Call for Bloggers: IALL 2018

luxembourgThe 37th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries is taking place from September 30, 2018 to October 3, 2018 in Luxembourg.

We’re looking for volunteers to recap one or more sessions for us.  Blog posts are short, between 400 and 700 ways, and easy to do–and are a great way to contribute to the SIS. Recapping a session is a great way to share your knowledge with those who are unable to attend.

We’re happy to have recaps for any session you’re already planning on attending, but think our readers would be particularly interested in the following if you’re looking for ideas of which programs to recap:

Sunday, September 30th:

  • Pre-Conference Workshop, “Workshop on Library Innovation & Robot Usage

Monday, October 1st:

  • 9:30-11:00:  Introduction to the Legal System of Luxembourg and its History
  • 9:30-11:00:  Special Features of Luxembourg Law, such as its Sources
  • 2:15-4:30:  The New Luxembourg Space Resources Act and International Law

Tuesday, October 2nd:

  • 9:30-11:00:  The Max Planck Institute Luxembourg: 50th Anniversary of EU Procedural Law
  • 11:30-1:00:  Privacy in European Cross-Border Settinsg
  • 11:30-1:00:  Traditional Cultural Expressions and International Intellectual Property Law
  • 2:15-4:30:  EiPro-Max Planck Encyclopeida of International Procedural Law

Wednesday, October 3rd:

  • 9:45-11:15:  What is the European Union, a Union of Citizens and States, a New Constitutional Topos?
  • 11:45-12:30:  Robot Law
  • 16:35-17:25:  Lecture of a Member of the Court of Justice of the European Union

We’d also be interested in a travelogue or posts on the visits to some of the tours included as part of the conference if anyone is interested.

If you’re attending and interested in blogging for us, please contact Alyson Drake at with the name(s) of the session(s) you’d like to recap.  Thank you in advance!

New FCIL Librarian Series: Conferencing and Reading…and Researching, Of Course

By Jessica Pierucci

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my first year as a foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarian. I started in this newly-created role at the UCI Law Library in July 2017. The aim of this series is to document my year in the hope of inspiring aspiring FCIL librarians to join the field (and hopefully not scaring them away!) by discussing one librarian’s experience entering the field.

Happy New Year! To start off 2018, this post will cover three developments during the last few months of 2017: the IALL Annual Course, the start of my self-styled “course” in FCIL research, and a chance to truly test my skills.

IALL Annual Course


Sculpture outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Jessica Pierucci.

Although this is an AALL blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate part of this post to singing the praises of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) Annual Course in Atlanta, Georgia, which I attended right after writing my first post in this series.

This conference was a fantastic experience all around. The truly thought-provoking speakers, museum and library tours, and chances to socialize and network with librarians from around the world were a wonderful blend of professional development opportunities.

Given that this year’s conference was in the United States, the programming was focused on U.S. law and history. This was a fascinating opportunity to think about the international perspective on U.S. law and discuss topics of domestic and international interest, particularly how the U.S. is viewed globally and to what degree the U.S is or is not promoting civil and human rights at home and abroad. I hope to attend future IALL conferences abroad to learn about the host countries’ and regions’ legal systems directly from their local practitioners and researchers. I would highly recommend this conference to any new FCIL librarian.


The setting for the IALL Annual Dinner at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Note the dinosaurs!  Photo courtesy of Jessica Pierucci.

Becoming a self-taught FCIL librarian

I returned from this conference inspired by the energy of my new colleagues and excited to spend more time in my self-study as to how to be an FCIL librarian from the ground up. From my background reading,[1] I understand that FCIL librarians made a concerted push in the 1990s to train the next generation of FCIL librarians through a series of institutes and resulting publications.[2] Since then, there has been scattered attempts to create something similar, but, as far as I am aware, nothing yet has fully come to fruition.[3] (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

The structured materials from the 1990s are certainly a helpful primer on the work of an FCIL librarian, but don’t reflect the ever-ubiquitous use of the internet and other information technology in legal research. To fill this gap, I am developing my own self-styled “course” in FCIL librarianship, which augments earlier works with recent materials, and am making my way through this course between my other responsibilities at the library.

The course has primarily taken the form of reading a bunch of articles,[4] select books, and taking time to practice what I’m learning along the way. I’ve found two books, in particular, to be invaluable resources: International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook and Public International Law in a Nutshell. I have a number of other books on deck for my studies in 2018, including International Legal Research in a Nutshell and The IALL International Handbook of Legal Information Management. I’m also looking forward to a deeper dive into the major international law treatises on my Jessup Guide.

If you have any recommendations for other foundational readings, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or feel free to reach out to me directly. I plan to share a list of resources for new FCIL librarians as part of my final post in this series.

Testing my skills

While finalizing this post, I was contacted for some in-depth legislative history research for multiple laws of a Spanish-speaking country. I was delighted to have the chance to really put my training to the test. I turned to research guides on the country’s legal system, dusted off my Spanish language skills, and was ultimately able to find resources addressing each of the questions asked. I had so much fun testing myself with this project and learning a lot about the history of one country’s laws in the process. I can’t wait to continue my self-styled FCIL course and I look forward to all the new research questions I’ll encounter in 2018!

[1] The Education Committee of the AALL FCIL-SIS compiled a helpful list of background reading. Education Committee, Articles Considering a Career in FCIL Law Librarianship, AALL, (last visited Dec. 20, 2017).

[2] See, e.g., Introducing…Lyonette Louis-Jacques as the October 2015 FCIL Librarian of the Month, DipILawMatic Dialogues (Oct. 2, 2015),; Neel Kant Agrawal. Training in FCIL Librarianship for Tomorrow, 105 Law Libr. J. 199, 207 (2013),

[3] Mary Rumsey, Foreign and International Law Librarianship, 25 Legal Reference Services Q., no. 2/3, 2006, at 73, 83,

[4] See, e.g., Neel Kant Agrawal. Training in FCIL Librarianship for Tomorrow, 105 Law Libr. J. 199, 226-29 (2013),

IALL 2017 Recap: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Civil Rights Struggles in the American South

By Kim Nayyer


Professor Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and South History Since Reconstruction, Emory University. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

The conference theme, Civil Rights, Humans Rights, and Other Critical Issues in U.S. Law, was delivered with insight in this first academic session.  The speaker, Joseph Crespino, PhD, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and Southern History Since Reconstruction, Department of History, Emory University, brought retrospective and historical context to our understanding of present and historical race relations in the United States.

For those of us from outside the U.S., Professor Crespino helpfully contextualized his talk with a specific and clear explanation of the Jim Crow era, presenting dates, events, and visual illustrations.[1] Whereas I’d read and seen reference to the terms “Jim Crow” and “Reconstruction,” I, as a non-American, didn’t fully understand the details and historical context. Briefly, Reconstruction is the era that began just post-US Civil War. The Civil War itself was a rebellion by southern states (the Confederacy) against the Union and centered on the issue of slavery. Stated simply, the victory of the Union resulted in the emancipation of slaves and the period known as the Reconstruction Era.


Professor Crespino gives his talk on the rise and fall of Jim Crow at IALL 2017 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

Professor Crespino based his session on a course he teaches at Emory University, and he did an admirable job condensing “some of the highlights, some of the low lights” of his course into less than an hour. The session presented a substantial amount of content, and most of his time was dedicated to explaining the rise of the Jim Crow era despite Reconstruction. Professor Crespino concluded with discussion of markers of the fall of the Jim Crow regime. From my perspective, the session successfully elucidated this history and its present impact for international attendees while—based on my discussions with American colleagues—remaining stimulating and thought-provoking to American law librarians.

Professor Crespino outlined the history and meaning of Jim Crow, explaining that the term refers to legalized system of subjugation and disfranchisement, which followed by several decades the emancipation of freed people after the Civil War. Emancipation began with the 1865 passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. The Reconstruction Era continued with the 14th Amendment of 1868, which granted civil rights and some broad citizenship rights to former slaves, and the 15th Amendment of 1870, which gave black men the right to vote.


Slide from Prof. Crespino’s presentation. Photo courtesy of Kim Nayyer, October 23, 2017.

We learned that the term “Jim Crow” came from a recurring character in racially degrading minstrel shows, in which white actors wore blackface in mocking and dehumanizing portrayals of comical slave characters. Those minstrel shows began in the years before the Civil War, the 1820s and 1830s, in the north as well as in the south. Professor Crespino noted that historians are unclear on why or how this Jim Crow character name came to refer to the segregationist system of laws, in the late nineteenth century.

Professor Crespino devoted much time to sharing his thinking on a question that had puzzled historians even into the 20th century: why it was that Jim Crow system of laws didn’t appear on the books until around the 1890s—after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. He offered several hypotheses rooted in historical context. First, the Jim Crow laws may have reflected folk practices that existed but were not codified during the period between Reconstruction and the beginning of the regime, wherein blacks and whites self-segregated. Some specific laws of the Jim Crow regime in the south created segregated public spaces and disfranchised black Americans and some poorer whites. This is even though in the 1870s and into the 1880s, blacks were in fact participating in public life in states of the former Confederacy.

Another theory about why the Jim Crow laws began to be enacted well after Emancipation and Reconstruction reflected the reality of post-slavery era blacks. Around the 1890s to the turn of the 20th century, there was a discourse of concern among white southerners about what Professor Crespino said was described as the “new Negro,” African Americans who were not born into or socialized within slavery or white supremacy. He described how the myth of the “loyal slave” worked hand in hand with the rise of Jim Crow, and he noted this trope was depicted in 20th century films such as Gone With the Wind.

Another factor that may have contributed to the rise of Jim Crow laws was a growing racist and pseudo-scientific narrative of characterizations of black people. He quoted from a newspaper of the era which demonstrated the racist discourse used to justify subjugation of blacks despite Emancipation. He observed this was reflected in another film heavily criticized for its false and racist depictions of black men, Birth of a Nation.


Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

By the 1890s, those false and racist characterizations of black men had fed the crime of lynching, then perpetrated by mobs of whites attacking black men. Lynching refers to extralegal or mob violence. Professor Crespino explained that, until the1880s, lynching was a frontier America phenomenon whose victims were mostly white, and where law enforcement was insufficiently developed.

A final theory historians offer to explain the rise of Jim Crow laws is the serious economic unrest of the time, which gave rise to a third party movement called the Populist party. Destabilizing southern politics for a time, the Populist movement rose mostly among rural farmers who felt disempowered by the economic forces that were the reality of their daily lives. Thomas Watson, a leader of this movement, talked about the common economic interests of blacks and whites, but did not propose or advocate integration.

To Professor Crespino, the most convincing reason Jim Crow laws appeared so long after Reconstruction is the view that segregation laws were a product of modernity or the growing urbanization of the south in the twentieth century. New public spaces were arising—for example, railroad cars— which didn’t have a history of “racial etiquette” or regulation. This opened the door to the “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v Ferguson, in which the majority denied the right of Mr. Plessy to sit in a railroad car of his choosing. Professor Crespino reminded us that, at the time, this separate but equal outlook was actually considered to be a necessary tool of regulation or government reform, but in retrospect clearly made subordinate and inferior allocations for black people. When we look at the words of the majority’s reasoning now, their arrogance is blatant. The dissent, by Justice John Marshall Harlan, was consistent with his approach to those segregation decisions, which earned him the nickname “The Great Dissenter.”

Professor Crespino explained three kinds of consolidation in the Jim Crow regime. In addition to legal consolidation, seen in cases like Plessy, a political consolidation was seen in the shifts in the Republican party. Until then, the Republican party had been framed as the party of Lincoln, of emancipation, of equality. The Lodge Bill of 1890 was a last Republican effort to empower the federal government to enforce the voting rights of blacks to vote. It failed in Congress because southern Democrats allied with some Republicans to prevent its passage.

Finally, a cultural consolidation, in movies and books for example, took hold by the turn of the 20th century. Professor Crespino referred again to the heavily criticized film, Birth of a Nation and the book it was based on, which actually celebrated the Ku Klux Klan. He described the rise of a new interpretation of Reconstruction. Instead of seeing the movement toward civil rights of former slaves, some people justified their later aims by retrospectively re-characterizing Reconstruction as a tragic era (which Professor Crespino notes was the title of a book popular at the time).

Professor Crespino concluded his talk by pointing to three markers of the fall of Jim Crow. He referred to the nineteen-teens as being the period of the seeds of the dismantling, though it coincided with some of the cultural retrenchment he just described. Even as The Birth of a Nation was screening, political developments began to undermine the Jim Crow era.

The first marker was the beginning of the migration of African Americans out of the south. At 1910, 90% of African Americans lived in the southern states. Only 50 years later, half as many African Americans lived outside the south as in those states, with a population shift from the rural south to the urban north. Because blacks could vote in those northern districts, the US began to see African American members of Congress in the late 1920s and1930s, which led to a big change in the political and government discourse from that of the 1890s. In 1928, Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman, was elected, representing a Chicago district.

The second marker was the New Deal, the programs of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, carried out through initiatives pursued by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She engaged in social efforts and symbolic actions to advance the civil rights and societal participation of African Americans.

The third marker toward dismantling of the Jim Crow era noted was World War II. African Americans served and became empowered by their service to advance deserved civil rights. These were accompanied with new Supreme Court decisions, such as Smith v Allwright (1944), which disallowed discriminatory voting practices, and Brown v Board of Education (1954), which declared segregated public schools to be unconstitutional.

I found this talk remarkably timely and illuminating. One of the most profound impacts of Professor Crespino’s presentation is the sense that much of this history also rings sadly and even frighteningly familiar; it echoes in some of the uglier rhetoric of recent months. We see arguments about the present plight of relatively poor and economically dispossessed Americans giving rise to nationalist or racist populism, for example. To me, though, Professor Crespino’s presentation recalled quite precisely the arguments of Ta-Nenisi Coates in his book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Mr. Coates likens the years of the Obama administration, in a way, to the period of Reconstruction. In fact, though President Obama was in office for eight years, his title refers to the 1875 words of South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller, in reference to Reconstruction and its civil and social equality measures (Coates at xiii).

Coates even, I think, alludes to the later tragic reinterpretations of that era by those who would not want to see a black person as president. These writings echo Professor Crespino’s description of the “threat” of the “New Negro” that gave rise to the Jim Crow regime, likening this to racial tensions and perhaps overt anti-black discourse in the years since the first Obama administration. “Friends began to darkly recall the ghosts of post-Reconstruction. The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history” (Coates at 336).

[1] I understand from a conversation with Professor Crespino that his session was recorded. It a recording was made and will be publicly available, I’ll update this post with a link.

IALL 2017 Recap: Pre-Conference Workshop: Well, Isn’t That Special? A How-To Workshop on Creating and Using Archives and Special Collections in a Legal Research Context

By John Bamgbose


Workshop attendees pay rapt attention to the presentations.

The 36th annual course on International Law and Legal Information has come and gone. However, one of the things that will remain green in the hearts of the participants is the pre-conference workshop, which will remain in the annals of history of the association as the first of its kind in the 36 years of the workshop. On an unusually warm October afternoon, participants gathered from different parts of the world. The workshop provided the opportunity for some first timers to begin their familiarization and networking before the official opening ceremony which was to later take place in the evening. The pre-conference workshop’s theme was “Well, Isn’t That Special? A How-to Workshop on Creating and Using Archives and Special Collections in a Legal Research Context.”

Vanessa King, Assistant Law Librarian for Special Collections, and Jason LeMay, Assistant Law Librarian for Cataloging and Metadata, both of Emory University’s Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library, opened the floor by examining the topic entitled, “Special Collections: What Are They and How Do We Build Them?”


Vanessa King, Assistant Law Librarian for Special Collections at Emory University, presents at IALL 2017’s pre-conference workshop.


Jason LeMay, Assistant Law Librarian for Cataloging and Metadata, shows off some of Emory University’s rare collections.

The session provided a list of conservative and preservative measures that should be put in place to ensure that rare collections acquired in the law library are better preserved.  Libraries must consider the temperature and humidity level of the storage area.  Other germane issues include security concerns, the environmental condition, shelving, and storage demands.  After the presentation, attendees were able to view some of the rare collections, under the guidance of Mr. LeMay.  The resources ranged from paper-based collections of different sizes and ages.  The session further enumerated factors that should be considered before starting up special collections.

The second session of the workshop, entitled “Making Special Collections Accessible to Users: Cataloging and Finding Aids,” took another interesting dimension by taking a cursory look at the technical activities that would guarantee proper arrangement of collections in a manner that library patrons could easily access the rare collections.  The session was given by Clayton McGahee, Archives Manager at Emory University Libraries, and Marjorie Crawford, Head of Technical Services and Automated Services, Rutgers Law Library.


Marjorie Crawford, Head of Technical Services and Automated Services, Rutgers Law Library, speaks during her presentation on making special collections accessible to users.

Mr. McGahee’s presentation began with an overview of the finding aids available at Emory University.  He noted that, while the transition to an electronic system is important in the knowledge economy, it is essential to set up standards.  Ms. Crawford concluded the presentation with some nuggets to keep in mind when cataloging rare books and the available tools that can be leveraged when cataloging.

In the third session, “Using Archives and Special Collections in Your Classroom,” Professor Donna Troka, Associate Director of Teaching and Pedagogy at Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, and Gabrielle Dudley, the Instruction Archivist and QEP Librarian at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, chronicled their collaborative experience on a project called “Resisting Racism: From Civil Rights to #BlackLivesMatter.”  Their presentation was a case study of best practice for collaborative engagement between the library and the faculty.  Professor Troka describes how the collaboration came to be and then narrated the step-by-step process on how the project worked.  Students structured their findings on how demographics, such as gender, sexuality, and race have functioned in anti-racist movements across history.  The course gave rise to a physical exhibition in 2016 and a digital exhibit in fall 2016.


Professor Donna Troka, Associate Director of Teaching and Pedagogy, and Gabrielle Dudley, Instruction Archivist, Emory University, a moment before their presentation.

Acknowledgements:  This recap was made possible due to the efforts of:
  1. Cornell Law Library, which generously provided me with conference participation support as part of the Bitner Research Fellowship package;
  2. Monica, whose camera was used to capture the pictures; and
  3. An IALL board member who granted me her pre-conference slot, which enabled me to attend the workshop.

IALL 2017 Recap: Keynote Address

By Taryn Marks

The last day of the 2017 IALL Annual Course opened with the Keynote Address, given by Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, a highly-regarded academic who serves as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory School of Law, an Associated Professor at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and as Senior Fellow at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.


Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im giving his talk on the dialectic of civil and human rights at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 25, 2017.

Dr. An-Na’im’s talk, entitled “Dialectic of Civil Rights and Human Rights in International Law and Domestic Law and Policy of the USA: Perspectives of an African American Muslim Speaker” (say that three times fast!), began by challenging the United States’ policies and practices on human and civil rights. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its proclamation that human rights should be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” as a foundation for his speech, Dr. An-Na’im argued that the United States faces a fundamental crisis in how it currently deals with human and civil rights.

Human rights and civil rights often interact and the full enforcement of both sets of rights can result in synergies—but, Dr. An-Na’im said, in ways that are not immediately obvious. Perhaps because of this distinction, the United States often differentiates civil rights and human rights, to the detriment of human rights. Civil rights in the U.S. offer protection to citizens and lawful residents only, at times not even accomplishing that. Dr. An-Na’im pointed to racial discrimination in the United States as an example of the failure of civil rights within the country, condemning the U.S. in no uncertain terms.

The U.S. often points to the strong protection granted to civil rights in the country as evidence of its success in human rights. Dr. An-Na’im not only disagreed with that statement, but says that the two are part of a two-way street. Human rights should apply to “all human beings by virtue of their humanity and without requirement of membership of any group or class.” Unfortunately, Dr. An-Na’im argued, the U.S. fails to apply human rights within its own borders, despite the propaganda that it promotes internationally regarding human rights. This can be seen not only through the United States’ dismal record on civil rights, but also in the United States’ reluctance to sign on to international treaties related to human rights. As one of many examples, Dr. An-Na’im pointed to the fact that the U.S. has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Dr. An-Na’im answers questions after his talk. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 25, 2017.

Ultimately, a country should have both strong civil rights and human rights. Civil rights and human rights should not be viewed as mutually exclusive, in that the success of one should not automatically mean the success of the other. In fact, Dr. An-Na’im said, strong protection of both civil rights and human rights creates exceptional synergies.

This recap touches only the surface of the many issues, controversies, and ideas that Dr. An-Na’im brought up in his keynote address. I strongly encourage everyone, even those who attended the conference, to watch his address in order to get the full breadth and depth of his arguments.

IALL 2017 Recap: Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World

By Edward T. Hart

Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World was the next to last program of IALL’s 2017 annual course.  It featured a panel of three law library directors: Carol Watson, Director, Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia School of Law; Kristina L. Niedringhaus, Associate Dean for Library and Information Services and Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law; and Caroline Osborne, Assistant Dean of Legal Information Services and Professor of Legal Research, Washington & Less School of Law.  ‘Fake news’ is being tossed around like grenades, especially by those unhappy with coverage by mainline media, to blow-up the credibility of the traditional press.  There are also incidents of social media being used to spread deliberate untruths to undermine individuals and movements. This presentation was well timed to provide historical context to false/fake news, why we should care about false/fake news, and how to address false/fake news in our information literacy instruction.


Carol Watson presents at the Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World panel at IALL 2017.  Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

Ms. Watson addressed the history of “fake news” and its predecessor, “false news.”  First, to make sure we have a common starting point, she offered the definition that false/fake news is information that is a deliberately misleading attempt to publish non-true facts. But not all false/fake news is bad.  Propaganda, satire, and hoaxes are all examples of false/fake news which are published for purposes to persuade, educate, and entertain for positive reasons. Recorded incidents of false/fake news go back a millennium.  During the Octavian-Antony conflicts in ancient Rome, Octavian distributed coins with fake slogans accusing Antony of being anti-Roman by planning to move the empire’s capital to Egypt. Since the printing press, false/fake news spreads even faster.  Benjamin Franklin created his own fake news while in Paris during the American Revolution to stir up the French sympathy by printing fake newspapers that looked like Boston newspapers but with headlines he created about British allying with Indians to attack Americans.  Watson pointed to the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, “post-truth,” as a sign we have entered a new stage in the information age.

Prof. Niedringhaus addressed the question why does false/fake news matter?  Everyone


Kristina Niedringhaus speaks at the Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World panel at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

knows what it is and will treat it with disdain.  But do they?  She points to three case studies where false/fake news influenced popular thinking of many, well-educated individuals.  They are the anti-vaccination movement, climate change denial, and fear of ethnic violence in South Sudan.  Looking at just one of these, the anti-vaccination movement is based on the alleged connection of vaccines as a cause of autism. The claim was made in a 1998 article published in the highly respectable British medical journal Lancet, but the data behind the article could never be replicated by other researchers.  The original author would later lose his medical license for his not completely truthful study. The article was retracted by the journal with the message that there was no scientific evidence to support the connection of vaccines to autism.  But there are many people who still point to the article to support their belief and their steps not to get their children vaccinated.


Caroline Osborne closes off the panel on Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World at IALL 2017.  Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 2017.

Prof. Osborne brought the panel back to the here and now with advice on how law librarians develop information literacy by teaching their students critical analysis of the news.  One easy step is to teach that we should not depend upon feeds from our social media as our only source of news.  If you have the least question about the truth behind a news piece, track it back to its source and make the analysis whether the source is one you can trust, but does not merely confirm your own bias.  Another check is whether the news is being carried by a variety of reliable sources.  Osborne points out that ‘facts’ are a slippery slope in legal information literacy.  While your typical dictionary, such as the current New Oxford American Dictionary, has only one entry for the word “fact,” the latest edition of Black’s Law Dictionary has the one entry with 55 sub-entries including one for “fabricated fact.”

The program was well worth the wait!  While I have heard other programs about fake news given by journalists, editors, and publishers, this panel was the first I have heard made up of law librarians. Watson, Niedringhaus, and Osborne tied together the what, why, and how of fake news from the point of view of a legal information professional. Most importantly, they provided guidance how we should take on false/fake news in our own work.  Fingers crossed, they will repeat this presentation to additional audiences.

IALL 2017 Recap: Profit-Seeking Courts and the Criminalization of Poverty

By Beth Parker


Sara Totonchi, Executive Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights, gives her talk at IALL 2017. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

On Monday, October 23, 2017, Sara Totonchi, the Executive Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights, presented her talk, entitled Profit -Seeking Courts and the Criminalization of Poverty.

Ms. Totonchi began her presentation with a discussion of a heartbreaking but all too common incident. A grandmother from a small town in Georgia received a ticket for driving while unlicensed.  She plead guilty to the ticket and was fined by the court. Unable to pay the fine, the court placed her on probation with a private probation company. The company added fees for supervision, had her report to a probation officer, and required submitting to drug testing. During one visit the grandmother told her probation officer that she could not make the $140 payment and asked for an extension. She was told that she had until the end of the day to make the payment or a warrant would be issued for her arrest and she would be jailed. The grandmother sought help from family members so that she would not be arrested. Ms. Tontochi’s presentation highlighted that we have created a culture in the justice system where it is acceptable to make senior citizens submit to drug testing and jail time for nonpayment of a fine that they cannot afford to pay.

The traffic courts in Georgia routinely assess exorbitant fines, fees, surcharges, and costs during sentencing. These fines and fees fund various things, such as police officers’ retirements, clerks’ retirements, and jail law library funds. In addition, defendants are often required to pay supervision, drug testing, administrative, probation start up, and electronic monitoring fees. Before long, the fines become disproportionate to the severity of the offense.

Governmental bodies are increasingly relying on the criminal justice system (i.e. police and courts) to fund their budgets. A report issued by the United States Department of Justice found that police leadership in Ferguson, Missouri relied on “citation productivity” to increase the city’s budget and pressured officers to write citations “independent of any public safety need.”[i] Officers were encouraged to write multiple citations per stop and their performance evaluations were based, in part, on the number of citations they issued. In 2015, Ferguson anticipated that 23% of their income would come from the municipal courts. Ferguson is not alone in this reliance on court revenue. In Cairo, Georgia one judge imposed an “administrative cost” in addition to the fines and surcharges authorized by law on people who appeared before the court.[ii]  The judge added the administrative cost to raise revenue for the county, but also to increase his own personal salary. On average, each individual had between $700 and $800 levied against them. The county had collected approximately $300,000 in administrative costs over the course of a year using this tactic. The justice system risks losing sight of its responsibility to administer justice and protect the public when its focus is distracted by trying to fund a city budget.

Totonchi also discussed the criminalization of poverty that occurs through the money bail system. This system allows those who can post bail to secure freedom while denying it to those who cannot afford to pay, leaving poorer individuals to languish in jail until trial. The result is an unfair practice of detention based on one’s ability to pay and not necessarily a person’s flight risk or the danger they pose to the community. The ramifications for those who cannot afford to pay are often loss of job, loss of home, broken families, and lack of medical care. The Department of Justice in Varden v. City of Clanton stated that, “courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment [of] pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, … violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, … [and] constitutes bad public policy.”[iii]

Ms. Totonchi concluded that the legal profession has a special responsibility for shaping the way our courts operate. As attorneys, we have a responsibility to object when we see people jailed or mistreated for inability to pay fines and fees. A system that prioritizes collecting money over fairness in justice and public safety cannot and should not be tolerated. According to Ms. Totonchi, collaboration involving litigation, policy reform, community involvement, legislative advocacy, and investigative journalism have been the most effective approaches to making the justice system address these important concerns.

[i] U.S. Dep’t of Justice Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, at 10 (March 4, 2015),

[ii] Southern Center for Human Rights, PRESS RELEASE: SCHR Demands Return of “administrative Costs” Illegally Imposed In Grady County State Court Money-making Scheme (August 2013), Last accessed 11/07/2017.

[iii] Statement of Interest of the United States, Varden v. City of Clanton, 2-15-CV-34-MHT-WC, MD Alabama, February 13, 2015, Last accessed 11/07/2017.