Thank you so much NJLLA for awarding me the grant to attend the 2017 AALL Annual Meeting in Austin. This was my first year attending AALL as a Professional Law Librarian, and the grant made it feel even more special. Although I previously attended in 2009 while enrolled in my Masters’ program, as a student I did not feel able to completely utilize and appreciate all the Conference had to offer. This year I was excited to be able to fully immerse myself in the meetings, sessions, activities, and networking.
First on deck, was CONELL. It was a whirlwind introduction to all AALL had to offer. I feel incredibly lucky that I had a chance to hear from members of the Executive Board including AALL President Ronald E. Wheeler, Jr. Getting to hear how everyone got involved in AALL when they were new librarians, and became increasingly involved, gave me a chance to map my own plans for participating in the organization.
A great perk of attending CONELL was the bus tour of Austin Saturday afternoon. Sunday-Tuesday were so packed full of sessions and browsing the Exhibitor Hall, the bus tour was my only chance to get to experience Austin, and get a taste of what “Keep[s] Austin Weird.” Highlights of the bus tour were visiting the Capitol and learning about its architectural history, seeing the graffiti art at HOPE Outdoor Gallery, and snacking on treats from Hey Cupcake!.
The programs offered throughout the conference were incredibly diverse. Just reading the program descriptions made me realize the many different roles law librarians take on in their various organizations. One session I particularly enjoyed was Understanding the Human Element in Search Algorithms. As a reference librarian at a law school, I often explain to students how important it is for them try multiple searches and generate multiple keywords. This session emphasized to me why it’s important I continue to drill that into students. The algorithms powering these search engines were written be people with their own set of assumptions about relevancy and word associations. Only the algorithm creator knows the precise search terms and synonyms they’ve inputted. Therefore, multiple searches are not just important, but imperative as the same search can yield vastly different results in different databases. Therefore, for those with access to multiple debosses, it’s essential to try the search in each and not just stick to a favorite.
A great tip from CONELL was to be sure to attend a session that dealt with an area outside of my core job functions. With that in mind I attended, Moneyball for Lawyers: How Legal Analytics is Transforming the Business and Practice of Law. This session explained how although AI/legal analytics is at its early stages now, eventually it will be essential in litigation strategy and predicting how opposing counsel will behave or a judge will rule. For now though, AI must be highly supervised and the accuracy of its predictions can’t be guaranteed. At a time when the question being asked by so many industries is, “Will robots replace us?” it’s interesting to see how AI will affect the legal field in the future, and comforting to know there’s no reason to start packing up our offices quite yet.
I wrapped up the conference by attending Cool Tools Café on the recommendation of a co-worker and I’m glad I did. Its relaxed atmosphere was a nice final session to the conference when I was worn out after a busy few days. One tool that was discussed was the browser extension Trailblazer which tracks your internet research path. This is great for not just retracing my own steps during a research project, but sharing with students to help them visualize how a research path is created and develops. I also learned about the proofreading program WordRake. While programs like Grammarly focus on grammar (as the name suggests), WordRake helps verbose writers tighten up their language. I welcome hat help! Another useful extension discussed was UnPaywall which searches the web for free version of articles if you pull up a paywalled site. I suspect Cool Tools will become a “must attend” session each year for me.
Looking back at my busy few days in Austin, my one regret is that I did not purchase a Fitbit until returning home. I would have crushed my daily steps goal!
Thank you again for help making it possible for me to attend this year’s conference. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in Baltimore and learning what makes it the “Greatest City in America”.