Career Development

Beyond the Library: The Evolution of Legal Information Specialists

Access, advocacy, advancement – the AALL is keeping its members at the vanguard of a dynamic profession​.

CCBJ: How did you each become involved with the American Association of Law Libraries?

Femi Cadmus: For most people, once they know that they’re going into law librarianship, somebody always will say, “You need to be involved with the association.” I have been a member since 1996. I belong to other library associations and a law school association, but there is not one other group that is unique to law librarians and legal information professionals within the United States. It was just a no-brainer to become part of this organization.

Emily Florio: My first real boss in the small law library world had me join AALL, and not too long after, I had my first conference in Portland, Oregon. I was eventually put on a committee and volunteered to help with a program at an annual meeting, so I learned about the program proposal process and what happens if your program gets accepted. I’ve been on a committee or involved in some way every year since. I have changed jobs, I’ve changed firms, I’ve changed cities, but the constant has always been AALL.

Tell us a little bit about the organization.

Florio: The American Association of Law Libraries is the only professional association especially for legal information professionals. We have around 4,100 members, who come from a variety of library types – academic, private, government, corporate – with the majority in academic and private. We have special interest sections for all of those library types in different subject areas, as well as committees, award juries and various other relevant groups. We have 30 regional chapters as well.

We provide any number of educational opportunities for our members, including at our annual meeting every July and monthly webinars. We recently released our Body of Knowledge, or BOK, which is a blueprint for career development opportunities for our members, and all of our educational offerings relate back to that. We also have a leadership academy and management institute, which is specifically geared to elevating the skills of our members to help them advance their careers.

Beyond our services to members specifically, central to our profession and the association’s mission is the overall strengthening of the entire legal system by supporting access to justice issues, such as making sure there’s adequate funding for legal resources and legal aid to the public, always maintaining a balance in U.S. copyright law, government transparency and privacy protection, to name a few.

Cadmus: Access to legal information translates to access to justice. Where legal information is repressed, inaccessible or unattainable for some reason, maybe because it’s behind a paywall, you will find that, correspondingly, people do not have access to justice. Having legal information at the fingertips of users, and especially underserved populations, is what creates an equitable environment.

We equip our members with the expertise that they need to function optimally in a legal information environment. In our government relations office in Washington D.C., we monitor activities that are connected to legal information and advocate in that arena. We make sure that government information and all types of legal information are accessible to all.

In terms of balancing copyright as Emily mentioned, we believe that authors or creators are entitled to preserve some rights to their work, but we want it to be balanced, and we don’t want people excluded from accessing information.

What leadership opportunities does AALL provide to its members?

Cadmus: One of the prime reasons that people join AALL is to be part of a dynamic network of librarians and legal information professionals with different skills and expertise. Personally, AALL gave me areas in which to grow. I started off as a member of AALL while in an entry-level position in a library, and quite immediately, I became a member of an AALL committee, then vice chair of a committee, then chair. Slowly I was exposed to different leadership opportunities that I did not necessarily have at work. This is what we tell our members: AALL is the place where you can learn how to lead.

In addition to committees, we have special task forces and have started to create opportunities at the jury level, for which the commitment is short term. Members never lack the opportunity to volunteer and lead in the association.

Florio: Committee work is one of the first steps that many of our future AALL leaders take. Another entry point into leadership is proposing or moderating a program. Many members are also involved with their chapters. I’m a chapter leader for the Law Librarians Society of Washington, D.C., and many of our AALL leaders come through chapter leadership or chapter involvement as well. All of these are really great chances for people to decide if leadership is for them, especially if they’re not yet a leader or a manager within their own organization.

Femi, which of the organization’s achievements are you particularly proud of?

Cadmus: At the 2017 annual meeting, we deployed an innovation tournament. People’s perception of what librarians do is pretty legacy bound: We take care of the books. We’re in libraries, in a fixed space. People don’t necessarily think of librarians and think about innovation and creativity, so the innovation tournament was to unleash and highly profile the creative juices of our members. It was amazing to see how members could be seen as thought leaders, people coming up with ideas that had not been released in a legal information environment. I was really proud to sit in that room and see us go beyond our typical borders and parameters, to be in a high-tech space with our original concepts to develop applications that could better legal research, that could better access to justice.

I am consistently proud of our advocacy too. We’ve given strong support for the Law Library of Congress. In the past cycle, we testified on behalf of the library before Congress. That really makes me proud that we’re thinking beyond our profession to the communities, and especially the underserved community, and making sure that resources will always flow to the underserved, that they will have the support that they need in terms of being able to access legal information.

Emily, as you approach your term as vice president/president-elect in July 2019, what are some of your goals and hopes for the continued development of the organization?

Florio: My vice presidency starts at the tail end of our current strategic plan. My presidential year will start our new three-year strategic plan, which is scheduled for finalization and board review in July and will take us from 2020 to 2023. I love the proposed three pillars of these plans: talent, engagement and alliances.

I’m earlier on in my career, and I want to see us think about the way that AALL approaches member engagement: should it be the same as it was five or 10 years ago? How do we adapt for the newer generations? What educational and professional changes do we need to put in place for those newer members to make sure that they stay actively engaged with the association and become leaders, both within the association and within their organizations?

Related to that, how does the association continue to engage all members and external stakeholders, so everyone is aware of the value that legal information professionals bring to the table? In terms of those alliances – on a local chapter level, then within our special interest section – what more can we do to continue to break down silos and collaborate within the association, so our organizations progress on individual and association level?

I hope that we continue to think about not only the next strategic plan but the years following that, so we maintain and continue to be a sustainable organization, supporting our members and giving everyone the skill sets and background and education they need to succeed.

How have members adapted to changes in the profession?

Cadmus: What we’re seeing happen in the firm and private market is our members taking on different titles that reflect their roles as competitive intelligence analysts, knowledge management analysts. Just last year I was looking at a jobs page, and there was a posting for a machine-learning analyst requiring a library science degree. We’ve traditionally been known as librarians, but the landscape has changed and the profession has evolved. There’s more demand for technology expertise.

We’re still curating and preserving information and making information discoverable, but because we’re shifting into this digital, highly technological environment, our skills are likewise being upgraded. The members of our profession are rising to the challenge. We have legal information professionals who are blockchain experts, who are in innovation and entrepreneurship, teaching law and technology. We’re in a different era and not being left behind. That’s something I always try to reinforce because people tend to be bound by the caricature of the librarian. Born digital natives actually understand what libraries do more than those who grew up pre-technology, who need convincing that we’re doing different things.

Another huge thing that we’re seeing is the shift from a print-based environment. In law firms, more so than even in academic institutions, you’re going to soon walk into a library that doesn’t have books but rather has virtual collections. At some point in the future I think that we’ll get to an era of a bookless library.

Florio: Within my firm, we’re seeing both of these trends. We renovated and moved from a cavernous space into an open space with a big worktable and a high-top table connected to a monitor. We can quickly jump out and walk someone through a database or a research question. Our books are now behind a partial wall. They’re not purposely hidden, but we have people ask, “You got rid of the books?” They’re still there, but they’re no longer the focal point of the space. When I started, we were called Library Services, then we migrated to Research and Information Services, which is more descriptive and inclusive of what we do. Our research librarians are now research analysts.

These terms better relate to us being versatile professionals, regardless of our titles or job descriptions. We’re truly lifelong learners. We wouldn’t be in business intelligence, competitive intelligence, knowledge management, data analytics, project management if it weren’t for saying yes when we’ve been presented with a challenge or an opportunity. That’s the true value we bring: We’re not afraid to take on something new and adjust and adapt to what is needed now along with what the future holds.

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