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The American Association of Law Libraries Board (and myself by proxy) received a harsh rebuke from the AALL membership when the rebranding vote results were announced today.   I wasn’t surprised that  the name  “Association for Legal Information” was rejected. I was stunned that it was  voted down by a  huge majority. I expected a close vote. Boy was I wrong.

According to an announcement by AALL 59.1% of the members cast ballots. 81.9 %  (1998 members) voted against the new name. 19.89 % (498 members) voted in favor of the  new name.

I wasn’t actually all that crazy about the “Association for legal information,”  but it was infinitely better than sticking with AALL, and I didn’t have a better name to suggest. As far as I can tell neither did anyone else. Many people suggested that they might have voted for the change if the word “professional” were added to the end. The Association for Legal Information grew on me and I think the change would have had a revitalizing impact on the association. What went wrong?

  • Was it a failure in the process of “socializing” the proposed change?
  • Should there have been a town hall devoted to live discussions of the name change at the annual meeting?
  • Was it the absence of the word “professional” in the name?
  • Was it the prospect of “outsiders” non-librarians becoming members?
  • Will there be another vote on another name or will it take another 100 years to get to a reassessment of the name?

It is a curious outcome considering the overwhelming evidence that the number of law libraries and consequently the number of law librarians will continue to shrink. Reminds me a bit of the Shakers Sect that died out because absolute adherence to their core beliefs destined them for absolute extinction.

Will A Great Migration Follow? Frankly, I know that many private firm colleagues  did not vote because they regard AALL as irrelevant to their careers. Other former librarians who have transformed themselves into digital pioneers have  already  chosen membership in  ILTA  over AALL. The vote could accelerate an exodus that had already begun.

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Name Change
When I was Chair of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section in 2014 I proposed changing the name of the SIS. Instead of going directly to a vote, we floated a series of “trial balloons.” We conducted several straw polls in advance of the final vote to get a sense of what kind of change the members were open to. The goal of the Board was to at the very least eliminate the absurdity of having the SIS named for a place- the library.  It became clear that members could stomach  adding a reference to information professionals but they were unwilling to eliminate all reference to libraries or librarians. My successor Cheryl Neimeier continued the process and successfully initiated the vote in which the members agreed to change the name to “Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals.” It didn’t go far enough for me, but at least the members were willing to acknowledge  and  welcome colleagues who were no longer working as librarians or working in libraries, but who had moved into  non traditional rolls in areas such as  competitive intelligence or knowledge management.
I Have an MLS But I am Not a Librarian
I haven’t been employed in a traditional librarian role for at least 20 years. I respect that many of my AALL colleagues do work in libraries and may well work in traditional libraries for the next 20 years. On the private law firm side of AALL many law firms have already eliminated their print libraries and many more will go digital in the next 5 years. I am baffled at the unwillingness of my AALL colleagues to enlarge the association tent to embrace the needs of colleagues who are out on the forefront of change… members who have moved into “non librarian” roles outside a library environment but who continue to play a vital role in enhancing access to knowledge.

A colleague who specialized in technical services once commented to me that “catalogers” were the only “real” librarians and reference librarians were imposters – they were a much later addition to the profession and didn’t qualify as true librarians. If that is true that the first discipline of librarianship was cataloging — imagine how research librarians would feel if they had to join “The American Catalogers Association”  An uncomfortable fit at best.