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