AALL 2012: Learning, Growing and Connecting from an Australian perspective

Marisa Bendeich
President, Australian Law Librarians’ Association


I love conferences! Learning something new, meeting vendors, connecting with colleagues, finding new friends, dancing, eating…and did I mention the free pens? What’s not to love!?

So it was with great excitement that I was fortunate to attend my first international law librarians’ conference this year representing the Australian Law Librarians’ Association at the AALL Annual Meeting and Conference held in Boston, Massachusetts.

Below is a reflection on my experiences, both on the conference process and on the programme itself.

The conference process and organisation – some highlights.

What struck me first was the number of people who attend! I am used to the Australian Law Librarians’ Conference, where we get between 150 – 250 delegates. Put yourself in my shoes when faced with 1800 delegates! Overwhelming to say the least.

Congratulations to the organising committee for managing this many people, and for managing to schedule 5 – 6 concurrent sessions over three days! Phew! The online planning tool on my iPad was a lifesaver.

The large number of meetings for special interest groups during the Conference was something that would be great to see more of in Australia. I particularly enjoyed the Private Law Libraries Summit. This really demonstrated to me that while we may be oceans apart, we face the same challenges!

The trade exhibits hall was on a scale we don’t see back home in Australia! The major sponsors had what I could only describe as mini villages full of flat screen TVs, iPads and PCs. There was always a real buzz in the trade exhibition, and because of the various breaks in the programme plus the lunch times, it never felt too crowded despite the large number of delegates.

The conference programme – what I took away

· PLL Summit the path to 2020. As a reader of his blog “Stephen’s Lighthouse” I enjoyed seeing Stephen Abram speak to attendees about climbing the value ladder and using digital behaviours to improve and tune the user experience. Stephen advised us to be “device agnostic” – that format doesn’t matter anymore and to embrace licensing or accessing information, rather than purchasing it.

· Richard Susskind’s keynote address. Wow, what a speaker. He spoke of three current drivers of change: doing more for less, liberalisation and technology. The main message I had from this was the photo of a great ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Richard referred to an interview where Mr Gretzky was asked why he is the best : “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, asking us all to not think about where we are now, but where we are heading. He left us with another great quote by Alan Key – “The best way to predict the future, is to invent it”.

· Karen McCullough’s presentation at the Association Luncheon – “Change is good, you go first”. Karen asked us to reflect on our personal brand and inspired us to “know where you add value”.

· Cool Tools Café. This was a fantastic idea where presenters were showcasing “cool tools” they have experience with on their laptops, iPads, iPhones, and other devices. A number of small tables were set up around the room and delegates roamed around, sitting at different tables to learn about the “cool tool” that was of interest to them. This was a fantastic concept and I discovered a lot of new cool tools that I am eager to test out!

· A wonderfully informative session on US patent law research. The speakers did such a wonderful job despite the fact that it was the very last session of the conference!

· Libraries and marketing. This was a case study of a very successful relationship with the library and marketing teams at a law firm. My key takeaway from this was to question why librarians are so hesitant to do any “analysis” work associated with competitive intelligence or industry research. We analyse all of the time when selecting resources and we’re smart enough to draw conclusions. So why not be more willing to engage with marketing and learn? Their advice was to start small, think big and don’t over promise. Look at research + analysis + packaging. This is where we can add value!

· Handouts can be downloaded here http://www.softconference.com/aall/handouts/handouts.html

The social side (aka the really fun part!)

Given the size of the delegation, it isn’t truly possible to have a conference dinner that everyone attends. It seemed that everyone dispersed to a myriad of different events that were being held during the conference. At first, I was a bit lost…which function do I attend? Am I even “invited”? However, I soon met plenty of people who were kind to invite me to events such as the Gen X / Gen Y networking drinks after which I discovered the wonderful Fastcase hospitality suite and realised “Ohhh so this is where everyone is….”

Being at a conference by yourself can be overwhelming. While I knew other people attending, the conference was so big I found I rarely ran in to the same person twice! Being overseas, I had limited mobile (cell) phone access. But I found I just needed to put on my big girl pants, walk in to the room and say “Hi, I am from Australia” and in no time I was making new friends. My other strategy was to find someone else in the room who was standing by themselves and approach them to say hello. They are usually in the exact same boat as you and together you can form a team to meet others!

When attending conferences at home or overseas, remember that everyone is in a similar situation, and they are your colleagues. They are interested in meeting you! Be brave, (have a glass of champagne), and make a new friend! I am so pleased that I did not spend all of my evenings in my hotel room watching trashy TV!

The main thing that I took away from the conference was that law librarians across the globe are all facing similar challenges and looking towards similar solutions. The main challenge we’re of course all looking at is how do we continue to add value to our organisations?

I met so many wonderful, warm and welcoming colleagues (and a few random Aussies!). Exploring beautiful Boston and attending a Red Sox game was also a highlight. And I loved visiting the US Supreme Court and the Library of Congress in my travels around the US (special thanks to Linda Corbelli at the Supreme Court for arranging a tour for me).

Now I look forward to our own Australian Law librarians’ conference in Brisbane this month. Our theme: “Respect the past. Embrace the future”. Papers and presentation slides will be available from the website after the conference concludes.

I’d be interested to hear from you:

Do you love or loathe conferences?

How do you choose your conference session? Do you base it on what you are currently working on, or what just sounds interesting?

What strategies do you use to navigate a conference?

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One thought on “AALL 2012: Learning, Growing and Connecting from an Australian perspective

  1. Hi Marisa,
    Thank you, what an interesting post, I loved it. I too like to attend conferences, I choose the sessions on what looks interesting (some newer ideas, newer concepts, newer technology related). I am an Aussie and living in Canada since 2008. I loved your comments about marketing ourselves. I agree, we need to do more (it is in our own interest). I too like Boston. I visited Library of Congress many years ago (when I did not know, I will be a librarian one day, my father’s friend worked there and he gave usa personal tour). Take care.

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