Hot on the the heels of AALL's refusal of Annual Meeting sponsorship money from West, a Thomson Reuters business due to their practice of refusing to submit pricing information to the AALL Price Index, there was another mini-scandal involving the removal of free printers from the Puerto Rican law schools. The students in Puerto Rico were using the printers "too much," so rather than institute some sort of quota system to control costs, they just pulled the printers out completely. Amid the hubbub, it was revealed that they also rather quietly pulled printers from some of the non-ABA accredited schools. Following a number of complaints, including some accusing the company of racism, West, a Thomson Reuters business, reinstated the printers at the Puerto Rican schools and made a statement to the effect that in the future, any limits to the printing program will be instituted across the board.

Almost immediately following the printer saga, an email was posted to the law-lib mailing list referencing a marketing email sent by West, a Thomson Reuters business proclaiming that those "on a first name basis with the librarian" are "spending too much time at the library." Later, a screenshot was posted publicly.

Anne Ellis, the Senior Director of Library Relations at West, a Thomson Reuters business apologized for the email on law-lib, but not before many posts were made by offended law librarians.

My use of the name "West, a Thomson Reuters business," rather than the usual "West" is deliberate. Apparently West Publishing wasn't enough of a mouthful, so Thomson Reuters changed the name and has gone to great pains to use this name in their correspondence and on the phone.

Jim Milles stated yesterday on Twitter "Law librarians need to get over the idea that Westlaw or Lexis are on their side, or the customer's. They're all about profit--of course."

I think long-time law librarians who remember West Publishing, before they were bought by Thomson, as a less profit-oriented more benevolent dictatorship. They're the people who throw the big party at AALL every year, and dole out money to support events. I think even younger librarians are swayed by large swag giveaways and helpful support reps into thinking that the companies are wonderful people. Not to take anything away from the people who work at these companies, and some of them individually are wonderful people, but the fact is that whatever they were in the past and helpful staff notwithstanding, these two companies are divisions of much larger public companies and as such, they are expected to maximize profits. Period. That's how large-scale corporate capitalism works. There is no morality, there is only stock price and maximizing profit for the shareholders.

I was part of several discussions at AALL's Annual Meeting this year and afterward on Twitter regarding our relationship with vendors as a profession, as an organization and as individuals. My own bias is that I believe the culture of accepting tchotchkes undercuts our standing as professionals and in the relationship with vendors. I was turned off to this culture early on in my library career. As a student, I attended the ribbon cutting at an ALA exhibit hall and was horrified by the behavior of the attendees. I watched as alleged professionals tore through a large exhibit hall looking for free junk and running people over with their carts. I think I lasted fifteen minutes before I convinced the fellow student I was with to leave in search of dinner. (Full disclosure: I did spend a minute talking to an OUP rep and grabbing a free copy of one of their guides to Austin and San Antonio before I left).

I was unhappy to find similar, though less obnoxious, behavior at AALL. Every year, I watch people load up on branded junk to take back home and fill their offices. Every year, we go to vendor-sponsored parties and eat their food and drink their alcohol (and have our pictures taken). We come home and fill our offices with the pictures and the branded toys and coffee cups. We, the information professionals who should always be advocating the best available tool for the job no matter who sells it, in effect become shills for the legal information publishers. This undermines our position both with our patrons and with the companies, who have bought us with parties, cheap trinkets and sponsorships.

AALL finally took a stand this year with West, a Thomson Reuters business, over the long-standing issue of the Price Index by excluding them from sponsorship of the meeting. While I commend the organization for actually taking a stand on something that might cost them money, I am with those who don't think we went far enough. I think our point will only be made by enacting a blanket ban on West or any other publisher who does not conform to AALL's Sponsorship Policy. West should not only not be banned from sponsorship of the meeting, but also from the exhibit hall and their annual "Customer Appreciation Event" should be excluded from the official program. I realize that AALL may be including it for convenience of the attendees, but its inclusion gives the appearance that it is an official AALL event.

Yes, I realize that this would cost the association a large amount of money, but last I checked we could afford it. The meeting made several hundred-thousand dollars the last few years, and there are likely some places where budget could be trimmed (say, overpriced keynote speakers) to offset the loss. AALL is a non-profit organization founded to "promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information." It's time for AALL to provide some leadership by example and put some distance between the nation's largest organization of law librarians and companies that sell legal information products to the organization's members.

As an individual, I picked up no trinkets at this year's meeting and upon my return I cleaned my office of branded gear. I gave away or threw out my branded mugs and brought an unmarked one from home (Full disclosure: I sometimes bring marked mugs from home that contain the logo of a sports team or a brand of coffee). I believe that Meg Kribble and possibly some others did the same. I still have one branded bag from a past conference which will be removed when I find a suitable replacement. I urge others to do the same, not as a symbolic gesture but as the start of a new relationship with vendors where librarians do not shill product, but treat each source as a tool to be used for its best purposes. Use WestLaw when it's the best option, LexisNexis when it's the best option, use FastCase, LoisLaw, Cornell University's Legal Information Institute or FDSys when they're the best options. I make sure to inform my students of the cost of Wexis when I teach the online portions of our Legal Research Bootcamp and let them know there are lower and no-cost options for a lot of the content. Most of our students start solo practices or work in small firms. A lot of these firms can't afford much past a Shepard's subscription and I'm not doing my job if I don't point out affordable alternatives. My position as an independent consultant and educator is undercut if I'm drinking water out of a Wexis mug while I'm teaching.

It's time for us to go forward and forge a new relationship with vendors. Think about it.