AALL Future Shock: Envisioning the Future of Law Librarianship

Jeff Buckley, Legal Research Analyst, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

I attended the AALL Futures Summit the other week. It was a two-day conference at the McDonald’s Campus Hyatt near Chicago. AALL footed the bill (including travel, lodging and dining expenses) and about forty law librarians were there. A special committee of AALL, the Futures Summit Planning Special Committee chaired by David Mao of the Library of Congress, planned the event. Overall, the Futures Summit was good. Will anything come of it? I hope so.

The main theme was improvement: how can we make the American Association of Law Libraries better? In the weeks leading up to the conference, attendees received a list of background readings and participated in online discussion on topics such as mentoring and communication. After everyone had arrived and the conference was underway and we were able to match faces to names, it became clear to me that everyone there cared about our profession and our organization. Everyone was engaged, offering ideas and insights. It was a hopeful moment.

Andy Hines, a futurist, set the tone for the conference with the keynote address. He spoke enthusiastically about categories of people based on their values and about generational changes in the workforce. He offered hortatory remarks about employees interviewing employers nowadays and expressed the notion that employers need to be responsive to talented employees who desire flexible schedules and work-life balance. Although his optimistic message was somewhat incongruous with the bleak employment outlook facing our country today, Mr. Hines provided a broad-stroke positive picture before we set out to answer specific questions in our small-group breakout sessions.

During the conference, I took part in small-group sessions on private law libraries, on leadership and mentoring, and on overarching goals. After each breakout session, the entire group convened to share ideas from each small group. Although not comprehensive, here is a list of items I thought were interesting:

  • We need to continue to deliver excellent services
  • Librarians at law firms bring value in client billing and saving attorney time
  • Metrics are essential to demonstrating value
  • Librarians at law firms shouldn’t need to worry about unauthorized practice of law (ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 is applicable)
  • We need to be ahead of the curve on technology, with eBooks for example
  • AALL’s website should “remember” users so we don’t have to put in our password every time we use the site
  • AALL ought to break down walls between its Special Interest Sections, e.g., Academic Law Libraries SIS members ought to be able to view the online communications of Private Law Libraries SIS members, and vice versa
  • Large law firms do not use the AALL salary survey so we should look at alternatives
  • Subject area specialization is increasing and librarians should embrace it, e.g., by regularly attending practice group meetings
  • Relationships with vendors should not be adversarial; it’s not us against them – we rely on each other
  • Vendors should be more active in library school programs so new librarians will know how to use current tools
  • AALL should welcome new members with a phone call
  • AALL should allow more opportunities for new members to participate in committee work
  • AALL should consider providing free membership to student members
  • AALL should facilitate mentoring relationships with a sort of matching site (similar to a dating site)
  • AALL members need to complete their online profiles on the AALL website

The final activity of the conference was for attendees to write down on post-it notes their ideas about what AALL should do in the near future. We placed these post-it notes on presentation easels around the room and spent some minutes reviewing our colleagues’ remarks. These were my contributions:

  • Consider hiring a PR firm to coordinate outside communications
  • Create an online ideas bank where AALL members would be able to submit their ideas and “upvote” good ideas

The conference was a whirlwind of activity and insight. It was a shot in the arm for our profession. Now let’s see some actual good come out of it. A possible item number one could be to collect all of those remarks on the post-it notes and make them available to members. The Futures Summit Planning Special Committee is slated to meet soon to discuss next steps, to provide action items. Let’s take action.

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