Like so many of my colleagues, I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries. In the past, I have ordinarily blogged at the end of each day, but I found my evenings a little too busy this year, so here’s my update, after a couple days’ pause to reflect.
Saturday, July 12th
W1: AALL Hackathon
I have never been to a hackathon before, but this did not disappoint. Attendees – including law librarians and area IT professionals – broke into groups, selected datasets of government information, and attempted to create apps to make this data more accessible…in about eight hours. My group chose to work with AALL’s Online Legal Materials site, specifically the fifty states’ inventories of government information accessibility. Our biggest challenge, I think, was normalizing the data, as each state organized their information differently, some added extra categories information, and some seemed to leave certain categories out (some states’ info we couldn’t even access). We also discovered that it can be a little difficult to communicate precisely what we’d like the app to do with the data to the programmer. While we were unable to complete our project in the time allotted, we were certainly off to a good start, and I think we all agreed by the end that our project had significant value. I would not be surprised if we continued to work on this project remotely, as all of us were quite invested by the end.
Sunday, July 13th
Keynote – Andrew Keen
It was okay, but he didn’t really know that much about law libraries, and though he had done a little research into the current state of the legal profession, he didn’t really tell us anything new. I usually expect keynote addresses to be inspiring, and his was a bit of a downer – not a great way to start out a conference. Nevertheless, he is well-spoken, very intelligent, and an engaging speaker.
B5: LibGuide Guidance: Innovative Uses for LibGuides
Ultimately, this session seemed geared toward beginners or those interested in pursuing LibGuides, so, having used LibGuides for awhile myself, I didn’t find it particularly innovative. I was also surprised that the speakers were not discussing LibGuides2, the new platform, though it is quite new and not everyone has transitioned yet. Nevertheless it did foster good discussion during the breakout session (although at my table our discussion focused on my experience migrating to LibGuides2), and I did come away with a few new ideas, such as creating personalized research portals for our professors. I’ve done this for their research assistants and classes to be sure, but hadn’t really thought of it for the professors themselves. I also thought the presenters did a great job of pulling examples of innovative guide usage from a wide array of library types, which is not an easy task, since LibGuides are predominantly an academic product.
Monday, July 14th
R2: Recharge: Next Level Leadership: Showcase What Really Defines You
The recharge sessions tend to bring in outside speakers to give a talk on professional topics, not necessarily law or library-related. For instance, last year I attended an excellent session on giving dynamic presentations. This year, I wanted to learn about the traits that make up a good leader. Sara Canaday was our outside speaker, and while I wasn’t nearly as inspired as I was from last year’s recharge, I did walk away with helpful notes. While she elaborated on each point in her talk, ultimately she focused on key components of a good leader – reflection (self-awareness), projection (how you come across to others in appearance and demeanor affects their reaction to you), connection (interpersonal skills), prioritization (focusing on specific skills you’d like to develop to become a better leader), and sustainability (setting up a system of checks and balances to make sure your skills development stays on track).
C3: Building Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance While Teaching Legal Research
Lately I’ve become quite interested in metacognition and learning science, so I thought this was a very compelling presentation. The speakers discussed the concept of grit, which they defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, and how we might teach this to our law students. The idea is that education is a lifetime pursuit: whether you’re in school or not – you’re always learning. Often students become defeated if something isn’t immediately successful for them, so teaching them to appreciate the process and the journey of skill development could be key to success. The speakers had us take a grit test to see how gritty each of us is – I was not surprised to see that I scored a very high grit score – and then they discussed the pros and cons of grittiness. Ultimately, will I discuss grittiness with my legal research students? Probably not. But I think this session will inform my approach to teaching and my reaction to student perceptions of learning legal research.
D4: Cool Tools Cafe
I’ve never had the chance to attend the Cool Tools Cafe, and I guess technically I still haven’t. For my first Cool Tools experience, I presented on Legal Research Apps. I was warned that I would have a nonstop crowd at my station, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I tried to get there 15 minutes early to set up, and there was already a full house! Mine was an interesting station; theoretically, you presented on your tool for 10 minutes and then started over, but I had a list of potential tools to show, so instead I simply asked my audience which they’d like to see, and as my audience changed, I’d pose the question again. In demoing my tools, I talked about the capabilities and limitations and gave my overall opinion of their usability. I had wonderful feedback, both during the Cafe and in the remaining days of the conference – people kept coming up to me to thank me for my demonstration. It was extremely gratifying, especially considering how exhausting the experience actually was!
Tuesday, July 15th
E1: Demonstrative Evidence, Courtroom Technology, and Trial Practice
This one started out a bit rough (especially for 8:30 in the morning!), with a review of many of the rules of evidence. The speaker was well-versed on the subject, but it’s hard to make that topic lively! From there, however, things picked up with the second speaker providing several great examples of the use of PowerPoint throughout the trial process, and why it actually is worth the effort. I think often it’s easy to think that use of such visual aids is superfluous or flashy, meant to distract more than inform; however, the speaker – an attorney – discussed how these visual aids can help judges and juries understand the key points in a document, the critical facts in a case, the main elements of your defense, etc. It’s not about distraction, but rather clarity. There were only two disappointing things about this program for me: first, I had thought that they would discuss more technologies than PPT – in fact the second presenter kept mentioning PPT and ‘other trial presentation software,’ but never actually identified what those other trial presentation software programs were; second, the second speaker ran over time by so much that the final speaker wasn’t even beginning until the program was supposed to end! Some people were able to stay and hear the final speaker, who remoted in via Skype, but many of us had other programs to get to, so we missed him entirely. Panels can be very difficult to run on time, but timing is critical so that everyone gets a chance to speak.
Poster Sessions – “Communication Wheelhouse”
I presented a poster session this year based on the results of a survey I gave our students in April on the communication practices of the Law Library. My session consisted of a poster displaying the results of the survey, as well as a smaller poster that showed a breakdown of our social media followers. I also printed up a short report of these findings for anyone interested in a handout. I have presented posters at smaller conferences in the past, but at such a large conference, I had far more foot traffic and very positive feedback and good discussion, both on the appearance of the posters and their content. The posters are both available online: Communication Wheelhouse and Sidebar: Social Media Reach.
G6: Hot Topic: Beefing Up Your CV with Altmetrics
Katie Brown gave a version of this talk at the CALI conference this year, talking more about the theory behind altmetrics. At her AALL presentation, she talked more about the tools to measure one’s altmetrics. Having seen her first presentation, I was very much looking forward to the second one. She showed several different tools, what each covers, and how to set them up. She mentioned the benefits of measuring one’s altmetrics, and discussed how they can be helpful for both your own professional development and as a service to your faculty. She was also careful to emphasize that altmetrics are not a replacement for other metrics and they should never be the sole tool you use when preparing your CV or tenure dossier. Rather, altmetrics are another tool for your tenure arsenal, and must be carefully explained to demonstrate their importance. They are simply a way to measure one’s impact in the modern invisible college.
H5: Law Librarianship in the Digital Age
It seems like there were several programs this year with titles similar to this. I’ll admit my draw to this particular one was its format: eight speakers (in one hour!) presenting in pecha kucha style. In this format, presenters had six minutes to present, and their presentations were accompanied by 18 slides, timed to transition every 20 seconds! The idea is to generate a focused discussion of your subject. The speakers chosen had each authored a chapter for a recent book, Law Librarianship in the Digital Age, so they spoke on their chapters. Each did a reasonably good job of sticking to their allotted time, and having their talk flow along with the slide transitions. It was certainly an interesting and entertaining format to watch, and while no one in the audience posed any questions of the speakers, I think this had less to do with the content than the fact that it was the very last program slot on the very last day of the conference!
Night Life at AALL
There are so many receptions these days that you either end up picking and choosing what to attend or double-and-triple-booking yourself. Naturally, I attended the IU Alumni Reception, always a lovely time to catch up with friends and see where we’ve all ended up over the years. Likewise, the LLJ/Spectrum Authors’ Reception is a great appreciation event that often brings you together with authors of articles you’ve loved over the past year. This year, I will give a big tip o’ the hat to LexisNexis and ThomsonReuters for truly excellent events. Lexis always has a lovely event – this year at the Institute of Texan Cultures – and it was great fun to see the entertainment they brought in, representing six different cultural music groups from around San Antonio. I’ve only been to three ThomsonReuters/AALL Customer Appreciation events, but this year’s was by far the best. I always go, because they usually pick some interesting off-site location, but admittedly I usually leave early, finding it too crowded and too loud (I know, being younger I’m supposed to love the wild-and-crazy, but I have more of a quiet-and-sophisticated preference). This year’s event was at the Knibbe Ranch, so I knew I’d go just to see the locale, but figured I’d leave soon after arriving as usual. Not the case! This year’s event was fantastic! First of all, they had a meal for us – not finger foods, but an actual, sit-down meal of Texas BBQ. You could eat in the ranch house, where a country band was playing (and if you haven’t heard a deep-country rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” you’re missing out!), in an outdoor tent, or out in the open. They had a rodeo of barrel-racing, rope tricks, etc. Most importantly, they ended with a fireworks display. It was a great time, and they have a lot to live up to for next year!
All in all, the Annual Meeting did not disappoint. I would prefer a few less breakout sessions during the programs – some of us really do just like to hear from the experts on the subject, rather than discussing with our neighbors every hour – and I would LOVE to see us go back to having Introductory/Intermediate/Advanced ratings on programs to help you choose what to attend. Other than that, good show. See you next year in Philly!