MAALL 2014: Fast Forward in the Windy City

MAALL logoThis October, law librarians gathered in Chicago to “fast forward.” The Mid-America Association of Law Libraries (MAALL) kicked off its annual conference in Chicago on October 5th, and thanks to the CALL Grant and Chapter Awards Committee, I was able to attend.

Lauren OdomMAALL 2014 was only my second conference, so I was not really sure what to expect as I arrived at the opening sessions at John Marshall Law School on Sunday, October 5th. As I approached the registration desk, the mood in the room was relaxed and I felt immediately welcomed. After perusing the refreshment table, I dressed up my conference badge with an iTweet ribbon and headed into my first session.

Day one: speed networking & the silver lining of downsizing

The conference opened with interest group roundtables and a speed networking session. The speed networking session was a favorite amongst the librarians I had spoken with, and it was evident, as the conference attendees continued to be engaged and enthusiastic in the programs that followed. The materials covered on day one included collaboration, library downsizing, and marketing. In  a program titled “The Silver Lining of Downsizing,” Joyce Pearson and Alison Reeve of the Kansas University of Law discussed how their library used their downsizing experience to create positive changes in their staff and the services they provide.

The programs on day one had an underlying theme of strategic thinking and prioritization.  Suddenly, the “fast forward” motto made sense. As librarians, we frequently hear discussions about the future of libraries, or the lack thereof. At MALL 2014, we were not going to tip-toe timidly or peer cautiously into the future, we were going to fast forward and prepare to hit the ground running.

Day two: teaching legal technology

The next two days of the conference were held at The Standard Club. As I arrived on day two, I had my pen and notebook ready to jot down any notes or ideas that might pop up during the programs. Yes, by notebook, I am referring to an actual pad of paper. I guess I’m one of those rare millennials who still does not own a tablet computer, although, like most of my generation, I do consider myself tech savvy.

Technology seems to be interwoven into all aspects of our lives, and I don’t see this ending any time soon.  So how are law librarians preparing to instruct the generation that grew up with technology literally in hand? To find out, I attended what turned out to be one of my favorite programs of the conference, “Teaching Technology to the Techie Generation.”

During this program, Emily Janoski-Haelen and Jesse Bowman discussed their experience developing and teaching a law practice technology course at Valparaiso University. Legal technology and technology competencies are hot button issues in the legal world today, and as a law firm librarian it was interesting to get a glimpse of what and how law students are being taught in this area.

The topic of legal technology encompasses many things, including cloud computing, social media, data security, and virtual law practice. To help navigate these topics and more, Janoski-Haelen and Bowman provided the names of helpful resources, including the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center and publications by Richard Susskind. During the program, attendees also shared their own suggestions and experiences teaching law students or working with attorneys in the area of legal technology. The attendees were very interested in discussing the Suffolk/ Flaherty Legal Tech Audit and its implications for law firms and legal instruction. In fact, the conversation carried over to the Conference Luncheon, which followed the session.

As I mentioned above, true to the Middle America charm, the conference had a very welcoming atmosphere. Sitting down for lunch, everyone at my table was enthusiastic about discussing the conference and interested in getting to know each other. One of my favorite things about attending conferences is getting to know the other attendees and having that feeling of community.

Keynote speaker: Steve Bogira on the Chicago criminal justice system

I also look forward to getting lost in the keynote speaker’s presentation. The MAALL keynote speaker was Steve Bogira, a senior writer for the Chicago Reader and author of Courtroom 302. Bogira gave a fascinating, and somewhat heartbreaking, speech on the criminal justice system in Chicago, and specifically the Cook County Criminal Courthouse and Jail. Bogira also touched upon the city’s ongoing struggle with race, poverty, and segregation. As a local conference attendee and Chicago resident, I appreciated Bogira’s speech and was glad that MAALL chose a keynote speaker who could provide attendees with a look inside of the issues that Chicago faces. When one attendee asked Bogira what law librarians could do to help improve conditions at the Cook County Jail, Bogira suggested donating books to the jail’s library.

Day three: evidence-based librarianship

The final day of the conference arrived faster than I expected. As a librarian who is interested in big data, I was very excited to see MAALL offer a program called “The Evidence Suggests…: Incorporating Data into Decision Making.” The program was held during the final session of the conference, and it was worth the wait. Michael Robak and Rebecca Lutkenhaus discussed evidence-based librarianship and software that libraries are using to collect and analyze data.

The two tools discussed during the presentation were LibAnalytics and Gimlet. These tools allow libraries to collect and analyze data, including reference statistics and user surveys. Librarians can then use the insight to enhance library services. The tools also allow users to visualize the collected data by creating summary reports.

The overall message of the program was that data matters. Data allows for better decision making while also ensuring accountability and prioritizing demands. More importantly, at least to the big picture, is that data can convey the value of libraries and librarians to the organizations that they serve. Libraries contribute greatly to the success of their organizations, and by collecting and analyzing data, libraries can explicitly demonstrate their contributions.

As Tuesday afternoon arrived, MAALL 2014 came to a close. I jumped on the El train and headed back to the office with a refreshed outlook and renewed enthusiasm. In three short days, I had learned so much.

Once again, I would like to thank the CALL Grant and Chapter Awards Committee for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference. I would also like to thank the Mid-America Association of Law Libraries for inviting CALL members to attend the Annual Meeting. My experience at MAALL 2014 was invaluable, and I hope to utilize all that I learned while moving forward in my career as a law librarian.