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American Association of Law Libraries 2019 Conference Recap

The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Osborne, Legal Reference Librarian at the Law Library of Congress. 

Law Library of Congress exhibit booth at the 112th American Association of Law Libraries Conference [Photo by Donna Sokol]

A number of Law Library of Congress staff members recently attended the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) 112th Annual Meeting and Conference in Washington, DC. The conference provides law librarians and legal information professionals with opportunities for education, participation in our professional organization, outreach, and networking with colleagues from all over the world.

With the conference being in Washington this year, the Library of Congress was well represented. Abigail Grotke, from the Library’s Digital Content Management Section, presented on a panel about using web archives in legal research. Laney Zhang, Jenny Gesley, Tariq Ahmad, and Nicolas Boring from the Law Library’s Glogal Legal Research Directorate presented a program about the global regulatory landscape for artificial intelligence. Andrew Weber, Natalie Buda Smith, Fredric Simonton, and Robert Brammer taught an interactive session on the topic of design thinking and web site usability, using Congress.gov as a model. Andrew Winston moderated the Members Open Forum during Monday’s General Business Meeting. While the Law Librarian of Congress, Jane Sánchez, got in on the action and hosted a program on shifting the Law Library from an operational approach to a service-oriented approach. Additionally, the Law Library sponsored a booth for the first time in the Exhibit Hall. At the booth, we provided mini-talks about our outreach, digitization, instructional, and collections initiatives. On the last day of the conference, the Law Library opened its doors for AALL attendees to tour the Reading Room, speak to our librarians, and learn about the Library.

Wendy Stengel presenting at the Law Library of Congress exhibit booth at the 2019 American Association of Law Libraries Conference [Photo by Donna Sokol]

This was my second time attending the AALL annual conference and I came away with a lot of information and ideas that will improve my work at the Law Library. I attended a fantastic session on Monday morning on the topic of designing useful and memorable hypothetical scenarios to teach research techniques, and I am already thinking of ways to use this information to enhance my classes on Orientation to Legal Research. Additionally, I got to nerd out with some fellow United States Code aficionados at the informative and lively session presented by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel and picked up some new information about the OLRC’s editorial reclassification projects.

I asked my colleagues to share their experiences and highlights from attending the conference:

Luis Acosta, FCIL Division Chief:
Tuesday morning’s program, Artificial Intelligence and Implicit Bias, focused on the difficulties of designing AI systems that avoid reflecting back the biases of their designers and users. The panelists described some ways in which AI can produce and amplify discriminatory results by relying on statistical correlations that reflect historical biases. They warned against the use of AI in critical functions like in criminal sentencing or trying to predict whether a particular criminal offender might become a recidivist. Two of the panel members were from firms employing AI to design legal research systems, and the panelists were more sanguine on the use of AI in improving legal research. AI-based legal research is less prone to user bias than the legal research methods used previously, like digests and key number systems, they argued. Nonetheless, interpreting legal language is a challenging task for AI. A machine will have difficulty determining, for example, whether a remark by Justice Scalia was sarcastic. The panelists concluded that while legal research can be improved by appropriate use of AI systems, legal analysis and application will always require human judgment.

Andrew Winston, Legal Reference Librarian:
A session that I found very informative was Do More with Less: Workplace Efficiency Tools. Presenters Mari Cheney, Anna Lawless-Collins, Ellen Frentzen, and Meg Kribble surveyed a number of productivity tools that they and their colleagues have found to be effective. These included (among others) KanbanFlow and Trello for project management; Outlook Tasks and Calendar for planning and time allocation; LibAnswers and Quest for tracking internal and external communications, compiling statistics, and building a knowledge base; and Slack and Teams for internal communications. The panel also discussed the Pomodoro Technique for periods of focus interspersed with scheduled breaks and the Only Handle it Once, or OHIO, method for managing email. The panelists closed with recommended resources for enhancing productivity: Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport; Extreme Productivity, by Robert C. Pozen; How to Do More in Less Time, by Allison C. Shields and Daniel J. Siegel; and Scrum, by Jeff Sutherland.

Another session that provided a lot of interesting ideas was Building Strategic Partnerships: Using Outreach Between Academic, Government, and Law Firm Libraries to Maximize Value. In it, presenters Annie Mentkowski, Lindsey Carpino, and Clanitra Stewart Nejdi discussed how academic, government, and law firm libraries can build collaborative relationships to benefit their users and their institutions, as well as the profession as a whole. The panelists discussed some of the specific benefits to each type of law library that could arise from a strategic partnership with another type, as well as potential barriers to these relationships that should be considered and planned for ahead of time. Attendees worked as teams to develop an approach to a hypothetical collaboration opportunity, and shared their ideas with the audience, as well as ideas and lessons learned from their law libraries’ past collaboration efforts.

Ann Hemmens, Legal Reference Librarian:
I enjoy programs focused on very practical things learned by fellow law librarians facing a new situation. These programs provide me with strategies, resources, and examples of lessons learned that I can apply in my own work. This year I particularly appreciated the program, An Eye-Opening Look at the Challenges of Assisting Visually Impaired Patrons with Electronic Legal Research, with Rena Seidler and Susan deMaine of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Library. They discussed their experience teaching a blind law student how to conduct legal research on major subscription databases and free web resources. They discussed the instructor’s learning curve with the JAWS screen reader and how JAWS interacts with the databases and free web resources. It was encouraging to hear the presenter note that, among the free government websites, Congress.gov was one in particular that the student enjoyed and worked well with the JAWS reader. The presenters provided concrete information on how a screen reader works and made recommendations for drafting documents (e.g., PowerPoint presentations) to work best with a screen reader (e.g., using a number, rather than bullet, list). During the Q&A, the attendees offered additional suggestions (e.g., avoid color-coding for color blind individuals) and resources (e.g., National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped).

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