By Jennifer Chapman, LLAM Grant Recipient to AALL 2019 Annual Conference
From the keynote address to the many sessions and roundtables to the networking and community-building opportunities, the overriding theme I encountered at AALL’s 2019 Annual Conference was the importance of access to information. Throughout the conference I felt inundated with information in the most welcoming and engaging ways. I was grateful for the opportunity to have access to so many resources and left the conference feeling a sense of responsibility to take everything I was learning, apply it to my work, and – most importantly – share it with others.
Shon Hopwood’s keynote address highlighted the importance of access to legal information in prisons. His story is not only one of redemption, but a story of how providing information resources can encourage knowledge and growth for the betterment of the individual and society. This point was further emphasized in the LISP/GLL/SR-SIS Roundtable on Law Library Services to Prisoners and Public Patrons, which focused on the PACER fees class action. I knew a bit about the class action, but hearing directly from individuals working on the case provided richer context as to why the case is so important. Professor Ross E. Davies of the Green Bag further emphasized the importance of providing access to information to the incarcerated in the session “What Librarians Can Learn from the Green Bag.” Professor Davies stressed that we need to write about the law in a way that is “easily and quickly digestible” for prisoners.
In addition to learning about why access to information is essential, I also learned about the ways AALL works to ensure libraries, librarians, lawyers, and the public have access to essential information. Prominently, the “AALL Public Policy Update” session not only gave an overview of the public policy work done over the past year, but also celebrated the accomplishments of Keith Ann Stiverson and Carl Malamud. Stiverson was awarded the 2019 Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Award for her advocacy work to make expand access to government information. She gave a brief and inspiring speech – mostly focusing on Robert L. Oakley’s accomplishments rather than her own. Prior to the session, I did not know who Stiverson or Oakley were; following the session, I had two new models of exemplary service to inspire me. Malamud and the nonprofit he founded, Public.Resource.org, received the 2019 Public Access to Government Information Award. He was not at the conference because he was traveling internationally for work promoting access to information.
The conference also highlighted the importance and, often times, difficulty of ascertaining and providing good, thorough, and correct information. For example, the session “The New Wild West: Assessing and Managing News in the 21st Century” focused on issues of fake news and how the 24/7, info-tainment news cycle has altered the information landscape. A number of sessions examined the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies that are also transforming the information landscape. I was happy to see so many people interested in how AI and emerging technologies can make information more accessible. I was also struck by the need for even more education to ensure that the people using these technologies understand the limitations as well as the benefits. This emphasized why the AALL conference is so important – continuous education and professional development is essential to protecting access to information.
The above only captures a snapshot of my AALL experience. Perhaps more important than the sessions and roundtables was the opportunity to meet and learn from law librarians and information professionals from around the country and realize there is a community of support. Overall, the 2019 AALL conference was a wonderful and enriching experience – plus, where else can you pet Percy the stress-relief dog, get a Justice Byron R. White Bobblehead, and hear Professor Ross Davies say: “It would be so cool if a [Supreme Court] justice sued the Green Bag.”
I am grateful to LLAM for giving me the opportunity to attend the 2019 AALL conference and for being my local community of support.