Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

A “Bodacious” Proposal for AALL Programming

With the Annual Meeting program proposals safely in the hopper for selection, it’s time to revisit discussions regarding AALL educational programming.   Before I start, I would like to say that the programming like the PLL Summit, the recent announcement of a six-week library management course, and the changes to the structure of the 2011 Annual Meeting programming have been great.   

I promised something ‘bodacious’ which Merriam-Webster defines as remarkable or noteworthy. I’m not sure I will really take it that far but here goes.

I propose that we need to :

Look at the annual meeting and professional education as a whole and plan as such.  In other words, put both under the same umbrella which provides a strategic direction for providing educational opportunities for the association’s members.

Create an Education Committee that serves for two years with staggered terms.  This committee would be created by the President and would have a liaison from the Executive Board as well as the Director of Education on the committee. 

It’s charge would be to:

  • Define the structure of the educational programming efforts of the association.
  • Create a subject curriculum that reflects the competencies for individual law librarians and strategic direction of the organization.  Once approved by the Executive Board, the committee uses the curriculum as a guideline for the creation of educational programming as described below. 
  • Ensure that the programming is offered in as many formats as is fiscally possible.
  • Provide programming to those in remote locations or without the means to travel to one location for programming.
  • Work with the incoming president to develop subcommittees that will carry out the bulk of the programming itself, as described below.
  • Work as an oversight committee to ensure the subcommittees are carrying out the programming as defined.

Annual Meeting

This subcommittee would consist of one individual from each SIS group who would serve one year terms.  The chair or co-chairs of the group would be a member or members of the  Education  Committee and would serve a two-year term.   The incoming president would serve as the Executive Board liaison with the Director of Education serving as staff liaison. 

Each SIS would be given a number of program and workshop slots in relation to the size of the membership of the SIS.  Members of the Annual Meeting committee would go back to their SIS and work with a committee from the SIS to create the program/workshops.  

Professional Education

This subcommittee would have the same makeup as the Annual Meeting sub-committee as far as the membership coming from each SIS group and the chair being assigned by the Education Committee in tandem with the incoming president.  That chair would also serve as a liaison back to the Education Committee. 

The difference with this subcommittee would be the role of the Director of Education.  One way to think about this role would be to relate it to a public library board and library director.  The subcommittee would work with the director of education to make the policy decisions and develop plans based on directives from the education much like a library board works with their library director.  

The director of education would be charged with administering the professional education offerings including:

  • Keeping the professional education programs aligned with the curriculum developed by the Education Committee.
  • Working with SIS members or outside speakers to develop classes/programs/regional conferences, webinars, etc. 
  • Working with Chapters to bring programs to local or regional venues.
  • Tracking the success of the program and reporting those metrics back to the Professional Education sub-committee.
  • Administering the funding provided to the committee for its work.


  • This proposal does not have the details that are needed to make the proposal work – those would need to be developed further for success.
  • The goal of this proposal is to formalize the SIS’ role in developing educational programs for their members and provide a structure for implementation.
  • This goal cannot be achieved without adequate funding.  To address this the Executive Board would develop a budget that integrates vendor funding, SIS funding and the dollars that are assigned to this budget by the board from the associations income.  In other words, there would be three sources of funding.   Some thought should be given regarding what percent of the income derived from membership fees should be attributed to education.
  • Training/educational programs already being offered by the vendors should be integrating that training with the association training whenever possible to reduce duplication of effort. 

As I said before in this post, these ideas are just that, ideas expressed by one individual.   Whether any of them makes sense is up to our elected Executive Board.  I would like to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

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Why Each Member of AALL Is Part of the Whole

The following is the post I promised where I said I would share my ideas on what we should change to make sure that all AALL members enjoy the educational programming they need from their association.  That’s a tall order that may not be possible to achieve.  At the same time, I think it is a goal worth working towards.  My fear in missing this target is that we won’t have the skills to stay revelant in our positions.

The other statement I made at the end of the last post was that “we are the AALL.”  Since then I’ve received emails suggesting that this isn’t so.  That the AALL we have been talking about is the leadership.  Having been part of that group at one time, I learned how little the association leadership can do in achieving change if the membership is involved.

I ran for and served on the executive board because I wanted to make a difference.  At my first board meeting, I expected a them (the much aligned academic members)  against us (the disenfranchised private and state, court and county members) kind of atmosphere filled with more process and tedium then I could bear.  I went in asking myself what possessed me to think I could be part of the board.

What I found was a group of individuals who wanted the same as me without thought of what library type they came from.  I was the only private member the first year with two more privates joining during the next two years and an equal number of state, court and county members serving during that time as well.

During orientation we were reminded that we were there to serve the entire association and not to lobby for our individual library types.  While we all agreed that we would follow that model, I was surprised to be regularly asked to speak on behalf of the private members.  The other members on the board were constantly concerned about what the members of PLL would think about the various topics we discussed. 

Despite my concerns at the outset, I truly enjoyed my time on the executive board.  My term covered the years where AALL moved to a more open  and flexible schedule during the annual meeting.  We tinkered with additional parts of the meeting including moving the opening reception to Saturday from Sunday night hoping that this would work for everyone, as we heard from all library types that the meeting was too long.

We weren’t sure that all of the changes would work but we knew that some change was necessary.  I personally didn’t get everything I wanted to see changed (including doing away with the dance that followed the banquet as I do believe it serves too few members for the expense incurred), but I wasn’t there to get what I personally wanted.

What I learned during my stint on the board was that:

  • The association was no better than each individual member
  • Without the sole purpose of providing the appropriate services that would support each individual member and at the same time the group as a whole, the association had no reason to exist.
  • Meeting that one goal would be near to impossible
  • We couldn’t do it without member participation from all library types
  • We would never make every member happy with each decision made.

and, finally that it is easier to sit back and criticize “AALL” than to participate in changing what doesn’t work.

I’m guilty of falling into that trap during the last few years where I’ve been unhappy with the programming but did nothing to change it.  I’m glad that Caren Biberman started this discussion as I found while promising a “bodacious proposal” and saying “when we are talking about “AALL” we are talking about ourselves”, I had to sit back and think about why AALL is more about members than anything else and doesn’t work unless the membership sees themselves as a vital part of making necessary changes.

So with this diatribe I need to promise once more that I will come through with a proposal.  Why not now?  Because I don’t believe anyone should have to read a post that is this long and the how long the next post will be without a break.  I promise, I will get to the “bodacious proposal” where I share what “I” think we can do about improving educational programming.


My Experience in Participating in the AALL Programming Process or AALL Educational Programming Needs to go Back to School

The recent discussion and blog postings regarding the upcoming AALL meeting piqued my interest.  For background see:

Some Thoughts on Programming at AALL – Caren Biberman

A “Modest Propsal” on Programming at AALL – Mark Gediman

Dream Big or Comments on “A “Modest Proposal on Programming at AALL” and the Report of the AALL Annual Meeting Review Special Committee – Caren Biberman

I found myself discussing this with a friend and fellow librarian, which reminded me of my experiences with  AMPEC and with CPE.  Besides the many times my programs were turned down for various reasons, I had three experiences that made me rethink my support of AALL programming (I’m not keen on SLA programming either, but that is another post).

Experience #1

First, the year after I was on the Executive Board for AALL, I was made chair of CRIV.  We proposed two programs in three time slots for the following year’s annual meeting.  One would be librarians talking about the issues they face when working with vendors in the then current economic climate and the second would be the vendors talking about the same issues but from their perspective.  They would be asked to address how their business needs were driven by the economy as well.

A third time slot was proposed for a discussion with speakers from both groups available for questions and answers.  We planned to have moderators at each of the programs to collect questions with a third moderator managing the discussion session to keep it moving in a business like manner.  Our goal was a discussion that would help to help build a better understanding of the issues facing both the librarians and the vendors which we hoped would continue after the conference.

AMPEC approved one of the programs and dismissed the other two.  We were allowed to plan a program where librarians would discuss their issues (which seemed like preaching to the choir without the rest of the programs and the focus we would get from vendors).  AMPEC said we would not be able to get vendors to participate.  That made absolutely no sense to me as I had already asked for vendor participants and did not receive any unwillingness to speak or answer questions.

We were more than disappointed and even more confused when the same vendor program was proposed in the spring by an academic library director as a hot topic and accepted by AMPEC.   It seemed strange that an individual member from academia could do what an AALL committee could not.

Experience #2

The same year, CRIV decided to focus on education which was one of the charges that we felt had not had enough focus in the past.  We applied for a continuing education grant to present two programs via web conference.  One was on Licensing, while the other was to focus on understanding and applying the Guide to Fair Business Practices.  The CPE committee approved one and not the other.  Evidently they knew better than CRIV as well.

Experience #3

The following year, I was asked by Lucy Curzi Gonzales to determine what PLL could do with education outside of the annual meeting.  I suggested that we ask for funding for three programs that would be offered as webinars.  We summited a request for those programs which were Cost Recovery: the Basics, Cost Recovery from the Trenches, and Cost Recovery: Understanding Client Needs.

The CPE committee approved two of the three programs.  Again, they said they thought that we would not get participation for the third program where we planned to ask law firm partners and general counsels to participate.  Does that even make sense?  They thought they knew better than the private librarians and the SIG leadership who planned the programs.

I have been concerned about the education offered for private librarians for several years.  This concern is what prompted me to start the NPCI webinars where I work to get speakers on various topics and present some topics myself.  My dream in starting this was to keep the costs low (enough to pay expenses and provide speakers with some type of honoriam), make it available online so those who could not attend AALL would have some education opportunities.

I have often scoffed at AALL members that said the programming was uneven with respect to library types.  I didn’t see it.  I still do not think this is necessarily true even though I did describe one example where an academic received different treatment from AMPEC.  What I do see is little thought given to how to approach member education in a more outcome based orientation with set goals and objectives.  Would the schools your children attend create programming in the same manner as AALL?  I would hope not.

CRIV had a goal that followed the mission of the committee in providing education and addressing specific issues that continue to be unresolved by the association.  It understood it’s mission and was trying to fulfull it.  PLL had a goal as well that followed along with its mission and directly met the needs of its members.  How is it that the AMPEC and CPE committees can disregard those goals and their expected outcomes?

One of my last acts as CRIV Chair was to make a proposal to the Executive board that CRIV be given time for two programs at the annual meeting and a budget to support the educational programming in between meetings that was part of the charge the board was saying we should focus on.    Does it make sense that the committee was given that charge but did not have the budget to support it?  It mystified me that I got a straight no on the proposal – to be honest it made me angry.  It was a sad way to leave the leadership ranks of AALL but I was too disgusted to remain.

Caren and Mark are both right.  There is something wrong and we need to do something about it!

I have more to say on this topic but will stop for now.  My next post on this topic has a goal of attempting a “bodacious proposal” for fixing our educational programming problems while remembering when we talk about AALL we are talking about ourselves.

To eat an egg, you must break the shell.  ~Jamaican Proverb

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Why Writing Right is Important Period!

Writing has always been one of the pleasures in my list of things to do as often as I can.  I was always interested in being a better writer in school and on the job.  A bit geeky, I admit.  For me, writing has been a way to communicate but also a way to work on a problem/solution, define what I know about a subject and what I need to learn, and more.  There’s nothing like writing to bring structure to your thoughts.

While at my first job as a law librarian, I was lucky enough to take a class taught by writing consultant,  Stephen Wilbers.  He was there to teach associates and any administrative managers who were interested in improving their business writing.  During the course he focused on the technical aspects of how to write but also how to write to get your readers attention, write persuavesily, and most importantly in a law firm, get to the point and keep it short.

Since I still make some writing mistakes and want to keep my skills up, I usually read anything I come across that provides tips and techniques in writing.  This morning, I read an article suggested by one of my Linkedin groups, by Brenda Bernstein, of the Essay Expert, on, Why it’s Important to Write Right in the Legal Profession and 5 Common Pitfalls to Avoid.  While it is written for lawyers, it has good tips for the rest of us as well.

I’ve learned over time that most lawyers only give you 2-3 minutes of their time before they decide if you will provide any benefit to their practice.  Once they decide , it will take something big to get them to change their minds.  If you don’t make a good impression during those minutes, you will find it difficult to get their support in the future.

The same is true with writing, but in this case, you may only get a few seconds of their time, before they decide the rest of what you wrote is worth reading.   This means anything you write, especially emails, needs to be written as if it is the most important term paper that you turned in as a freshman in college. 

If you don’t feel you have the skills to communicate effectively in writing or even have some doubt about your skills, do something about it.  Take a class, read a book, practice writing.  It will make your work more interesting and successful at the same time.

3 Geeks and A Law Blog 2008 Reading List

j0341482Greg Lambert posted a list of The Must Read Blog Posts of 2008 on his 3 Geeks and a Law Blog that he does with Toby Brown and Lisa Salazar.  He received most of the suggestions from his Twitter friends. 

The list has some very interesting posts and will no doubt introduce many of us to new blogs we might want to follow.   One of my favorites from the list is the Lawsagna blog.   It focuses on layers of living, learning and law.  Now that’s some -a-spicey lawsagna.  But then 3 Geeks and a Law Blog has some interesting reading as well.  Thanks Greg!

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Knowledge Management (KM) Certification

The SLA Knowledge Management Division has been having a lively discussion regarding KM certification via the listserv that members are automatically subscribed to when joining.  This division is relatively new to SLA but, if the programs at the annual conference and the traffic on the listserv is any evidence of success of the division , it is well worth the membership dollars.  While SLA offers cerficates in KM, some members in the division question how their organizations will view the certificate.  Will management accept it as validation of education and experience?  With this question, the group has started to discuss what other certification programs exist.

While this seems like a simple discussion, it could lead the group to discussing whether certification is even worth pursuing.  I’ve learned what I know from 20+ years in the trenches with a lot of trial and error so will most likely not seek certification at this time.  I have, however, thought that pursuing a certificate in KM would be useful to those starting out in the field where they are expected to hit the ground running, knowing enough not to make the same mistakes that those of us, who have been working at this for a while, made in the past.  At the same time, earning a certificate, does not necessarily make one certified.

One member of the group pointed the rest of us to a recent blog post by Stan Garfield in his Weekly Knowledge Management blog which is part of HP Communities.  His post on KM Certification is in the form of a question and answer.  The question, “What are his thoughts on certification?”.  His answer provides links to certification vendors and opinions put forth by seasoned KM practitioners including Patrick Lambe, Dave Snowden and David Gurteen who come down on the side against certification. 

Dave Snowden’s quote, “I am totally opposed to any attempt to certify people in a developing field such as KM.” from his Cognitive Edge blog.  At the same time, he offers an accreditation program based on Cognitive Edge methods. Certification vs Accreditation?  That’s a topic for another post.  Another quote by Dave Snowden addresses KM experience, “True Eureka innovation is not going to happen by an internal training programme but from engagement in the real world.”  I’ll stop here as I really haven’t spent enough time researching this topic to be able to make a decision one way or another or to understand the nuance of being certified or accredited in this context, nor would I attempt to argue points made by the experts referenced in the paragraph above.

My parting thought?  While we do need to train newcomers in the theory of KM, practical experience can not be replaced and is often more valuable.  When I’ve taught Knowledge Management in the past, my focus was more on experience than theory.  A potential employee who can provide a certificate will make me take notice, but, unless that certificate is accompanied with experience, the candidate would be limited to very entry level positions in my organization and, finally, I would never equate having certificate with being certified.

Getting to Know Your Client’s Needs : Using Surveys as a Marketing Tool

Nina Platt Consulting often works on projects that include customer research using web-based, telephone, and in-person surveys.  Asking your clients what they need is groundwork for deciding on services/products offered.  Your services or products will not be successful if you developed them in a vacuum without the knowledge that customer research provides.

As this is a topic central to what I do, I was pleased to be asked to present a webinar for Thomson West Librarian Relations during National Library Week in April. My topic was using surveys for customer/client research.   The audience was primarily librarians from private law libraries, so I used the topic of cost recovery as my example as I created a survey. 

To view a recording of the session go to the Thomson West Law Librarian Resource Center and click on Getting to Know Your Client’s Needs : Using Surveys as a Marketing Tool under What’s New.  If you are interested in the slides without the audio, click on the Slideshare view below.

Finally, to view the survey I created for demo purposes, go to  You will need to answer questions to get through the survey.  To see the results of the survey, go to