Fred Shapiro’s statement in opposition to renaming the AALL

The American Association of Law Libraries is in the midst of a “rebranding” project, and its executive board has just proposed renaming the association the “Association for Legal Information.” As we saw with the attempted SLA renaming some years ago, this proposal is garnering some opposition. Fred Shapiro sent the following statement to the Law Librarians’ discussion list earlier today, and it gets to the heart of the issues…


Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian for Collections and Access, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, Proud member of AALL since 1982

As someone who is recognized as the leading student of words among law librarians, I would like to summarize some of my objections to the proposed AALL name change.

Librarianship is a great profession with very important values that are being lost in the contemporary world. These values include service to patrons; the organization of information; the curation of information; and the preservation of information. Changing the name of the profession, or of its organizations, inevitably will further the decline of those librarians’ values.

One of my colleagues, although much younger and less steeped in the traditions of the past than I am, emailed me that “The organization should be shifting its efforts toward educating users what ‘librarian’ and ‘library’ mean today. … We should be proud of what it means to be a librarian and focusing, instead, on reminding the legal community of the value of the services we provide.” The same money that went to a consulting firm to come up with ‘Association for Legal Information’ could have been spent toward such educational initiatives.

The names “library” and “librarian,” although considered old-fashioned by many, also have strong positive connotations. There is no doubt, for example, that librarians have a much more positive image than, say, lawyers or bankers or politicians or journalists, and on many attributes librarians get a lot of respect and confidence.

The name “Association for Legal Information” is extremely vague and many hearing it will have no idea what it means. We would be replacing a well-established name with many positive connotations with a vague name of uncertain connotations.

The name “Association for Legal Information” does not at all suggest what the practitioners involved should be called — “legal informationists”? “legal information specialists”? “legal information professionals”? Note that all of those possibilities are too wordy.

If one of the members of the new association goes to their managing partner and tells them “I’m not one of those old-fashioned librarians, I am a legal information professional!”, the managing partner may say, “Don’t I already have an IT department? Why do I need you?” The word “information” is already taken by other professions.

The abbreviation “ALI” is already taken by a well-known legal organization.

One of the reasons I love librarianship is that it is a variegated profession that encompasses many functions and aspects. In addition to the important managerial and technological roles, librarians play social roles, intellectual roles, cultural roles, psychological roles, etc. I believe that AALL is focusing almost exclusively on the managerial and technological roles (take a look at any recent issue of AALL Spectrum) and neglecting the rich tapestry of other roles that librarians play. The name change will further this unfortunate narrowness.

I understand that law firm librarians have felt that AALL was directed more at academic librarians than at them. This may have been true in the past, but nowadays AALL programming and the AALL Spectrum newsletter seem to be aimed more at firm librarians than at academics. The name change may be motivated largely by concern that firm librarians will leave AALL. This is a valid concern, but why should academic librarians, who I assume comprise much of the association, have to live with a new name that most of them probably will dislike? Perhaps the greater concern should be that academics will leave AALL. Some prominent academic law librarians have already gone so far as to suggest that, if the current organization takes the name Association for Legal Information, then academics and other like-minded members could keep the AALL name and create a smaller, more nimble, less expensive organization, for those who share an interest in maintaining the librarian identification.

I believe that the library as a place is likely to undergo great transformations in the future – certainly, in the law firm setting, this is already happening. But the core values of librarianship should endure. A name change from “American Association of Law Libraries” to “American Association of Law Librarians” would be fine with me. The profession has always really not been about places or technologies, but rather about people.

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