NJLLA Grant Winner 2017 — Karen Oesterle

Many, many thanks to NJLLA for awarding me their generous Founder’s Grant.  This grant allowed me to attend the AALL annual meeting and the PLLIP Summit in Austin last month.  The 2017 conference was the best one I can remember!  There were many intriguing sessions, and the longest days still did not allow me to get to everything.  Here are notes on several of the sessions I attended in Austin.

Saturday’s PLLIP Summit began with a keynote address by Professor Gabriel Teninbaum He began by showing four statistics, the answers to a four-question survey of large firms.  (a) Are you implementing any AI tools? (b) Have you developed any big data projects? (c) Are you involved in workflow initiative projects? (d) Are your partners highly aware of the challenges of the new legal marketplace?  With the answers well below 100%, where he stated they should be, he told us that law librarians and information professionals can change these statistics in their organizations, and then showed us how.

He sees four new roles as paths to doing so, and discussed each of these, using law firm and corporate examples.  Be a Beta Tester, an Innovation Facilitator, a Big Data Whiz, or a Process Improvement Wonk.  He next discussed four trends he sees taking place, again with examples.  Do It Yourself (DIY), Hacking Innovation, Productizing and Collaborating.  Engaged firms and corporations are leveraging their power to get better results.  In all cases, we can strive to improve how work is done.

He gave four strategies for success.  Stay Educated, Reimagine Rules and Improve Services, Create Something New, and Prepare Your Organization for the Future. He closed by recommending we all download D. Casey Flaherty’s free eBook, Unless You Ask: A Guide For Law Departments To Get More From External Relationships.

In the closing presentation of the PLLIP Summit, Professor V. Mary Abraham gave a moving and insightful talk about change.  Change is hard whether we are experiencing it or imposing it, and we all resist change.  What people resist is not change per se, but loss.  We may cling to less desirable things and forgo opportunity, simply to avoid loss.  Change starts in the head, but this is not enough.  We need both the head and the heart to change.  Even if I know why change is important (head), and have the tools and skills to change (hand), do I want to change (heart)?

A change guerrilla is smart, tactical, and scrappy, with a short-term focus.  A change guru is wise, strategic, and measured, with a long-term focus.  Transitions may begin by focusing on the unwanted loss or ending, while change begins by focusing on the desired outcome.  Better transitions are possible when we include a time to let go and say good-bye, a neutral zone to sort things out, and then a new beginning with increased participation in the new reality.  These steps help create a new system of beliefs and a greater investment in the new.

Mary asked us to privately consider change we had undergone and change we had imposed on others, asking us to rate how our own and others’ head, hand, and heart needs had been addressed.  I was saddened to realize I had not considered fully what could have been done to ease the change.  She closed by offering us a mulligan, a chance for a do-over, asking us how we would make this change if we had another chance.  Important factors to consider as we continue in the midst of change.

Bryan Stevenson’s Sunday morning presentation was remarkable and stirring. His website shares his TED Talk and more detail about the Equal Justice Initiative.  His goal and work are toward more justice, and he gave us four actions we can each take to help in this work. (a) Get closer to sufferers of injustice, to understand the problems better.  Being closer will lead to a better understanding.  We need to get proximate. (b) Change the narratives that lead to inequality and injustice.  The politics of fear and anger have driven out narrative, and we must change the narrative of race in America.  (c) Stay hopeful about what we can do to create healthier and just communities and institutions.  (d) Do uncomfortable things.  We must make the difficult choices and decisions to do uncomfortable things to bring about change.

In closing, he told us it is the broken who can teach us.  A person is more than the worst thing they have done.  The opposite of poverty is justice.  Our character can’t be measured by how we treat the rich, but the poor, the excluded.  Our capacity to change the world is reflected by our willingness to do A-D, to get proximate, to change the narrative, to stay hopeful, and do uncomfortable things.

In Introverts as Leaders, Antoinette Griffin of Griff Development  and Gretchen Van Dam of the US Courts for the 7th District  shared insights about introverts and provided suggestions on coping with extroverts.  They began the session with a self-scoring quiz on our own verbal and non-verbal communication patterns, and went on to discuss advantages that introverted leaders have.  These include ease in having deep one-on-one conversations, good listening skills, and little or no need for the spotlight.  One quote from the session struck me as particularly interesting, “Your work isn’t just your work, it’s the people you work with.”

Sunday afternoon’s Diversity & Inclusion Symposium: Intersectionality and Identifying with Multiple Identities: Race, Gender, and Beyond included speakers Errol Adams of Pace University, Avery Le of University of Florida, Lisa Watkins of Paul Weiss, moderator Cameron Gowan of Jones Day, and a vocal and participatory audience.  Cameron explained that the term intersectionality was coined in 1989, and this presentation was most informative on the topic.  In telling their stories, the speakers highlighted differences they experience such as urban-rural, city-country, female-male-other, Asian-African American-Caucasian-other, younger-older, gay-straight-other, US born-foreign born, shorter-taller, working class background-professional background, and more.   The discussion expanded to include non-visible identifications, including learning disabilities, and led to several key messages for all.  These are examples of characteristics a professional librarian needs to pay attention to, as people of multiple identities are our patrons and colleagues.  Begin by supporting each other and stop tolerating jokes about other groups.  Be mindful and take the opportunity to educate other people.  Be vulnerable and if you say something offensive by accident, learn from what happened.  Be aware of invisible intersectionality.

Monday morning, Eliza Fink of University of Tennessee and Emma Babler of University of Wisconsin offered Effective Educational Technology Products for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VARK) Learning Styles.  Attendees had a chance to take a poll beforehand to determine their learning style, and the self-selected group of participant librarians polled as strongly read/write learners.  Traditional law school teaching is almost exclusively read/write learning, while digital natives and early adopters are increasingly multi-modal in learning style.

Infographics are valuable for visual/ graphic learners.  While information can be taught traditionally or graphically, how information is displayed is critical.  Using Quimbee or Easel.ly or to present content graphically can make it much easier for students to understand and recall.  Aural or oral learners need an engaging classroom experience, because this is how they learn best.  They learn as much from discussing topics as from hearing about them.  To create permalinks, minify.mobi is a good tool.

Key strategies for best serving kinesthetic learners include using real-life experiences, using sample exams, keeping research and other work product on a blog, and offering (virtual) field trips.  Timeline and Story Map JS from Northwestern University are excellent choices here.  Coloring books and YouTube videos showing processes are also good for kinesthetic learners.  Multi-modal learners are increasing in number, and Adobe Spark is a great choice for them.  Consider innovative assignments and student creation in your teaching.  The very best tools encompass many styles – words, music, people, and Q & A.

The Linchpin Librarian: Becoming an Indispensable and Integrated Resource in Your Organization was presented by Darin Fox of University of Oklahoma, Mary Matuszak of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and Kathryn Trotter of Latham & Watkins.  Each of the three recognized an opportunity to do more at their own organization and enthusiastically rose to the occasion.

At a time when law school applications are down 45%, tuition continues to rise, bar exam scores are way down, and the law library budget runs 5-20% of a law school’s budget, Darin looked at how to best adapt to changes.  He shared several keys with us.  (a) Create a Culture of Yes (b) See a Need, Fill a Need (c) Diversification.  Within these, he spoke about delivering key services, improving research support, increasing technical training, and filling needs that play to librarian strengths.  Examples of how law librarians can help include (a) Managing and Interpreting Institutional Data.  Librarians have skill sets critical to their organization – organizing, planning interpreting, understanding the mission, and promoting organizational strengths. (b) Providing frequent technical training at the law school.  Full integration between the curriculum and technology will enable achievement of required core competencies. (c) Offering high-tech tools at the law school – study rooms, virtual reality, study pods, others will prepare graduates for practice.

Kathryn’s firm encourages broad collaboration and she built on this foundation in several ways.  For Latham attorneys, the key is that firm librarians “know how to get them what they need.”  Serving as an embedded librarian in the Business Development group, she remained part of the library while building strong ties with her group.  Later, she continued to build and work within collaborative groups on common projects.  Her third model of collaboration is an ongoing NY LIB Advisory Group. Always, she solicited input on library matters, including the library’s renovation, ensuring the library would well serve its users at every step.

When a new District Attorney began in her office, Mary intensively studied his mission and goals and found that a key area for him is preventing crimes.  She identified which groups involved most crimes, and focused on her DA’s gem, the Conviction Integrity Unit, whose mission is preventing wrongful convictions.  The CIU manager became Mary’s boss shortly thereafter.  Soon, a pivotal case generated an important new need, and Mary proposed a solution.  A new consultant would be funded by the CIU and trained to do this new work.  This was the first dual program ever with the Legal Program and the Administrative Staff Program, and it succeeded beautifully.

Now, a new CIU manager is beginning, and Mary exhorted us that we always have to be able to state our case and work well together.  In summary, she did her research, identified a need, and responded enthusiastically!  Moderator Amy Towell of Hopkins Bruce Research Group closed by observing that the hallmark in all three situations was a huge amount of emotional labor, and Mary reminded us all, “Don’t wait to be asked!”  This seems a suitable learning to take away from both this session and the 2017 AALL conference.  Many thanks once again to NJLLA!