Ausin Skyline

Heading Back to Austin for AALL

In July I had the pleasure of returning to my hometown of Austin for the AALL Annual Meeting, which was made possible by a CALL grant. I attended educational sessions on topics that ranged from directly relevant to my current position in reference to others that were considerably less so (in a good way). Suffice to say, the programming was as spicy as the Tex-Mex, so I thought that I would highlight three sessions in this report and mention a few others that were of particular interest.

You may have heard something (or read in the latest AALL Spectrum) about Susan Nevelow Mart’s presentation on human influence of algorithms in research platforms. It was a fascinating look at the variance of search results—definitely check out the Spectrum article if you haven’t yet. The upshot wasn’t that any particular platform is more or less reliable than the others, but that it’s important to leverage the tools available to you—i.e. secondary sources—to increase the efficiency of your searches. For those of us that assist with research, we can use the variance in results to hammer home the idea that secondary sources are a typically going to be a better way to start research when you don’t already have a case and are starting from relative scratch.

A session on learning styles—visual, aural, reading and writing, and kinesthetic—from Eliza Fink and Emma Babler was one I almost skipped, as the importance of teaching to different learning styles is an idea I feel comfortable with. The session ended up being invaluable, however, for the number of resources the presenters covered that cater to these various learning styles. So rather than discuss the differences between these styles in the abstract, they offered multiple ways to effectively teach to the range of learning styles. In short, it was very practically useful, and I encourage anyone who teaches to take a look at the slides from this session for resources that might be useful.

The last session I want to highlight covered the Spanish origins of Texas water law. This session featured water rights expert Charles Porte, who discussed these historical origins, and one of my former professors, Jane Cohen, who covered legal issues related to water management and climate change. I find these sorts of sessions, the ones that seem like they’re on the far end of the relevance spectrum, refreshing. The opportunity to think outside of what I’m normally dealing with helps remind me to keep my horizons broad. I can’t wait for someone to come to me with a question about Texas water rights.

Some of the other sessions I attended covered social media use in libraries, which I thank for making me feel better about questioning the value of maintaining a Facebook account for our library; ungraded assessment, which reminded me that even if I’m not teaching an entire course in a given semester, I can still verify whether what I teach patrons sticks with them and is useful; and Harvard’s project with Ravel to digitize and make freely available case law, which was energizing for its implications for access to information and stoking my interest in APIs.

The AALL Meeting has consistently been a re-energizing experience, just as much for catching up with people and hearing what’s going on at their libraries as it is for the programming. And as with every law librarian conference I’ve been to over the last four years, I left with the sense that we’re a profession that, even when we can’t control the difficulties that face the legal world, we’re a thoughtful bunch that is at its best when we keep in touch with each other.