AALL Recap: Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work

By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

During the AALL Virtual Meeting, the LISP-SIS sponsored program was the thought provoking “Understanding Bias in Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms Impact Our Patrons and Work”.  This program was coordinated by LISP-SIS Education Committee co-chair Rebecca Sherman (Assistant Librarian, U.S. Court of Appeals) and moderated by LISP-SIS Education Committee co-chair Nicole Dyszlewski (Head of Reference, Instruction, & Engagement, Roger Williams University School of Law Library).  The panel discussed how AI and bias are defined, how AI can be analyzed for fairness, and the role of transparency in algorithms. 

How do we define AI and bias?

In his work, Michael Katell (Postdoctoral Research Associate for Data Science and Ethics in the Criminal Justice System, The Alan Turing Institute) defines AI as an automated decision system, using the examples of predictive scoring of criminal defendant or the sorting and classifying of job applicants.  He explains that bias comes into the system through human choices, how the data is collected, and who decides how a system is used.  Ishita Rustagi (Analyst, Business Strategies & Operations, Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business) reminded the audience that IA are human creations and urged caution in the use of AI as it can lead to bias or discrimination in subsets of the population, like in determining credit limits or treatment in the healthcare system.  Darla Jackson (Research Librarian, University of Oklahoma Law Library) discussed helping patrons evaluate sources, but cautioned that even by using great resources, data may be collected and used for other purposes. 

Can we analyze AI for fairness or equity or justice?

Mr. Katell suggested using four questions developed by fellow researcher, David Leslie, to probe for bias in AI.  First, was the data collected fairly?  Second, was the AI designed fairly?  Third, will the outcome cause harm?  Lastly, is the IA being used appropriately?  He also suggested researching who the stakeholders are, the people who are part of the decision making and design process.  Ms. Rutagi described that issues of fairness and equity should be considerations throughout the process from inception to implementation.  She suggested the use of checklists to determine that algorithms are equitable.  Ms. Jackson discussed how difficult this is to explain in legal research and how she provides a non-legal example to get students to start to think critically about the design of IA.  She then works with students throughout the semester encouraging them to evaluate multiple platforms for bias and trying different search strategies to neutralize bias. 

What can we do about the lack of transparency?

Mr. Katell suggests that we push for transparency and work toward third party analysis of algorithms.  He reminds us that most actors are creating in good faith, but are also thinking about their clients instead of overall societal gain.  Ms. Rutagi encouraged that we support fairness and transparency through three different “buckets”.  First, supporting diverse teams working around IA, involve experts in development, and make sure there is a culture of ethics in the company or team.  Secondly, creating policies for the ethical creation of the algorithm or collection of data, making sure there are checks and balances.  Lastly, she suggests having an ethics board, audits, and transparency with the public.  Ms. Jackson discussed how this applies to legal research.  She mentioned the attempts that have been made to ask research platforms for more transparency.  However, due to competition, platforms are hesitant to talk about their algorithms.  She suggests legislation that force companies to give more information on the accuracy or privacy concerns related to their high-risk algorithms.  She believes that even small steps through regulations would help.

For more information on this session or to view the recording, please go to the conference website

About the author: Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law. She is also the co-editor of the LISP/SR Blog.

AALL Recap: The Role of Empathy in Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

By Katelyn Golsby, Reference/Outreach Librarian, University of Miami School of Law

On Wednesday, July 21, the AALL Annual Meeting program The Role of Empathy in Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives highlighted the importance of exercising empathy on the path to creating a more inclusive library culture and environment. The moderator, Tina Ching (Law Reference Librarian, University of Oregon) facilitated the speakers Dr. Adriene Lim (Dean of Libraries, University of Maryland) and Ronald E. Wheeler, Jr. (Director, Fineman & Pappas Law Libraries & Associate Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law) as they shared professional and personal stories to highlight why and how empathy guides their leadership practices.

The panel was refreshingly informal and felt more like a warm, intelligent conversation between friends than a presentation. The conversation sprang from each speaker’s perspective of adversity and how this informed their practice of empathy through their careers. One particularly notable moment was Wheeler’s recollection of being scolded as a very young child by his grandfather after he laughed at a man on the street. He noted that this was a moment in which he began to understand empathy. Dr. Lim was able to speak about her efforts to engage diversity initiatives from the perspective of a first-generation college student and as an Asian American. Overall, each of these renowned library leaders explained that the ability to express empathy and think about the experiences of others while reflecting on their own life experience has helped them deploy effective and meaningful strategies to increase diversity and promote equity and inclusion in each library they were a part of over the years.

I think that most librarians can agree that empathy is an important skill for the profession, but it can become difficult to remember when one is processing their own troubles or dealing with a difficult patron. This panel was an important reminder of how critical it is to put yourself in another person’s shoes for both the profession, generally, and to further initiatives which make the library a better and brighter place for all kinds of people.

AALL Recap: Diversifying the Law Library Collection with Intentionality

By Brianna Newcomb

This event, coordinated by Rebecca Sherman, moderated by Nicole Dyszlewski, and with speakers Raquel Gabriel and Anna Russell provided an interesting discussion on how law librarians in any role can build a diverse library collection.[1] Nicole explained that not intentionally building a diverse collection leads to a predominance of whiteness and maleness in the law, and she highlighted the importance of purposefully seeking other perspectives and voices.

This discussion happened both in the context of academic law libraries and government law libraries, which present different opportunities and challenges. The panel did not involve firm libraries which Nicole explained resulted from feedback from firm librarians that law firm libraries are generally not focused on collecting in this area. Government law libraries, according to Anna, can be held back from developing in this area due to the nature of the work the library does. Her library is more responsive to current litigation, which happens quickly, making it difficult to build prospectively. Common challenges to both academic and government law libraries include a limited budget, complicated processes for acquisitions, and the unfortunate trend away from diversity in legal publishing itself. Members of the panel found that as the number of legal publishers from which to buy legal resources dwindles, the diversity of the resources themselves likewise narrows.

Of particular focus on this panel was how to get stakeholders on board with these nontraditional methods of collection development. Raquel explained that one way she does this is by citing ABA standards on anti-bias education, such as Standard 303, providing that law schools should educate students on issues in the law regarding bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.[2] Nicole also shared that she approaches library collection from the perspective of a patron. She asks, what resources are needed to support the classes and events the school is hosting? One example is a class she teaches at Roger Williams School of Law.[3]

This panel was especially useful for new ideas for building a diverse collection. The panelists suggested starting with a popular reading collection, but they also gave many other creative ways to tackle the issue. One suggestion which stood out was to identify minority-owned publishers dedicated to diversity and to buy from those publishers when possible. Another suggestion was to read over and to consider updating one’s library collection development policy.

Nicole also shared how her journey to creating a more diverse collection started by reaching out to Raquel, who she heard had experience in successfully building a diverse collection. Nicole emphasized the importance of getting recommendations and ideas from people in the law librarianship community. The panel also encouraged law librarians in all job descriptions to work towards a more diverse collection, acknowledging that even those who don’t directly work in collection development could still advocate for diverse titles. These suggestions presented innovative ways to think about and to achieve diverse collections in the law library.

This is a great event to tune into if you are interested in brainstorming new ways to diversify your collection. This event is available on-demand on the AALL virtual conference website.

About the author: Brianna Newcomb is a summer intern at the Ramsey County Law Library and a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School.  She will be starting at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in fall to obtain her MLIS. 


[1] Rebecca Sherman is an Assistant Law Librarian with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Library; Nicole P. Dyszlewski is Head of Reference, Instruction, & Engagement at Roger Williams University School of Law Library; Raquel Gabriel is a Professor of Law & Director of the Law Library at CUNY School of Law; Anna Russell is the U.S. Court Librarian for Alaska.

[2] This reflects a change to ABA Standard 303 which was recently approved by the standards committee. View the ABA memo discussing this change for more information: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/council_reports_and_resolutions/may21/21-may-standards-committee-memo-proposed-changes-with-appendix.pdf

[3] This course, entitled “Race & the Foundations of American Law” will be a required course beginning Fall 2021. Read about it here: https://www.campusreform.org/article?id=17742