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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dystopian views

I've been having a chat with my brother-in-law via e-mail. He used to be an EMT til he blew out his back -- twice. He finally had to quit, though. But he still remembers with a good deal of outrage the things he saw on that job. And I guess I remember the things I saw at my job as a legal services lawyer. It's kind of funny how close we are on so many details and yet we wind up on opposite sides in the final analysis. I am reminded of the recent research that seems to show that people's tendency toward liberal or conservative (though neither of us in quite so neat in our political slotting) seems to be pretty much biologically based, not a product of rationality or philosophy.

At any rate, John thinks it would be an excellent solution to the problem of the "welfare lifestyle" to link eligibility for benefits to a system that both tests for drugs and is tied to a job application tracking system. If somebody applied for a job, was offered the job and turned it down, they would be ineligible for benefits. If they tested positive for drugs, they would be ineligible, of course.

I can see right away how this would twist in the real world. Number one, it does not touch alcoholism. Number two, people would immediately begin learning how to "game" the drug testing, and paying each other to take the urine and blood tests for them. There would be this whole black market for test takers, I imagine if the system were not tied to fingerprints right away.

But what are you going to do to support the children of the drug-addicted parent? Are you just going to let them wander the streets begging for food? This is where the whole plan runs off the rails. Because you have the innocent children squeezed in all this. So you get programs like food stamps and WIC, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, etc.

The other thing that just grabbed me was the thought about what if your turned down a job offer, and that blocked you from all welfare programs? If it was just set up like that, with no nuances, it could be such a cruel system that could be so abused by employers! If there were really dangerous jobs, like a coal mine that had no safety precautions, totally unregulated -- you'd be crazy to accept the job -- a death sentence! And yet, if there were no other jobs open to you in your area, and you turned down that job, you would be totally screwed in terms of welfare benefits for you and your family! Talk about a captive labor market!

You don't think business would take advantage of a change in the law like that?

Image of 1984 cover art from blog post about author George Orwell.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hell No! I won't dye!

For some years now, I have been noticing colleagues at my law school gradually darkening up their graying hair. Grecian formula? Whatever!

I had thought I was in the last stronghold where it did not matter, or in fact, might be a GOOD thing to be GRAY! I watched my younger sister struggle with dye. I listened to people moan about how once you started dying, you were trapped because of the ugly problem of the roots growing out gray with the dark ends. I really, really felt so lucky to be in academe where there just wouldn't be any of those commercial pressures to dye my hair.

So, why am I seeing all my colleagues dying their hair? Men as well as women?

Ageism is rearing its ugly head here, I fear.

There has been a problem with deadwood on the faculty. And then sloppy thinking has begun to equate deadwood with age. This is patently not the case. We have several older faculty who are paragons of ultra-high quality and output in all three: teaching, scholarship and service. And, like a bell curve, we have a number who are quite good quality. But the perception in some quarters has been that it is only younger faculty who are teaching and doing scholarship!

I also think that the murky politics of this place play into the mix, because Old Hands seem threatening to Current New Hands in some ways. It doesn't have to be that way, IMHO. So, old seems bad in that way, too, and that gets mixed up in people's thinking and then gets slopped into the mix of how everybody gets judged.

I am, by the standards of my school, a relative new-comer. I am, by the standards of the Social Security Administration, not near retirement.

And yet, I have a great deal of white and gray hair. I really like how it looks by the way. I would say my hair was silvery if it didn't sound twee. I am very fortunate in the way my hair has grown and the way it has come in gray. I have no intention of dying it, and I very much resent what is beginning to feel like pressure and prejudice.

If people were to be as judgmental about peoples' skin color as they are being about people's hair color, that would be racism. What is this about the pressure to color over all the gray in our hair?

I began to think about this when I had a very interesting conversation with a student who had an internship in Cambodia. He ended up having a conversation with the Justices of the Cambodian Supreme Court. I asked if they wore wigs. He said no. That the way they denoted their wisdom in that culture was that they had moles with hairs growing out of them. And they just let them grow really, really long, and that was a sign of how old and therefore how much wisdom they had accumulated.

I thought "Wow!" Would that not be a more relaxed culture to age in?! Wouldn't that be more accepting and actually really honor age as accumulating wisdom!?! I do think I am wiser now than I was at 20, 30 and 40. My reflexes are slower. But I know a lot more about how the world turns. I know a lot more people, too. I have contacts all over the law library world! That should be worth something to my law school as well.

At any rate, I will not dye my hair.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Trawling The Invisible Web

Here is something I try to teach my students about searching the Internet. Librarians know that:

* It's not all on the Internet. AND

* You can't even find everything on the Internet with search engines.

Google (and Bing, Yahoo, etc.) can't search things that are in databases or tables on websites. That's a LOT of valuable data! There are websites that don't allow crawling. This vast trove of really rich stuff is called the Invisible Web.

Here are a few of my favorite tips for searching those depths:

1. Think about organizations that might generate reports, maps, statistics on your area. Governmental, NGOs, not-for-profit organizations all generate huge amounts of very worthwhile data! Occasionally, it may be biased, but even so, if you keep the bias in mind, it can be worth using the information, warily!

1.a. To locate organizations in your topic area, a good method is to go to Wikipedia, and search for a keyword or N.G.O.

"environmentalism" or


"non-governmental organization" (pulls up a list of search results)

all will pull up at least one article, and sometimes a list of articles. There were always choices when I selected the link I chose for this blog post, so you may want to enter the term and search rather than simply link. Wikipedia's strength is the list of links and references that you can use to locate organizations and websites. The list may help you locate important organizations in the field that you would never have thought of or perhaps have heard of, without the links.

You should use your judgement about the quality of the website. Look for some link "ABOUT US," or something like that. Read about the organization, its mission and who founded it. Sometimes you will discover wonderful organizations that you never heard of that are doing important work and generating fabulous, reliable information while they are doing it. For U.S.-based organizations, you can look at the materials they file with the I.R.S. to support tax-exempt claims, which may help you decide how legitimate they are. For international and foreign organizations, you wont' have that sort of form to rely upon.

So, for instance, using this technique, one locates at the bottom of the Environmentalism article a list of Environmental Organizations and Conferences. One locates a list there of many United States-based groups, in addition to many United Nations links. One can flip through these fairly quickly, looking always for signs that there are reports, publications or a database on the site. Many of the organizations are set up solely as advocacy groups and so the websites simply trumpet the dangers, the organizations' claims of results and solicit donations. The researcher can skip over these. By skipping down, one finds the Wildlife Conservation International, and looking at that website, one notices a link to ICCF, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, a U.S.-based, bi-partisan foundation that lobbies the Congress on behalf of conservation issues. It has what looks like some excellent briefing material that it produces to give to Congress. I recognize the logos of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Audubon Society among others as sponsor/authors of some of these materials. It's an interesting and deep looking collection.

2. Do look for governmental information. Don't forget to look at the URL extensions, for that .gov to show you it's a government agency of some sort. The U.S. federal government and many state governments publish helpful materials. There are foreign government materials that can be helpful as well. Thus, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, to pull an agency out of the hat, at this point in time, provides a good amount of primary law on the website. Look a the tabs along the top of the page for an easy way to navigate the site. I chose the General Counsel's office, to show simply because it includes amicus briefs, statutes, policy hearings, and more. Here is a web page with the British Foreign Office, their "Working For Us" page where you can find out about jobs there.

3. Multi-national, consortial, and non-governmental bodies like the United Nations (and all of its many, many subsidiary organizations, which often generate databases, reports, maps, and wonderful data). Here is their Environmental Programme page for Climate Change. Examine the many tabs and then the index at the bottom. They have so many links there, some of which lead to publications, databanks and rich statistics. You have to take your time to explore.

4. There are lots of wonderful quasi-governmental bodies, like the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bi-partisan N.G.O to serve the legislators and their staffs of all 50 states. They help set up agreements between states, do research on shared issues, as well, so there is a lot of information at this website.

5. And do not overlook the huge variety of not-for-profit and other organizations. From the National Rifle Association, with "News and Politics," focused on the Second Amendment, and offering their analysis and commentary, to the National College for DUI Defense (I don't think this is not-for-profit) which trains defense lawyers, and provides a very handy list of the DUI laws state-by-state. Sometimes you stumble over these things. I found the DUI college through Wikipedia again, preparing a worksheet for students!

The image is an underwater cave, courtesy of a scuba diving website: