Support A Petition For An AALL Consumer Advocacy Caucus

Back in July, OFG published a blog post from the Consumer Advocacy Caucus announcing their intention to form. They are now asking Law Librarian members of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) to sign a petitition that will allow time to place the petition on the agenda of the upcoming AALL Board meeting for November 3rd-5th, 2011.

Please read the petition below, and if you agree with the position of the Caucus, sign it by emailing your approval to Michael Ginsborg at michaelginsborg@yahoo.com. The names of all signatories will be kept confidential, as explained in the petition. Time is of the essence. We have a short deadline by which to gather signatures (September 16th) to allow AALL time to place the petition on the agenda of the Board meeting for November 3rd-5th. The Caucus’s statement of purpose must be strong and unequivocal so that we can be effective consumer advocates for law libraries.

Request To Support A Petition For An AALL Consumer Advocacy CaucusWe are a group of over 50 AALL members who need your support in a crisis affecting all types of law libraries. Our libraries cannot indefinitely sustain the escalating costs of unfair and anticompetitive business practices by some sellers of legal information. AALL has unique promise to champion the interests of legal information consumers. We have matched its promise with an opportunity. In April, we registered to become an AALL Caucus on Consumer Advocacy. AALL members have achieved earlier successes at consumer advocacy. Based on their examples, we proposed several consumer advocacy initiatives as our goals. AALL’s leadership initially raised concerns about our goals. We were told that our Caucus would violate antitrust law and make policies on AALL’s behalf. To answer these objections, we changed our statement of purpose. Former AALL President Joyce Janto subsequently approved our revised statement for an Executive Board vote. AALL President Darcy Kirk recently rejected it and offered a substitute that compromises our effectiveness. We need your support as we petition the Board to reverse Darcy’s decision and approve our revised statement of purpose. We ask that you endorse the following petition to the Executive Board. We will instruct the Executive Board to keep signatory names strictly confidential.
 
A Petition Of Undersigned AALL Members To AALL’s Executive Board
 
As AALL members, we petition AALL’s Executive Board to approve this statement of purpose for the creation of the AALL Caucus on Consumer Advocacy: “The AALL Caucus on Consumer Advocacy will recommend to AALL that it petition appropriate governmental bodies for specific remedies to anticompetitive and unfair business practices by legal information sellers.” We do not consent to any disclosure of our names as signatories. Disclosure could allow legal information sellers to retaliate against us by singling out our employers for less favorable business relations.

Reasons For The Petition

1. The Caucus has a strong factual basis for its proposed purpose.

2. Although AALL has three venues on “vendor relations,” none can effectively address unfair and anticompetitive business practices in the legal information industry. First, the Vendor Colloquium did not discuss consumer advocacy, and the membership had no opportunity for digital participation in any of its sessions. Caucus members asked a Vendor Colloquium task force to consider our proposal of a robust consumer advocacy equal to AALL’s promise. The task force did not respond, closing an opportunity for their participation. Second, CRIV does admirable work to help individual institutions resolve complaints against legal information sellers. But CRIV can not use information from these complaints to advocate for a change in AALL policy. Third, despite significant anti-consumer practices in the industry, AALL’s Vendor Liaison has reduced related membership concerns to a problem in public relations. In March 2011, Vendor Liaison Margie Maes reported that unidentified “vendors” were “frustrated with the airing of public complaints,” but hoped that a “vendor relations program” would “stem the flow of that negative communication.” (March 25-26, 2011 AALL Executive Board Meeting Board Book, Tab 17)

3. We need a new approach. Caucus members seek the opportunity to independently influence AALL policymaking in a matter of high importance to the membership. An AALL Caucus would provide AALL members a forum to fully exchange their views on consumer advocacy, and a transparent venue to reach consensus on a policy recommendation to the Executive Board. The Caucus would not decide policy for AALL or act on its behalf. Caucus members seek only to have their voices heard; to open a new outlet for member participation in AALL; and to collaborate with AALL’s leadership in developing an effective consumer advocacy.

4. Over 50 AALL members have twice requested AALL’s recognition of the Caucus. Valuing AALL as their best ally, they have worked with its leadership to develop an acceptable statement of purpose. Former AALL President Joyce Janto provisionally approved their latest submission, but her successor, Darcy Kirk, has rejected it. Darcy suggests that the Caucus accept yet another statement of purpose: “The purpose of the Caucus on Consumer Advocacy is to provide a forum for AALL members to exchange ideas and information regarding the legal information industry and to represent its members’ interest and concerns within AALL.”

5. Darcy objected to the “negative tone” of the Caucus’ latest purpose and faulted the Caucus for suggesting “actions regarding policy.” She says that her substitute purpose “does not prevent [the Caucus] from from making recommendations to AALL regarding petitions.” But it would prevent the Caucus from candidly declaring its real purpose – to recommend a consumer advocacy petition.

6. AALL’s leadership could apply similar objections to any activity our Caucus might otherwise pursue, especially given the recent history of changing positions by AALL Presidents.

7. Darcy’s rejection of the Caucus’ proposed purpose would harm AALL in the following ways:
a. It would violate the implied right of members to engage AALL in matters they find fundamentally related to its mission;
b. It would violate AALL’s principle of transparency and openness;
c. It would create a chilling effect on Association speech, as members will not be allowed to discuss consumer advocacy issues, must less pursue them, for fear that AALL will not approve of candid discussion;
d. It would create the appearance that AALL is afraid of candor in matters that affect sellers of legal information;
e. It would deprive members the indispensable status and perceived “protection” that AALL recognition confers on an activity that some legal information sellers can be expected to disapprove; and
f. It would deter members from otherwise acting together to pursue their vision of a robust consumer advocacy.

8. These harmful consequences prevent Caucus members from accepting Darcy’s substitute purpose. So unless the Board reverses Darcy’s decision, the Board will deny over 50 AALL members an opportunity they eagerly want to participate in their Association; will deprive other AALL members the benefits of allowing the Caucus to organize; and will undermine member trust and interest in the Association.

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