A Library Association by Any Other Name?

I have been a member of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) since 1975 when I graduated from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. That school was dissolved in the 1980’s. Now it looks like my profession of law librarianship may be disappearing as well.

AALL is in the midst of a major rebranding project. I am not averse to change and I empathize with those librarians who need to call themselves information professionals or specialists in order to gain respect in their organizations. But I had hoped that AALL would take the approach of organizations that have updated their name but kept their acronym, such as the GPO changing from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office and GAO changing from Government Accounting Office to Government Accountability Office. I would have liked to see AALL become the American Association of Law Librarians in order to show that it puts the emphasis on supporting individual members instead of institutions.

But the result of this rebranding initiative is to recommend that AALL be renamed as the Association for Legal Information. The debates on this are mostly within the members only portion of the AALL website, but it seems to me that they include much legitimate criticism of this new name. For example they point out that the acronym ALI is already used by the American Law Institute, which is glossed over in the FAQ’s below. More importantly there is criticism that the name is too amorphous and vague and does not clearly state what members do.

One popular suggestion was to add Professionals to the name (Association of Legal Information Professionals) to differentiate it from other legal information groups (vendors, etc.) and add an emphasis on members. This was also addressed in the FAQ’s listed below. Another not entirely facetious suggestion was to rename it as the Society of Legal Information Professionals (SLIP).

My friend and colleague, Lyonette Louis-Jacques, has compiled a list of the names of many international law library associations, most of which do include “law libraries”, “law librarians”, “bibliotheques de droit” or an equivalent phrase in their names:

American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)

Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Juristisches Bibliotheks- und Dokumentationswesen (AJBD, Germany)

Asociación Civil de Bibliotecarios Jurídicos (ACBJ, Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Association pour le Développement de l’Informatique Juridique, association interprofessionnelle du droit des technologies et des technologies au service du droit (ADIJ, France)

Australian Law Librarians’ Association (ALLA)

Bibliotecas Jurired (Red de Bibliotecas de Derecho y Ciencias Juridicas, Argentina)

British & Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL)

Canadian Association of Law Libraries / L’Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit (CALL/ACBD)

International Association of Law Libraries (IALL)

Juriconnexion (Association d’utilisateurs de ressources d”information juridique électronique)

Organisation of South African Law Libraries (OSALL)

New Zealand Law Librarians’ Association (NZLLA)

Scottish Law Librarians Group (SLLG)

Special Libraries Association – Legal Division (SLA Legal)

The FAQs on the AALL website on this subject include the following explanations for the change:

Why doesn’t the name use “professionals”?
Professionals was considered, and the consensus was it is so commonly used it is a generic term. In addition, the proposed name is stronger, indicating that when it comes to legal information, our members are the experts in the field of legal information.

Also, the acronym would be ALIP, “A Lip,” which could be perceived negatively.

What about brand confusion with the acronym ALI and The American Law Institute? 
This was identified and considered by the Brand Working Group, which concluded that the acronym could be pronounced as “ally,” not A-L-I, or to use all the words in the name, in which case the entire acronym would be AFLI.

Can you provide examples of other Associations or organizations that have changed their names?

  • National Law Firm Marketing Association to Legal Marketing Association
  • LawNet to International Legal Technology Association
  • Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office
  • Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science to Pratt Institute School of Information

Others who no longer use “library” in their names:

  • School of Information, University of Michigan
  • Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, University of Florida
  • Mabee Legal Information Center, University of Tulsa
  • Legal Information Center, Widener University
  • Duquesne Center for Legal Information, Duquesne University
  • Squire Patton Boggs Global Research Services

Why does the proposed name no longer include American as part of the name?
The Board agreed we are no longer just an American association. We have members in other countries, members interact with their offices throughout the world, and the business and practice of law is becoming increasingly global.

I do not find these explanations compelling enough to make me vote for the change, but I will continue to monitor the conversations and report on the results of the members’ up or down vote on January 12, 2016.


  1. There is also the Caribbean Association of Law Libraries that celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. I hope that we will never loose sight of our unique Identification as an Association of Caribbean Law Librarians, even though we have members from outside the Caribbean.

    I agree that the reasons given for the change in nomenclature are not solid enough to warrant a change that does not identify your location as an Association of professionals who manage and provide legal information services.

    The comment that the new name is not people focused i.e. focused on professionals who are members of your association is relevant.

    I attended your meetings several times and benefitted a lot form the content to the networking. I wonder how many, foreign law librarians will now be in a position to justify attendance at ALIP.

    I wish you the best.

    June Renie
    Retired Law Librarian and First President of CARRALL ( Caribbean Association of Law Libraries)
    West Indies

  2. The University of Toronto’s Faculty if Information Studies (FIS) changed its name some years ago to Faculty of Information, aka “iSchool” (rhymes with “high school”). One of the selling points for the change was that, just as some professionals can brag “I’m in Law” or “I’m in Engineering”, students and graduates could brag “I’m in Information!” Personally, I’ve always thought of myself as a librarian.

  3. What happens when we stop calling ourselves librarians? What will we have? I can’t see how, as a profession, we differentiate ourselves without the term. The technology folks encroach further and further on “information” every day. But ‘librarianship’ is ours, and would be incredibly difficult to take away. There’s also a long history there that I’m proud to be connected to.

    Given the number of librarian associations vs. library associations we see in North America, maybe it’s time to say that we’re wrong & follow the lead of our peers from outside North America, like BIALL, SLLG, ALLA and NZALL.

    We can do better.

  4. My personal (non-librarian, non-lawyer) opinion on most of these name changes is that they are window-dressing, make-work, and work about as well as comb-overs and excess make-up to preserve an appearance of youthfulness and relevance. Many changes also function as a patronizing statement to the public that they think most of us are too stupid to understand anything beyond the most generic of terms, and I actually get a kick out of how often even the most erudite profession[al]s reveal their own ignorance when they try to express themselves for general public consumption. How seldom some of us look in truthful mirrors.

    Now that I’ve got that off my chest, a tool that can help members of such associations navigate these kinds of name change campaigns is an understanding of Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, or Loyalty. Economist Rajiv Sethi has a marvellous blog post on the book here:, and I’ll trust that librarians can find the book itself if they need it. These internal battles over something like a name change or change of identity can cause real anguish in groups and I see Exit, Voice or Loyalty as being helpful at reducing the “either or” “fight to the death” atmosphere that often emerges.

    There are exceptions, when name change is a good thing. When I was a dietitian, our national association was called the “dietetic” association. If that wasn’t an awkward, off-putting name, I don’t know what is. The change to “Dietitians of Canada” avoided both that word and an awkward apostrophe. Here the example offers some rules: if a name change increases clarity, simplifies expression, and makes its members happier, it’s probably a good thing. If it does none of that, Albert O. Hirschman suggests it’s worth considering your options.

    On the subject of librarianship in general, it’s a craft I’ve only come to appreciate in latter years, and ironically, often it is only in decline that one appreciates what one had. But here again the concept of organizational life cycle comes to the rescue: decline is a necessary precursor to both renewal and the seeds of new undertakings. So by leaving when an organization does not please you, and perhaps starting a new one, dissenters may be doing more for their occupational group than they can accomplish by staying when they are unhappy.

  5. How about the Legal Education Support Society? The slogan could be “Helping lawyers and litigants do more with LESS.”

  6. “What happens when we stop calling ourselves librarians? What will we have? I can’t see how, as a profession, we differentiate ourselves without the term. The technology folks encroach further and further on “information” every day. But ‘librarianship’ is ours, and would be incredibly difficult to take away.”

    No easy suggestion here for a problem. I did like library information professionals.

    As a former MLS librarian in law and engineering sectors for 2 decades before e-document and records management, some observations of some marked differences between library info. trained vs. pure computer science/systems trained/practitioners:

    *Master’s level program in library and information sciences formally teaches and indoctrinates students on understanding community (corporate or societal) needs, how to position and advocate information literacy, learning as it relates to recorded knowledge/info. both fee-based and free access. We look to inform / reconcile matters for clients on copyright, privacy and costs for information access and maintaining information integrity. Other differences library vs. pure systems folks:

    1. Long-term user information literacy advocacy in a holistic manner, seems to set aside differences between librarians and systems folks (unless the systems person has a natural gift in teaching). This is what I have noticed over and over.

    2. Skill of librarians (that is formal training + experience) to conceptualize and organize sanely, huge scope of diverse subject disciplines in a coordinated multidisciplinary manner –from nothing/no pre-existing taxonomy. Systems people are not formally trained to organize subject content. It appears to be strictly approached narrowly on what client wants/clients’ expertise. I’ve seen this disjointed fragmentation, for several employers in very large content management systems.

    As we may know, the concept of “library” is borrowed by software firms –like Opentext. “Library” concept refuses to die in the software world.

    By the way, hope everyone knows that the geospatial information world (GIS or mapping information by providing a geolocation) uses Dublin Core metadata standard created by the library profession 3 decades ago.

  7. Richard L. Bowler

    Hi Judy!! We originally called our Association one of “libraries” rather than “librarians” to encourage institutional support. This had mixed results – as any librarian at the University of Chicago Law School can attest.

    I accept that books have been replaced to a significant extent by technologically based sources of legal information. In that respect “Association for Legal Information” is a good name change.

    What I think are wrong and spurious are the objections to putting “American” in the name. Using “American” does not suggest it is only for Americans. Rather it identifies this international group as being based in America, a useful distinction in my view.

    What do you think of that?


  8. Having weighed (and wavered over) the various lines of argument around this issue, I have decided to vote for the retention of the current name for this association. I joined law librarianship in the early 198os in Canada and worked in an academic setting. Very quickly, the professional knowledge base that I’d developed as a law librarian allowed me to develop a legal research collection for the Ontario Provincial Police Academy. This special library experience then facilitated another move into course training development functions that called for sound legal research skills that were closely tied to my law library training, education and development. When the OPP was looking for personnel to help lead strategic planning processes in the organization, I was able to emphasize the comprehensive research knowledge, skills and abilities that attached to their law librarian. In a world where credibility and competence are highly regarded, it was gratifying to see that policing executives recognized the expertise residing in their in-house law librarian [this was around the time I acquired the tongue-in-cheek nickname; Conan the Librarian!).

    I have moved from these various positions to higher levels within the provincial (like US state) Ministry of the Solicitor General, working as an Organizational Learning Coordinator to creating my own consulting practice dealing with public safety, policing and law enforcement issues and projects. All of which is not to lionize my professional accomplishments, but rather to landmark the reality that all of these career milestones were built on the simple fact that I was a qualified law librarian who deployed the fundamental skill set that we all possess having completed a course of study that honed strong and substantial legal research capabilities and the capacity to learn about learning new modes and orders relevant to the production of legal tools.

    So, AALL, stay as you are and keep up the good work as the centre of gravity for law librarians (even those of us in Canada, and elsewhere outside the US).

  9. Thank you all for your comments on this important issue. I will post the results of the vote as soon as I know them. And, if you are eligible to vote and haven’t yet, please vote now.

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