For example, the Bylaws could be changed to make an exception for Active Members for all vendor members who work for entities that are non-profit or funded primarily by membership dues such as NELLCO, CALI, or LLMC.

As stewards of the dissemination and availability of legal information to all people we should hew to our stated objectives. We ask you to consider carefully the ramifications this change in the Bylaws will have on our Association and future as law librarians and urge you to vote against it as currently drafted. Your NO vote will make it necessary for the Executive Board to devise another, less far-reaching, plan to engage the small number of former librarians who are now in other roles. The symbolic significance of this change—which we think may signify a shift in our Association’s mission—should not go unheeded.

Thank you for your consideration. We hope this will engender a productive dialog among people on all sides of this issue.

Caroline Walters, Suffolk University Law Library
Michelle Pearse, Harvard Law Library
Stephanie Edwards, Roger Williams School of Law Library
Brian Striman, University of Nebraska College of Law Library

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