The AALL registration desk (photo by Marci Wicker)
From July 15 to 18, I had the opportunity to attend the 116th AALL Annual Meeting & Conference in Boston along with more than 1,700 other attendees. I only have one other AALL conference to compare it to—last year’s—but the vibe this year did feel different. This time, it felt like there was a focus on community and re-centering: our people, efforts, structures, and places. This feeling permeated every corner of the conference to me, including the keynote, individual sessions, exhibits, and sponsored parties. The theme for this year’s event, Map Our Future, seemed appropriate as we all seek to analyze where we are now after all that COVID was, where it brought us, and where we’re going, while taking into account quickly evolving technology and legislation.
The heart of the conference began with a keynote by Charles Vogl, an advisor, speaker, and author who works as a thought leader for Google’s management development program. His main message was that community is built one invitation at a time. Vogl challenged us to be vulnerable with ourselves and others, and he asked us to describe a time when we felt lonely and a time when we received an invitation that really mattered. I don’t recall ever thinking about these things, although I could have simply not been listening to my inner voice. However, during this keynote speech in a huge conference room with dim lights, I was listening, and I shared these intimate experiences outwardly for the first time with two complete strangers wearing business casual attire and name-tag lanyards. I heard and understood them, and I got Vogl’s message.
Vogl spoke about the value of the invitation as we build communities, and this exercise made crystal clear the huge potential impact that feelings of loneliness have on our success. He said there is a difference between an invitation and an announcement. Often, we make announcements on social media, websites, notice boards, or newsletters about events that we are having, and we are surprised when we don’t receive either feedback or attendance because we considered these efforts an invitation. The key, Vogl explained, is the frequent personal invitation, because regardless of whether or not an acceptance follows it, the recipient received the intended message that says, “You matter.”
I saw this theme of “mattering” also thread itself throughout the sessions I attended that discussed spaces, services, and research. Chris Morett, president and consultant for Co|Here, an academic planning and design company, noted Vogl’s speech when he stated in a session, “There is a difference in welcoming someone into your space and inviting someone into your space. I had not thought about that distinction until this conference.”
Charles Vogl, keynote speaker, receiving a gift from Beth Adelman, president of AALL (photo by Marci Wicker)
There were 3 full days of sessions in the conference organized by time blocks. You could choose a session to attend in each time block. What was interesting this year is that there was a key with symbols in the conference booklets. Next to each session title were different-colored symbols that were described by category in the key as professionalism and leadership at every level, research and analysis, information management, teaching and training, marketing and outreach, management and business acumen, and special interest section. This feature was very helpful as I planned my conference schedule; I was able to quickly find sessions that I was interested in and to be sure that I came away with a well-rounded itinerary.
Conference sessions included the following:
- A More Inclusive Classroom: Considerations for the Legal Research Professor Teaching Neurodivergent Students
- Planning Welcoming Spaces With Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Mind
- Leveraging User Data to Increase and Improve Engagement
- What You Need to Know About the Next Gen Bar Exam
- The Crossroads of Licensing and Copyrights
- Words Matter: Incorporation of “Wise” Techniques in Critical Feedback for Better Learning Outcomes in Legal Research Curriculum
In addition to the key describing the sessions by subject, some sessions were listed as hot topics. These were offered in response to an AALL member survey that asked for a list of topics the group wanted to be offered in the next conference lineup. Some of the hot topic session titles were:
- Moving Beyond Print
- Pause and Effect: How Suspending DEI in the Public Sector May Impact Law Librarianship and the Legal Profession
- Min Quals: What’s Really Needed in a New Law Library Hire?
- The Impact of Generative AI for Access to Justice
Lexis, a vendor, held sessions on the exhibit floor in which the representatives did live demonstrations of the new Lexis+ AI research and drafting tool. New for this year, AALL members were invited to send in art and marketing materials they created, which were displayed along with member poster presentations in the exhibit hall.
Speakers (left to right) Justin Huckaby, Shamika Dalton, Clanitra Stewart Nejdl, and Susan Winters at the session Words Matter: Incorporation of "Wise" Techniques in Critical Feedback for Better Learning Outcomes in Legal Research Curriculum (photo by Marci Wicker)
Bloomberg Law Event
The conference days were filled with informational sessions, exhibit hall conversations, and member presentations, but the vendors certainly showed up to offer their support for the library community. I attended a Bloomberg Law event on July 16, A Night at the Library, which was held at the beautiful Boston Public Library. Cozy rooms lined with books and sprinkled with candlelight opened their doors, inviting guests in to sample fresh street tacos, lobster rolls, pasta stations, and signature drinks. After gathering an assortment of items to try, we poured outside to the courtyard to talk and eat while looking over the garden, statue, and fountain. Though the sky threatened rain, many accepted Bloomberg’s invitation.
Bloomberg Law event at the Boston Public Library (photo by Marci Wicker)
The following night, on July 17, I attended a Westlaw event that was held at the conference hotel. As we entered the hotel ballroom, we were greeted by a piccolo and drums quartet in early-American period costume playing the Continental Army Song (Free America), with another period performer presenting the American flag. Once inside, guests found a variety of stations scattering the ballroom, including a barbeque and fixings table, an ice cream sundae bar, a lobster roll seafood table, a pasta bar, a cannoli and dessert table, and a full drink bar. There was a photography station set up where you could become the star on your own baseball card to take home. Performers who were costumed and painted to appear as baseball trophy statues stood on pedestals in the middle of the ballroom for the first hour presenting baseball poses and movements in fluid slow motion. I had never seen anything like it. At the end of the event, Irish dancers performed, and guests joined in with great gusto during their final dance.
Musical period performers at the Westlaw event (photo by Marci Wicker)
Baseball trophy performer at the Westlaw event (photo by Marci Wicker)
The location of the conference in Boston lent itself to an extended stay, which I took advantage of as I ferried over to Martha’s Vineyard for a salty, relaxing day. I took the T over to Salem another day to admire the cobblestoned Essex Street, the old wharf district, and the magical shops. The conference, people, location, and hotel were certainly inviting this year. I walked away with some new ideas, some new contacts to reach out to, and some things that I would like to begin working on. I returned home thankful for my talented and engaged team and excited about the upcoming year as we work to set an inviting tone for our own community through our people, spaces, and services.
Paul Revere's tomb in Granary Burying Ground (photo by Marci Wicker)
Phillis Wheatley statue at the Boston Women's Memorial (photo by Marci Wicker)