Saving Libraries: Alliance, Advocacy, & Education

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Saving Libraries: Alliance, Advocacy, & Education

By Jonathan C. Stock

This article resumes a narrative, initiated two years ago, about the 2010 Connecticut Judicial Branch law library closure crisis.[1] Triggered by the 2008 economic meltdown, crisis began with public law libraries. It had to. As these libraries are taxpayer funded, they came first up to the plate; and their fate remains vital. Access to justice erodes when citizens have fewer places to read the law.

Things change, however, over two years. The crisis is no longer just about public law libraries, but about all law libraries: public; law firm—always challenged; and law school—once nestled securely amid the Groves of Academe.[2] The crisis is no longer just about law libraries, but has grown to be about all libraries: state, municipal public, school, academic, and special. Nor is it just about libraries and librarians; it is about everybody. One bottom line applies: all professions stand at risk. All confront the identical adversaries of economic hardship and automation, its perceived antidote. We all sail in one proverbial boat and that boat appears, proverbially, sinking.                                                                  

Sinking boats sometimes keep afloat, but only if crews link up and bail. That means building alliance, across library types and—importantly—across professional lines. Alliance, common interest being key, enables advocacy. Advocacy enables education. Education enables getting the message out. It enables proving library value in an electronic age. That, over two years, has been our story.

One epiphany arose from our last discussion. Our strategy was flawed. It missed alliance with the local American Libraries Association (ALA) chapter; it missed, thereby, linkage with the State Library and municipal public libraries—linkage common elsewhere. We urgently needed connection with the Connecticut Library Association (CLA); and, therefore, we set about getting it.

The Southern New England Law Librarians Association (SNELLA) appointed its government relations chair liaison to the CLA Government Relations Committee in late 2010, and an agreement soon arose for sharing lobbyist services. Shortly thereafter, a major crisis cemented this alliance. It all began with the Paperless Task Force. Officially designated as the Task Force to Study Converting Legislative Documents from Paper to Electronic Form, the group released a disturbing recommendation: eliminating hearing transcripts and substituting in their place MP3 sound recordings only. The proposal, widely perceived as gutting Connecticut legislative history, sparked opposition from many impacted communities. SNELLA unified with CLA, the State Library, and others in vigorously opposing the initiative in testimony at the November 18, 2010 hearings. The MP3 proposal failed. A final report, released February 2011, acknowledged electronic authentication and preservation as “a highly technical and complex subject requiring extensive study.” We had learned our lesson: strategic alliance built advocacy; advocacy enabled education; education enabled first victory. The winning pattern was set. It would yield other victories—and soon.

The General Assembly swiftly passed Public Act 11-150 implementing Paperless Task Force recommendations. Of special significance was Public Act 11-150 § 28 mandating that the State Librarian, in concert with other key officials, would “establish standards and guidelines for the preservation and authentication of electronic documents.” Accordingly, on January 25, 2012, the agency released Recommendations of the State Librarian for Establishing Standards and Guidelines for the Preservation and Authentication of Electronic Documents. The third recommendation in these guidelines pledged that the state shall encourage the adoption of UELMA in Connecticut. All these efforts soon bore fruit in proposed legislation. Senate Bill 418, “An Act Adopting the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act and the Uniform Certificate of Title for Vessels Act,” incorporated a Connecticut UELMA in § 1-11. The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and SNELLA jointly offered written and oral testimony at the March 19 Judiciary Committee Hearing. Favorably reported, Senate Bill 418—although winning May 9 Senate approval—missed House passage in those waning hours. This state does, however, occupy an advanced position. Only two other jurisdictions, Colorado and California, at this time have adopted UELMA.[3] Connecticut, while not first as we once hoped, remains well-positioned. That good positioning arises, in part, from universal library linkage; and, in part, from a second initiative made reality last year.

Unifying all libraries was the first step. Thus far, the strategy was derivative. We learned from precedent, and it went well. Learning from precedent, however, is insufficient. New circumstances arise which demand new strategies. Good progress arose from addressing what has not changed, and more would arise from addressing what has.

What has changed recaptures first image: our sinking boat where, nowadays, all professions inhabit the passenger list. Two years ago, media trumpeted law library closures as the “end of an era.” Who needs libraries? Everything is free on the internet. Now, two years later, popular wisdom goes beyond. It engulfs legal counsel. Threats abound: Web sites for the self-represented, off-shoring legal research, and commoditization challenge tradition. Yesterday, some forecast the end of librarians. Today, one author queries whether we witness the end of lawyers.[4] Professionals, facing extinction, share one imperative: addressing constituents. Lawyers must address clients; librarians must address lawyers.

Librarians must indeed address lawyers. Major constituents, they must comprehend the ongoing value of library service in electronic times. Saying is easy. Now for two hard parts: how and implementation. How meant embedding a Law Librarians Section within the CBA. That matches embedding law librarians in public library organizations. Implementation meant applying alliance, advocacy, and education. That matches everything done before. One element differs. This time, how and implementation took place across professional lines. The challenged reached larger audience: identically challenged—by identical demons. Reaching larger audience evacuates the sinking boat. Theory being done, all else is telling.               

Our story narrates how we established a new Law Librarians Section within CBA. That is how professional lines got crossed. That is how new strategy was built. Building new strategy arises from first opportunity. First opportunity alone is insufficient; there must be follow through making concepts real. First opportunity arose from publication; follow through, admirably supported by CBA officials and staff, arose from hard work. 

Everything began with Connecticut Lawyer—its decision to republish my article on the 2010 crisis triggered all else.[5] A March 1, 2011 staff conference at the CBA Law Center constituted the next step. Its topic, predictably, was how best to strengthen law libraries. Extensive discussion built consensus. Better connectivity must arise between our institutions. CBA bylaws authorize librarians as associate members; but, as yet, no internal unit represented library interests. Recent events proved that needed changing. Strategic alliance, fostering advocacy and education, was key. Practical advice emerged swiftly—the stuff of which follow through is made. We were on the road.

It would be an interesting road. Then-President Ralph Monaco responded supportively to an intent letter, incorporating mission statement, dated 6 June 2011. Further strong encouragement was expressed by then-President-elect Brad Gallant, then-Vice President Barry Hawkins, and staff at the CBA Annual Meeting on June 23, 2011. All efforts then focused upon recruitment: 20 members were needed for legality. Getting to 20 became the watchword. A staff conference in November convened at the CBA Law Center to facilitate this magic number, and good advice brought double digits closer.     

Beyond foundation requirements, June 23 highlighted our principal advocacy objective: passing UELMA in Connecticut. CBA staff provided ongoing advice on options for translating the initiative into legislation. That ongoing advice, along with aforesaid CLA networking, facilitated the Senate Bill 418 efforts: a near miss, but positioning us well for 2013.   

Getting to 20 members inched forward for six months and came together January 11, 2012 when 20 commitments evolved. Intensive Senate Bill 418 advocacy occupied stage center through mid-March. Thereafter, section formation again became first priority. The CBA Board of Governors granted recognition at its April 16 New Haven meeting. Other requirements moved swiftly forward: drafting bylaws, filing our first annual report, and appointing an executive committee. By July 1, we were in business.    

All else stands in two parts divided: where we went from there and where we go next. Both treat, in same sequence, two alliances—library and bar association. Each brings this story to present; each projects forward. Structures are in place. All else concerns implementation—saving libraries through alliance, advocacy, and education. 

Where We Went from There

Two alliances stand firmly in place: one with CLA, another with CBA. An interlocking network, spanning library lines and professional lines, exists. Interlocking networks enable shared advocacy and education. A system established, the next task meant pursuing advantage—making it work. That, in library world and bar association world, went forward.

A good game, in the library world, got better. Law librarians linked with CLA and the State Library in successful opposition to 2011 budget cuts that would have annihilated inter-library loan. SNELLA, embedding many CBA Law Librarians Section members, staffed an Exhibit Booth at the 2012 CLA Conference in Groton. Close coordination went forward on shared advocacy issues, including and especially, UELMA.

The good game, in the bar association world, got better. Once established, the CBA Law Librarians Section kept advocacy and education on target. A first meeting, held 19 July 2012, resolved to poll our full membership on whether to accept an executive committee recommendation for 2013 UELMA adoption. Six weeks later, this recommendation became a section position by majority vote. The next step required preparing supportive documentation for study by the Legislative and Policy Review Committee. That being done, an October 4 LPRC meeting accepted the LLS position—advancing same to the House of Delegates. Eleven days later, on October 15, HOD adopted our Section position by unanimous vote. Internal advocacy complete, education became next priority. The CBA LLS and SNELLA co-sponsored a November 27 UELMA CLE entitled “Official Documents on the Web: Are They for Real?”[6] It took place at an ideal venue and an ideal moment: the Legislative Office Building post-election, but six weeks before opening day. A large audience, embedding multiple constituencies, gathered in-depth knowledge about electronic authentication and preservation. Amplified by television coverage, our message enabled public knowledge; and public knowledge enabled legislative action.            

Where We Go Next

Where we go next stands clear: alliance, advocacy, and education. With the winning formula found, the best practice is application—to go forward in the library world and in the bar association world. Application goes forward, in library world and in bar association world.

Going forward in the library world means doing the same, but with new wrinkles. Close alliance with the CLA Legislative Committee continues on 2013 UELMA enactment. Other shared concerns, however, now emerge. One involves how electronic books, especially licensing versus copyright issues, impact public library service. Fertile ground exists there for CLE intellectual property offerings. More such opportunities will arise through time. Another “first” took place last spring. SNELLA professionals, CBA LLS members among them, staffed an exhibit booth at the May 7-8 CLA Conference in Groton. That will happen again this year in Cromwell when, on April 29-30, the association next convenes. Another innovation is planned: a legal research course designed, uniquely, for municipal public librarians.

Going forward in the bar association world means doing the same, but with new wrinkles. Law librarians have long, under SNELLA aegis, staffed an exhibit booth at the CBA Annual Conference. That took place, again, last year—but with a difference. Many participants were, through the CBA LLS, integral to the larger association. Advantage arises from this change. Being integral, we are better placed to comprehend patron needs and build right service. That bolsters alliance and advocacy through targeted CLE. Practitioners need better knowledge about legal information in electronic times: why it costs so much, its transitory ownership, and its limitations. Best protection resides in becoming wise consumers. Law Librarians, sharing experience, can help.

They are also well-positioned to expand in the bar association world. They have done just that: through regional outreach. SNELLA, CBA LLS members active, presented two CLE offerings at last year’s May 3 Hartford County Bar Association InPractice Conference: “Emerging Technologies in Legal Research” and “Uniformity in Laws Published Online (UELMA).” Future vision encompasses more regional mission. Opportunity expands ever outward in concentric circles; and, ever outward in concentric circles, law librarianship builds strength.

The last article ended with a promise. It pledged that, having pushed the envelope, we would push it harder. We did just that. We did better. We broke the envelope. We found the formula: alliance, advocacy, and education. All bets are off on dark prophecy. The road ahead runs clear—and bright.

Jonathan C. Stock (jcstock@snet.net) chairs the Connecticut Bar Association Law Librarians Section. He also serves as Government Relations Chair for the Southern New England Law Librarians Association. Reprinted with permission of the Connecticut Bar Association and the CT Bar Institute, Inc. from Volume 23, Number 6. Copyright the Connecticut Lawyer.

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[1] Jonathan C. Stock, “Saving Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries: The Recent Crisis and Beyond,” Connecticut Lawyer, Vol. 21 No. 8 (April, 2011), pp. 27-29.

[2] This author, himself a former college literature instructor, offers abject apologies to the Spirit of Mary McCarthy.
 
[3] Colorado enacted H.B. 1209 on April 26, 2012. The California UELMA, S.B. 1075, was signed into law on 13 September 2012. Interestingly, both have delayed effective dates: March 31, 2014 in Colorado and July 1, 2015 in California.
 
[4] Richard Susskind, The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.
 
[5] This article originally appeared at 15 AALL Spectrum no.4 (February, 2011), pp. 24-26.
 
[6] The joint program, recorded by CT-N, is available for public viewing. Electronic handouts are available at the links listed below.

CT-N Recording Nov. 27, 2012

http://www.ct-n.com/CTNplayer.asp?odID=8420

Handout Materials

The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act
(UELMA)

http://www.aallnet.org/Documents/Government-Relations/2011Oct-UniformElectronicLegalMaterialAct-Final.pdf

American Association of Law Libraries Links to UELMA Resources

http://www.aallnet.org/Documents/Government-Relations/UELMA

UELMA Frequently Asked Questions

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34589460/CLE/UELMAFAQs.pdf

UELMA Resources

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34589460/CLE/UELMA%20Resources%20-%20CT.pdf