Fall 2002, Vol. 33 No. 1 & 2
Brown McCarroll, LLP
I left my first AALL Annual Meeting with wonderful new friendships, innovative ideas from the conference programming, and a box full of brochures and catalogs on the latest and greatest in technology. Quite haphazardly I almost wound up transporting a colony of Florida red ants back to Texas as well. The little suckers decided to have their own little convention, albeit in my backpack. It was that kind of AALL meeting this year: one that was extremely rewarding professionally, but one that was thematically dominated by fabulous and pesky creatures both large and small. Whether it was seeing a Great Heron near my hotel, taking in all the amazing aquatic life at Sea World, or hearing rumors about the eight-foot crocodile spotted near the Orlando Convention Center it was hard at times not to feel like I was in a show on Animal Planet, and as the Crocodile Hunter himself would say, "AALL in Orlando, it’s a RIPPER!"
Amidst the excursions through the flora and fauna of Central Florida I found myself on the first day attending the 32nd CONELL (Conference of Newer Law Librarians) program put on by the AALL Mentoring Committee. In the first presentation of the day President of AALL Barbara Bintliff gave an entertaining overview of the history of AALL. President Bintliff emphasized that AALL was a "growing" and "vibrant" association and further noted that "AALL boasts over 5200 members" and that roughly "eighty percent of the law librarians are members of AALL." She encouraged CONELL participants to investigate AALL committees and special interest groups as they "provide fertile ground for significant career development in addition to providing almost unlimited potential for leadership and professional growth." In concluding her address she noted that "AALL and its members together will decide the fate of the profession."
Following the President’s Message, CONELL attendees were introduced to the AALL Executive Board. Victoria Trotta, chair of the Annual Meeting Committee, gave a brief presentation AALL Annual Meeting programs (including plenary meetings) and encouraged CONELL participants to find programs that would "excite" and "challenge" us. Additionally, Frank Houdek, editor Law Library Journal, told us about the opportunities for publication in AALL and encouraged us to contribute our ideas and thoughts to the profession in the form of writing.
After these presentations CONELL attendees were broken up into smaller groups and paired with members of the AALL executive board for an icebreaker activity. Groups were formed based on various Orlando attractions that we had been assigned to when first arriving. I was a member of the Disney Epcot group which was moderated by AALL President Barbara Bintliff. The icebreaker question for our group was "If you could put a fifth person on Mt. Rushmore what librarian would you choose?" Two responses elicited from the group included Melville Dewey and Laura Bush. I tried in vain to think of the librarian who introduced the concept of "value added" to the information sciences but kept drawing a blank. I tracked down his name the next day in the Internet Café—Robert Taylor (Sorry Professor Doty. It’s been almost three years since Intro!). The topic was then expanded to all Americans, but we only had a chance to scratch the surface on that question, as it was on to the next portion of the program. This activity was one of the rare ones at CONELL that felt a little rushed, and a few of the participants I spoke to wished they had more time to meet the other CONELL attendees, although ample opportunity was given later in the day.
Following the icebreaker activities, CONELL participants were treated to presentations on career development in the "From Rookie to Veteran" session from speakers who were all quite notably "youthful" veterans. Susan Thorpe, Chair of the AALL Mentoring Committee, said, "We made a special attempt to find speakers who [were] ‘just a few years out’ with relatively recent memories of being new in the profession, hoping that they would relate well with the audience." The strategy worked very well as all the speakers were all highly praised among CONELL participants.
The first of these presentations "Tips and Advice for Job Success" was given by Greg Lambert, Legal Information and Law Libraries Director for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The primary focus of his presentation centered on professionalism, and his key piece of advice to CONELL participants was "Know who you are. Remember who you are at all times. You’re a professional. You’ve entered a profession." Lambert went on to give very cogent recommendations on knowing the chain of command when starting a new job, the dangers implicit in having too many unfinished projects, and oftentimes the reality of having to move away to move up to that next coveted job. Additionally, one of the best points of his presentation dealt with the importance of law libraries marketing their own work. As an example he cited his work with the Oklahoma state court system on getting all the state of Oklahoma case law online.1 He told CONELL attendees "Don’t be afraid to blow your own horn if you’ve done something great. Let people know what your doing."
The next speaker Kumar Percy, Head of Reserves and Media Services at the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin, gave a presentation on "AALL Volunteer Opportunities," or as Kumar put it "how you can work for free." In his presentation Kumar began by focusing on how volunteering contributes to library profession as a whole as well as how it benefits the individual. Kumar noted that volunteerism helps strengthen the profession in three primary ways: 1) it helps librarians make connections with other professionals and overcome isolation; 2) it collectively keeps law librarians more informed about technology and current issues; and 3) it makes the profession a more respected one. Kumar then went on to address the self-interest issue or the "What’s in it for me?" question and solicited help on this issue by asking other AALL volunteers what their primary motivations were for volunteering. The responses to his question varied widely and included: 1) networking with professionals with similar interests and concerns; 2) making lasting friendships; 3) developing new job opportunities; 4) developing ideas for articles; 5) giving back to the profession and community; and 6) what Kumar described as the best response he received—to fight boredom.
Kumar concluded his presentation by giving specific advice on how to get involved with different AALL groups and committees at the convention. He cautioned CONELL participants not to be discouraged in thinking that they would not be able to get involved in a committee with so many librarians attending AALL. In fact he noted the opposite is true and went on to assure us that the committees wanted the newer librarians for the ideas and energy. Perhaps one of the most notable items in Kumar’s presentation was the fact that the Index to Legal Periodicals was created out of AALL committee and volunteer work, illustrating just how vital and successful volunteer work with AALL can be.
The final speakers in the "From Rookie to Veteran" session were Julie Bozell, Electronic Information Specialist at Greenberg and Traurig, and Erika Wayne, Reference and Internet Services Librarian at Stanford University. They gave a very creative and memorable presentation on "How to Conference." Thematically they structured the presentation around David Letterman’s famous Top Ten Lists.2 At the beginning of the presentation ten cards were handed out to CONELL attendees who professed to be David Letterman fans. Every card had one of the ten essential items for effective conferencing, and Erica and Julie had each attendee with a card come up and read it as way of presenting their next topic. Additionally each attendee was given a small gift for participating in the presentation, and there was usually some thematic tie-in. For instance for item number six "Celebration . . . WooHoo . . .We’ve got a party going on right here" CONELL attendee Jennifer Bryan, Documents Librarian at the University of Indiana, received a bottle of Tylenol. Other eclectic gifts included Visine and chocolate flavored Rolaids.
Another clever item that Julie and Erica used in their presentation was to have all the CONELL participants fill out their name and library on a piece of paper during the presentation and place it in the hotel ice buckets they had conveniently brought. At the end of the presentation the buckets were passed around again with each attendee drawing a name. The short term goal of the exercise was to meet the CONELL attendee listed on the piece of paper by the end of the day, but the larger point was aimed at the importance of actively trying to meet new people at the conference.
The presentation included a wealth of practical advice for the first-time AALL attendee, such as how to navigate the vendors market and mail back the catalogs, how to volunteer at the convention, and a problem I often ran into: what to do when there are four presentations that you want to attend going on at the same time. Erica and Julie also provided the CONELL attendees with invaluable scheduling cards small enough to fit inside a name tag. CONELL attendee Katie Heger, Electronic Services Librarian at Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale, noted that these cards were "especially helpful" and that "NON-CONELL participants mentioned what a great idea it was." This was also the presentation where Julie Bozell warned us about the eight-foot crocodile. Unfortunately no mention of Florida ants, but I did take away valuable information that helped me through the rest of the conference.
Following the "From Rookie to Veterans" session the rest of the morning was devoted to two more interactive sessions, "Ask the Experts" and the "Marketplace." First I went to the Marketplace session, which included fifteen AALL committees, twelve special interest sections, and four AALL chapters. It allowed CONELL participants to explore a wide range of interests and volunteer opportunities. The Mentoring Committee cleverly gave CONELL attendees a raffle card as an incentive to network. In order to be eligible to enter the raffle the card had to be signed by six representatives at the Marketplace. Later in the day at the Orlando Museum of Art three raffle award winners were given Florida-related gifts that included an umbrella, beach accessories (towel, sunscreen), and some rather ostentatious drinking glasses given in an NSYNC gift bag. I visited with a number of representatives during the Marketplace session: Carol Rogers of CRIV (Relations with Information Vendors), Cheryl Nyberg of Access to Electronic Information Committee, Lucy Curci-Gonzalez of the Private Law Libraries SIS, and Regina Smith of Smith of the State, Court & County Law Libraries. I also visted the Technical Services SIS were I met TS-SIS representative JoAnn Hounshell. I explained to JoAnn that coming from such a small private law firm staff (two including myself) I was taking on a good portion of the cataloging responsibility for the library, and that I wished I had taken a second cataloging course in library school. We then got into a discussion about how some schools were no longer requiring a single cataloging course. After speaking with the representatives and collecting materials, I spent the rest of the session getting to know more CONELL participants.
The Ask the Experts session was set up to provide CONELL attendees with time to talk to expert librarians in areas ranging from Administration, Solo Librarian settings, and Foreign, International and Comparative legal settings to Public, Technical and Electronic Services. At the Ask the Experts session I sat at the Public Services table with Gretchen Van Dam, Circuit Librarian at the William J. Campbell Library of the U.S. Courts, and Howard Trivers, Senior Reference Librarian at Baker and Daniels. Roundtable topics that were touched on varied from reference services, acquisitions, electronic vs. print resources, and library management. Gretchen Van Dam also recalled discussion on "tales of pro se’s, judges, lawyers, law professors and law students and the rewards–and challenges–involved in being on the front lines in a law library." Toward the end of our allotted time I had a discussion with Howard Trivers and fellow CONELL attendee Cynthia Berry, Reference Librarian at Greenberg Traurig, about tracking down public records. The discussion arose out of Howard’s new article "People Finder Databases: Which Ones to Use & Why" that will appear in the July/August issue of Legal Information Alert. I found the Ask the Experts session a really great chance to meet librarians from a wide range of backgrounds (academic, public, private, and business). Additionally, it was fascinating to discuss the larger concerns we all shared as law librarians in conjunction with concerns that are more typically endemic to each type of library.
After the concurrent sessions of Ask the Experts and Marketplace the CONELL attendees boarded buses for our luncheon at the White Wolfe Café. The café itself is located in the area of downtown Orlando known as Antique Row located off Orange Avenue, which contains an assortment of antique shops. The decor of the restaurant itself contained numerous antiques, including a wide assortment of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. At the luncheon I was joined by fellow CONELL attendees Susan Retzer, Reference Librarian at Katten Muchin Zavis, Jennifer Bryan, Documents Librarian at Indiana University and Donald Ford, attorney-at-law and current library student at the University of Pittsburgh. We had a good conversation discussing our various library situations and our CONELL experiences. Then it was on to the Orlando Museum of Art.
The art museum was memorable as much for the opportunity to meet other CONELL attendees as the art itself, although the art was quite good. The museum had an impressive collection of modern art in addition to work by American impressionist Edward Potthast. It also had an exhibit of ancient Peruvian art in their exhibit "The Majesty of Ancient Peru" and one painting by Georgia O’Keefe. We were broken up into smaller groups and given tours by the museum staff. While the tour was interesting Debbie Ginsberg, Electronic Resources Librarian at Chicago - Kent College of Law, noted that at times it made it difficult to meet other CONELL attendees. The particular tour guide I was paired with would continually ask our group if we would like to put the painting he was showing us in our home. My answer on most of the modern art was no as my taste in tends to lean more towards the classical. Later we were given some time to explore the museum on our own, and it was good time for meeting other CONELL participants and looking through the gift store. With our bus ride back (through the first of many afternoon thunderstorms) the CONELL session was concluded.
Upon returning to the Peabody Hotel I ran into an old classmate of mine, Matt Mantel. Matt and I both were lucky enough to have taken Legal Informatics at University of Texas at Austin with Roberta Schaffer. He had recently moved from Austin and taken a reference job at the Jacob Burns Law Library at George Washington University. With the rainstorms still eminent, Matt and I grabbed a beer and talked about our CONELL experiences. Matt particularly enjoyed the luncheon and visiit to the Orlando Museum, noting that they were the "two best opportunities [for] interactions with other newer librarians."
The rest of the AALL conference went by like something akin to an internship at a twenty-four hour news network. Well that is a bit of an over exaggeration. There were down times too, one of which I specifically remember on the next to last day of the conference. In between programs I took a break outside the convention center, pulled out my notebook and pen and set my backpack on the ground. Outgoing Ant 783 secretes a chemical pheromone message of possible sugar sighting near Convention Center bench. I began to jot down ideas and lessons I learned for this article, ones that were mostly gathered from the mistakes I made at CONELL and AALL. Message is picked up four seconds later by Outgoing Ant 219 who pauses momentarily to relay the message via antenna to Incoming Ant 447. It is a really good idea to get the CONELL program on time (something I failed to do) and also heed Katie Heger’s advice, "Don’t assume the conference registration will be near the CONELL registration in the morning." (This was main reason I was late, well that is if you overlook failure to read CONELL materials before meeting.) Incoming Ant 447 reaches lower hive structure and Scouting Party from lower level atrium four is dispatched for possible acquisition. Bring enough business cards, and do not mistakenly hand out other people’s cards that you have received. Although I am sure they appreciate the extra attention, your goal should be to network yourself first if possible. Scouting Party sends out query of unidentified object. Outgoing Ant 783 receives message and replies, "appears to be unfinished blueberry muffin from 7-11 in large cave."
Try to slowly pickup on the language of AALL. Learn what a SIS is and spend time a little time deciphering all the other SIS acronyms you are interested in. As Ruth Goldstein, Reference Librarian at San Francisco Law Library, points out "the program list is overwhelmingly acronymic." Scouting party secures to swarm position and sends ANT 284 to confirm object composition. Blueberry muffin composition confirmed. They secrete final pheromone message: JACKPOT!!!. Attend all of the functions you can (if for nothing else to meet more people) but as Jennifer Bryan advises schedule some "down time" as well. Sounds like contradictory advice? Well it is. For fans of the band The Clash this conflict has a rather familiar refrain. "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The answer: the majority of the time you should go, but head over to Starbucks every now and again and spend some time starring out into space. Message reaches Queen six feet below the ground, and she delivers final message. Incoming ants are turned into outgoing ants from the sheer wave red bodies as the mound explodes and the final message is passed in a mad frenzy, "Prepare to invade!" Wear the handy CONELL identification ribbon and make mistakes. Ruth Goldstein noticed during the convention that the ribbon helps make meeting people easier and invites introductions from other people. Most importantly, though, when you make a mistake the ribbon gives you a ready-made excuse: "Hey it’s my first convention!"3