Notes from the AALL Conference


Back in May, Katie (our Reference Librarian) reported on the trip she and our Library Technician Amanda made to the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference in Calgary, Alberta.  She teased in the last paragraph that I’d be reporting in the summer time on my trip to the American Association of Law Libraries annual conference.  That conference was held last week, and I’m pleased to give a write-up on the experience.

This year, the AALL conference was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I had never been to Philly before, nor to the AALL conference, but the birthplace of American independence seems just about as right a place as any to start.  My first thought of the conference was just how incredibly large it was.  At any given time there would be six sessions running (sometimes more!), plus pre-confrences, early morning coffee chats, and of course, a wonderful keynote address from Dahlia Lithwick.  Her keynote address on the relationship of Supreme Court Judges and social media was timely, entertaining, and engaging.  From that point on, however, existed the constant struggle to decide on which sessions to attend.

Throughout the conference, sessions were informally divided into different interest streams, such as “Collection Development and Cataloguing” and “Library Management and Administration.”  Sessions were also categorized by the special interest groups that proposed the program, such as the Private Law Libraries Special Interests Section (SIS) or the Publishing Initiatives Caucus.  In addition to the main conference sessions, there were other sessions being held by some of these groups.  Of the sessions I went to (all of which were excellent) there were some that were particularly useful, interesting, or inspiring.  I could go on about all of them, but I’ll just highlight a few here.

In “Best Practices for Evaluating a New Electronic Resource,” attendees were treated to an excellent new resource for their libraries – an electronic resource checklist to be used when considering the purchase of a new product.  More than just “Should we buy this – yes or no?” the best practice as described in this presentation includes testing the product with key stakeholders, performing a cost benefit analysis, and examining licensing options.  The checklist – provided to session attendees through the conference web platform for sharing papers – records these steps and can be used to document the selection and purchasing (or not purchasing) of a product.  Many of those in attendance did not have anything like this for use in their library (myself included), so this worksheet will be an incredible resource to use here at the CCLA in the future.

“The Value of a Public Law Library: How County Law Libraries in Pennsylvania Collaborate with Courts to Provide Service to the Self-Represented Litigant” was a presentation from the State, Court, and County Law Libraries SIS.  This SIS is made up of people doing the work closest to what we do here at the CCLA, so I jumped at the chance to attend this program.   Discussing the work of the Lancaster and Berks Counties law libraries, this was a very eye-opening look at what some county libraries in Pennsylvania have done to help self-represented litigants work their way through the legal system.  With few resources but plenty of community engagement in their projects, these libraries have created information packets to sell to pro se litigants.  In both cases, these initiatives have been a rousing success by helping self-reps conduct very simple court matters unassisted (such as filing for divorce when both parties consent and there is no property to divide), encouraging some self-reps to seek legal assistance, and providing court staff with a place to send members of the public for accurate and useful information.  I was especially impressed by this session, and look forward to joining AALL and this SIS so I can keep abreast of what else they are working on.

“Providing Excellent Customer Service in the Law Library: Hold the Pickles” was easily the best attended of all the sessions I went to, and was a truly interesting way of looking at customer service in a law library.  Using the customer service model developed by Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two librarians spoke of how this was implemented successfully in their library.  It was an excellent cap on all of the conference’s programming, getting how at the heart of librarianship is the importance of helping others.

While many of the vendors in attendance were selling materials that we don’t routinely collect here in the Ottawa courthouse, I did take the opportunity to check out what our American friends are up to, particularly those at Lexis and Thomson Reuters.  Fans of amazing integration, watch for the Microsoft Office tie-in to Lexis to hit Canada (hopefully!).  If you like e-books, Thomson’s new line will be sure to impress (I loved it!).  The large number of vendors was something to behold, and next year I will definitely be carving out more time to visit with them and see what will be upcoming for legal research.

Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience, and I must express major congratulations to the AALL and their conference planning committee.  I am greatly looking forward to their conference next year in Boston.


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