Mission minded or mission impossible: Is AALL ready for ALI?

It’s almost time to vote on the Executive Board’s unanimous recommendation that our association change its name to the Association for Legal Information (or “ally,” not “A”, “L”, “I”). But it is going to take more than mere rebranding (with its $185,000 price tag) to transform AALL into a vital organization for legal information consumers today and into the future. I wonder if we are up to the task of creating a new normal for providing leadership in the field of legal information and information policy.

Will we see a membership drive that reaches out to legal information professionals who work outside of the law library if the name change proposal is accepted by the rank-and-file? Of course, it is hard for many law librarians to justify paying AALL dues. Will non-law librarians working in the legal information field find the cost worth it to join under the big tent to be known as ALI? Non-traditional legal information professionals have been able to join AALL with full membership privileges for a couple of years now with no perceptible growth in membership rolls. While AALL doesn’t need money from new dues-paying members, our association does need to grow a non-traditional legal information membership base to change the negative connotations associated with “libraries” and “librarians.” If we change our name without also expanding our membership base, we will not be able to promote the value of all legal information professionals in any substantive way.

Will we see the rationale for this name change begin being realized with something other than the same old programming typical of most of our previous annual meetings? Hell if I know if AALL is prepared to “make it new.” I doubt an annual meeting programming initiative will happen without an influx of new, non-traditional members who, like the rest of us, are tasked with the professional mission of putting content in context. If we change our name without acquiring experts in the fields of knowledge management, competitive intelligence, legal analytics, search engine engineering and artificial intelligence as ALI members, we will have lost an opportunity to foster the development of the legal information profession.

Will we see a major revision of AALL’s bylaws? To give this rebranding effort teeth to take a bite out of negative, limiting, narrow perceptions about “libraries” and “librarians,” constitutional reform of AALL is needed. That reform, in my opinion, ought not to be put off. A case can be made that the Executive Board’s rebranding initiative should have been postponed until substantive bylaw reforms are made and voted on by the membership. If we change our name without restructuring our association, we will be in no better position to serve a leadership role than we were during the Great Recession; our association needs more than a name change to respond to the forces of change being thrust upon legal information professionals and their employers in the 21st century.

What we do see so far is that AALL has done a good communications job. There are plenty of resources available to members to read more about the proposed name change, including:

End Note: I have no illusions about membership drives, annual meeting programming and bylaw revisions but I will be voting in favor of the name change because of the opportunities it presents. I have not seen an argument opposed to the name change written in the blogosphere but an excellent post in favor can be found here. Voting opens Tuesday, January 12th, and results will be announced on February 11th. – Joe


  1. HI Joe- I’m not a “librarian” by trade, so my inquiry will probably sound naive. I have spent most of my life (both as a child and an adult) in libraries, the last 40 years of which primarily in law libraries. What are the “negative connotations associated with ‘libraries’ and ‘librarians’” and the “negative, limiting, narrow perceptions about ‘libraries’ and ‘librarians'” to which you allude? While knowledge and experience levels fluctuate among individuals, I am hard-pressed to recall a librarian who was anything less than motivated and helpful.

    Is there any reputable data defining these negative attitudes and/or their prevalence? If you prefer, please feel free to correspond offline, via email.

    Many thanks.

    P.s. I’m a long-time subscriber to this blog and its predecessor. Always a stimulating read.

  2. Hi Joe,
    Thanks for the posting and for engaging in the conversation. I just wanted to share what I posted today in the AALL Community discussion about the name change. There is a great deal of discussion happening there, both in favor and opposed.

    I posted the text below on Nov.13 just as we began this discussion, and I intended at that time to follow the conversation and keep an open mind. I attended one of the town hall meetings and listened to the recording of the other. I have followed the discussion, read the FAQs, and felt the pain of so many of my wonderful colleagues on both sides of the issue. I’m thrilled that there is so much passion for what we do! Now, as we near the time for a vote, my mind is unchanged. For the reasons stated below, and with a clear understanding of the responses to my points, I will be voting no to the name change from American Association of Law Libraries to Association for Legal Information.


    This is a really exciting time for change, and I applaud my colleagues who have worked so diligently on our behalf to undertake this re-branding effort, which I think is much warranted. As has been stated by many, a name change is a very significant step in the life of an organization, especially one as mature as AALL.

    After reading the exchanges and thinking carefully about the proposed name, I think my vote will be a respectful no when the time comes. My reasoning is that I just don’t think it meets the goals the Board established for a new name (in bold below). It especially misses the mark on bullet points 1,3 5, 8, and 10.

    The name Association for Legal Information does not focus on people or a profession, or communicate who we are or what we do.

    The name Association for Legal Information portrays neither a positive nor a negative image. It’s neutral at best.

    I don’t see how the name Association for Legal Information would resonate with the decision-makers for whom I think it matters. It seems to naturally beg the question, what is the Association for Legal Information?

    How Association for Legal Information exemplifies the brand promise depends on whether that promise has yet been articulated, but I would expect that the promise includes (directly or indirectly) a commitment to service, which means people. So to exemplify the promise, it should exemplify people (see comments on bullets 1 and 3).

    That being said, I think all of my concerns are resolved by adding the word “Professionals.”

    In addition to my reasoned argument above, there is just something semantically off about it for me. It raises my Eats, Shoots & Leaves hackles. It’s not an association for information, it’s an association for people.

    The Board agreed to the following goals for a new name:

    1) communicates who we are, what we do, and why it matters
    2) non-limiting
    3) focuses on people and the profession
    4) differentiates us from the competition
    5) portrays a positive image
    6) references “law” or “legal”
    7) owns legal information
    8) resonates with decision-makers
    9) easy to recognize
    10) exemplifies our brand promise
    Thanks for participating in this really important dialogue!


    Tracy L. Thompson

    Tracy L. Thompson, Executive Director
    NELLCO Law Library Consortium (NELLCO)
    80 New Scotland Ave. L206-207
    Albany, NY 12208
    518-694-3026 (voice)
    518-694-3027 (fax)
    twitter – @nellcoinc

  3. I greatly enjoy this excellent blog, but with regard to this posting I am surprised by the seeming lack of awareness that there is any opposition to the proposed AALL name change. I posted a message to law-lib disagreeing with the name change, and have received almost 100 responses, including many from law firm librarians and many from academic law librarians (also some from government law librarians). Some responses were from prominent leaders of the law librarian profession. Every single one of the almost 100 responses was opposed to the name change. Almost all of them were strongly opposed to the name change. Below is my law-lib posting:


    Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian for Collections and Access, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, Proud member of AALL since 1982

    As someone who is recognized as the leading student of words among law librarians, I would like to summarize some of my objections to the proposed AALL name change.

    Librarianship is a great profession with very important values that are being lost in the contemporary world. These values include service to patrons; the organization of information; the curation of information; and the preservation of information. Changing the name of the profession, or of its organizations, inevitably will further the decline of those librarians’ values.

    One of my colleagues, although much younger and less steeped in the traditions of the past than I am, emailed me that “The organization should be shifting its efforts toward educating users what ‘librarian’ and ‘library’ mean today. … We should be proud of what it means to be a librarian and focusing, instead, on reminding the legal community of the value of the services we provide.” The same money that went to a consulting firm to come up with ‘Association for Legal Information’ could have been spent toward such educational initiatives.

    The names “library” and “librarian,” although considered old-fashioned by many, also have strong positive connotations. There is no doubt, for example, that librarians have a much more positive image than, say, lawyers or bankers or politicians or journalists, and on many attributes librarians get a lot of respect and confidence.

    The name “Association for Legal Information” is extremely vague and many hearing it will have no idea what it means. We would be replacing a well-established name with many positive connotations with a vague name of uncertain connotations.

    The name “Association for Legal Information” does not at all suggest what the practitioners involved should be called — “legal informationists”? “legal information specialists”? “legal information professionals”? Note that all of those possibilities are too wordy.

    If one of the members of the new association goes to their managing partner and tells them “I’m not one of those old-fashioned librarians, I am a legal information professional!”, the managing partner may say, “Don’t I already have an IT department? Why do I need you?” The word “information” is already taken by other professions.

    The abbreviation “ALI” is already taken by a well-known legal organization.

    One of the reasons I love librarianship is that it is a variegated profession that encompasses many functions and aspects. In addition to the important managerial and technological roles, librarians play social roles, intellectual roles, cultural roles, psychological roles, etc. I believe that AALL is focusing almost exclusively on the managerial and technological roles (take a look at any recent issue of AALL Spectrum) and neglecting the rich tapestry of other roles that librarians play. The name change will further this unfortunate narrowness.

    I understand that law firm librarians have felt that AALL was directed more at academic librarians than at them. This may have been true in the past, but nowadays AALL programming and the AALL Spectrum newsletter seem to be aimed more at firm librarians than at academics. The name change may be motivated largely by concern that firm librarians will leave AALL. This is a valid concern, but why should academic librarians, who I assume comprise much of the association, have to live with a new name that most of them probably will dislike? Perhaps the greater concern should be that academics will leave AALL. Some prominent academic law librarians have already gone so far as to suggest that, if the current organization takes the name Association for Legal Information, then academics and other like-minded members could keep the AALL name and create a smaller, more nimble, less expensive organization, for those who share an interest in maintaining the librarian identification.

    I believe that the library as a place is likely to undergo great transformations in the future – certainly, in the law firm setting, this is already happening. But the core values of librarianship should endure. A name change from “American Association of Law Libraries” to “American Association of Law Librarians” would be fine with me. The profession has always really not been about places or technologies, but rather about people.

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