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Lessons Learned from the AALL 2017 Annual Conference in Austin

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I recently returned from my first visit to Austin, Texas for the 110th American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting and Conference. Hanibal, Tariq, and I hosted a panel, Tech Trends + Transparency.  In it we discussed a new Law Library of Congress report, Features of Parliamentary Websites, by the Law Library’s foreign law specialists.  In the presentation we compared various parliamentary websites that are similar to  If you are interested, here is a copy of our slides.

I asked those who went to the annual professional development conference what some of their lessons learned were.  Below are their responses.

Austin, Texas / Photo by Andrew Weber


I had the privilege of moderating a panel coordinated by my colleague, Jennifer González, on Digitization is Done, Now What? Understanding Metadata, Online Delivery, and User Experience.  I shared the Law Library’s experience of having digitized collection materials over the years only to see them languish on tangible media (e.g., DVDs, flash drives) and on servers.  I also noted that the panel was created to help inform attendees about steps they might take to publish digitized legal materials online and make them accessible to a wider audience.

In her portion of the presentation, Chelsea Dinsmore, director of Digital Production Services at the University of Florida, talked about the value project planning, the importance of standards such as the FADGI digitization guidelines, and how flexibility and thinking outside of the box can help lead to project success.  Erik Beck, digital services librarian at the William A. Wise Law Library, University of Colorado Law School, described different types of metadata including descriptive, and the new opportunities and dilemmas that digital collections present to catalogers.

Finally, Jennifer Gonzalez spoke to the audience about identifying user needs in part through the identification of personas, options for displaying content online (e.g., graphically, in tables, browse lists), and institutional dependencies and opportunities for collaboration. Attendees were provided with worksheets with sets of questions and suggestions designed to guide them on the path to making their own digitized collections more widely available.


This year I had the opportunity of coordinating and speaking on two panels. Janice spoke above about the Digitization panel, so I will recap The Power of the Crowd: Crowdsourcing Metadata for Library Materials.

I began the conversation by speaking about our successful metadata crowdsourcing project last summer and other digital projects at the Law Library of Congress. Ching-Hsien Wang detailed the amazing results their crowdsourcing of digital projects continue to have at the Smithsonian Institution. Cindy Etkin of the U.S. Government Publishing Office finished up our panel by discussing the Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) and how they are using libraries to help crowdsource preservation.

Michelle Wu, associate dean of library services at Georgetown Law, expertly moderated our panel, by asking questions at the end to compare our three projects. We concluded with offering suggestions on how any law library could institute a crowdsourced project including starting small and planning and testing instructions and workflow before beginning the project.


One highlight for me of this year’s Annual Meeting was Sunday’s Hot Topic: Finding Truth in the Age of Fake News and Alternative FactsW. Gardner Selby, the editor of Politifact Texas, described some of his fact-checking methods when evaluating political claims.  A typical first step is to ask the source for the basis of the claim: more than half the time the source will respond to him with a purported basis, which then can be evaluated for accuracy.  Short of that he has to do independent research to determine the provenance of a claim, often calling on librarians, among others, for assistance.

Next, Michelle Ye Hee Lee  of the Washington Post’s Fact Checker described her fact-checking approach.  One interesting anecdote she shared concerned her experience awarding three “Pinocchios” regarding a statistic cited in a recent US Supreme Court concurring opinion.  Kathleen McElroy of the University of Texas School of Journalism rounded out the discussion with her perspective from academia.


One interesting program that I attended was Global Energy Law: Perspectives from North America and Africa.  The speaker, Emeka Duruigbo, gave an overview of natural resources in those continents and the challenges facing  governments and corporations who deal with energy.  He spoke of the human rights effects on the populations of the countries involved and identified key laws and treaties, with a focus on Texas (North America) and Nigeria (Africa).


One of the highlights for me at the 2017 AALL meeting was the Government Law Libraries Special Interest Section Roundtable Pro Se Appellants: The Most Underserved SRL [Self-Represented Litigant]? How Libraries can Provide Assistance with Appeals. Speakers included Liz Reppe (Minnesota State Law Librarian), Liz Kramer (attorney and member of Appellate Practice Section of the Minnesota State Bar), and AnnMarie O’Neill (Minnesota Appellate Courts). They discussed the creation of the monthly three hour “Appeals Self-Help Clinic” for people wanting to appeal their cases in the state court.

It was noted that many clinics focus on the needs at the trial level rather than appellate, so they wanted to fill the gap. Typical types of cases they’ve handled include family law, civil and agency appeals. The practical advice provided by the librarian, attorney, and court administrator could be put to use by anyone interested in creating a similar pro bono clinic in their own jurisdiction. For more information on the clinic, see The Minnesota State Law Library Self-Help Clinics and MSBA Appellate Section partners on pro se clinic.

Andrew Winston:

Technology was very much on my mind as I got a first-hand look at a variety of demonstrations of new legal research and law practice tools in the Exhibit Hall, and I decided to make technology a focus in the programs I selected.  Two of those were sessions on artificial intelligence, or AI. The first, an extended “deep dive” titled How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform the Delivery of Legal Services, featured a panel with representatives of legal technology companies, a law school professor heading a startup clinic, and an attorney at a large law firm who provided insight on how AI has not only the power to make the delivery of legal services ”faster, better, and cheaper,” but also how AI may provide attorneys and law librarians with opportunities to grow professionally beyond the traditional boundaries of those roles.

The second, titled Watson in the Law Library: Using AI and Machine Learning to Build the 21st Century Library, focused on the use of ”cognitive computing” applications in the law library, such as enhanced knowledge management that could derive domain-specific insights to help select model legal documents based on data analysis. This session also included an intriguing suggestion:  the idea of a research and development budget for the library.

The Texas Capitol in Austin / Photo by Tariq Ahmad

For more lessons learned from AALL annual conferences, see posts from PhiladelphiaBostonSeattle, Philadelphia again, and Chicago.

Update: Lessons learned from Andrew Winston were added.

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