The Future of FCIL-SIS Programming in the Context of the Annual Meeting
by Dennis S. Sears
I have often heard the complaint from many AALL members that AALL does not meet their needs. This complaint is not unique to any particular type of law librarian, whether a public service or technical service librarian, working in any particular type of law library, whether academic, government, or private. I have even known a number of law librarians that have chosen forums for professional development other than the annual meeting. Some have maintained their membership in AALL, others have totally withdrawn from the Association.
Having served as the co-chair of the FCIL-SIS Education Committee for a number of years with a number of excellent and very dedicated chair-elects, I understand the frustration expressed in the claim that AALL does not meet its members' needs. I have been frustrated when the Annual Meeting Program Committee (AMPC) failed to select proposed programs that were drafted to correlate with the location of a particular annual meeting, for example, Caribbean law/legal research programs submitted when the annual meeting was held in Orlando, Florida. I have been even more frustrated when proposed programs have not been selected that would have tapped local expertise, minimizing or even eliminating expenses associated with program speakers. This frustration reached a high point this Fall when the AMPC failed to select the third in a series of eight workshops, this one on international labor law. Although the purpose of the workshops is to provide an in-depth treatment of foreign and international topics to enhance the professional development of the rising generation of foreign and international law librarians and expand the horizons of more seasoned foreign and international law librarians, the AMPC decided against selecting the workshop. It is my understanding, that this decision was based, in part, on the narrowness of the topic, a concern as to whether members would have enough interest in the topic to carry the program from a cost perspective
AALL is in the unfortunate position of having to be all things to all law librarians. The AMPC is cognizant of "the important role that SISs have in the education of members." 1 As they review program proposals they consider a number of factors, including "well-written descriptions and learning objectives; expertise of speakers; level of program; program length; cost of program; SIS ranking; balance between number of speakers and program length; and competency addressed." The competencies referred to here by Jean Wenger in her article, entitled "AMPC Uncovered," are the core competencies and the specialized competencies of library management; reference, research, and client services; information technology; collection care and management; and teaching.
Not only does the FCIL-SIS compete with other SISs for program slots, it also competes with chapters, caucuses, committees, and individuals submitting program proposals, as well as AMPC's commitment to provide programming in the specialized competencies. The net result, given the number of program proposals submitted, is that only about 40% of all program proposals have been accepted over the last couple of annual meetings.
Under these circumstances, other options range from going elsewhere for professional development to giving up on submitting program proposals. Neither of these two extremes are really viable for most members of the FCIL-SIS. Given the constraints of our travel budgets, most FCIL-SIS members still look to AALL for most of their professional development opportunities.
The truth is that the FCIL-SIS, like AALL, is member-dependent for educational programming. The quality of the programming we receive at the annual meeting is dependent upon us and the effort we are willing to expend. However, unlike other SISs, the FCIL-SIS has a number of geographical and topical interest groups (IG) within the SIS, which could give us a tremendous advantage over the other SISs. One option we have is to more heavily tap into the expertise and interests of the IGs as sources for programs, based on current events, recent developments, etc.
Another option we have that may increase our success, as difficult as it may be, is to emphasize some of the specialized competencies beyond reference and teaching, which is where most of our program proposals fall. For example, emphasize library management in terms of managing budgets for foreign and international materials and training library personnel in the use of those materials, emphasize information technology in terms of available foreign and international materials online and their use, or emphasize foreign and international collection care and management. Many of our program proposals have had elements of the above-mentioned specialized competencies. However, I think we need to be more aggressive in emphasizing those elements in our program proposals.
Because of my own day-to-day professional responsibilities, like most of you, I am involved in a chapter and several other SISs. Yet, I know no other group of law librarians that are as visionary, as dedicated, as hard-working, and as cohesive as FCIL-SIS members. I think we need to work smarter in drafting our program proposals, perhaps even having two or three individuals work on each proposal, tapping their interests and expertise, so that our program proposals are drafted to appeal to a wider audience and, most important, to catch the attention of the AMPC.