Sunday, July 15, 2012

AALL changing definition of Active Members!

AALL members have been changing their duties. Firm librarians as well as law school librarians have changed their titles and their duties, sometimes entirely dropping more traditional librarian sorts of duties. We thus have law firm marketers, competitive intelligence workers, and academic deans who still identify with AALL and would like to still be active members of the association. Headquarters staff had asked for a change in the bylaws because the old definitions no longer fit current reality.

According to a conversation with Darcy Kirk, the Bylaws Committee first offered an amendment that tightened the definition of an active member. The Executive Board sent them back with directions to broaden the definition, instead. And did they broaden it! The new definition is so broad that it would extend the rights to vote and hold office to any employee of a legal publisher or other company that has consistently violated basic consumer protections in our Association’s Guide to Fair Business Practices. Some members are concerned that a significant ethical problem would unfairly burden such employees elected or appointed to offices in which their activities could directly or indirectly influence AALL policy or action on consumer advocacy, or could reasonably sustain the perception of conflicted influence. Of course, the issue remains debatable. In fact, our colleagues debated a similar issue of conflict of interest in 1987. The debate ended without resolution, but such acrimony accompanied it that repeating the controversy now seems to concerned members no small risk that our Board can and should avoid. The Board would effectively confer its imprimatur on the expanded definition of active definition by approving it in its present form for the membership’s vote, even though some members do not agree that the proposal should carry this de facto seal of approval.

As a result, a number of calls to various Executive Board members have been made. It appears that the Board still plans to vote on the Bylaws Committee change at its meeting this July. They may accept the proposal as is, or may change the language themselves, table it for later consideration, or send it back to the committee for more work.

Darcy points out that a change to the Bylaws this close to the annual meeting means that the 60-day waiting period would prevent any membership vote at the 2012 AALL meeting. So, if the Executive Board votes to accept the Bylaws Committee proposal, there will be a 60-day waiting period for members to consider the change. Members will have the ultimate say on whether to accept any change! Pay attention!

There will also be an opportunity for questions at the Business Meeting and Members' Forum on Monday, July 23, at 4:15 PM in Hynes Convention Center Ballroom B! If you will be at the annual meeting, and have questions, you can e-mail your questions ahead of time to The deadline for submitting a resolution passed on July 2, sadly.

Here are some talking points:

• Members were not well-apprised of the initial proposal to change the bylaws at the Board's March, 2012 meeting. Relying on the Board Book to tell general membership about important issues is NOT the kind of transparency members reasonably expect of the leadership!
• Members were not adequately informed of the request to the Bylaws Committee to broaden the active membership definition that took place at the March, 2012 meeting. Ordinary members should NOT have to dig through the Board Books and sift through 149 pages in them to find information that bears on ALL of our interests! This DOESNOT satisfy a reasonable expectation of transparency, but invites a suspicion, however misplaced, that the Board has tried to sneak a change past the membership.
• This has been a very divisive and rancorous issue in the past – when the issue of vendor membership was raised more than 20 years ago in 1987, it was a very bitter, emotionally charged town meeting.
• Changes to the Bylaws require a 2/3 approval of the full membership. An active minority will spare no procedural effort to defeat the proposed change in its present form. No one wants an avoidable conflict. The Board can still has means to avoid precipitating a conflict that otherwise seems inevitable..


KenHirsh said...

The two points I want to make are these: 1. There is plenty of opportunity for discussion. Please see my post at 2. More than a decade has passed since the last consideratoin of this, and 25 years since the earlier one.There is nothing wrong with revisiting the idea.

Betsy McKenzie said...

(I am posting this for a colleague whose Ipad seemed not to link correctly to blogspot)

The question is not whether it is wrong to revisit the active membership issue. I think that everyone would agree with the AALL Executive Board that changes in the legal profession more than warrant a broader definition. The question is whether AALL members had enough notice to tell their Board whether, in the first place, they would want to vote definition as broad as this one. Members like me prefer an opportunity to see if we can first craft a compromise that balances the Board's praiseworthy goals with concerns about the appearance of significant conflict of interest. An issue of such importance and potential for controversy seems to justify a departure from ordinary Board procedure to exercise its own discretion in deciding policies and goals of our Association.

Michael Ginsborg