Thank you, Atlanta!

Dear IALL Blog readers,

The 36th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries recently took place in Atlanta between Sunday, October 22nd and Thursday, October 26th under the very timely theme of “Civil Rights, Human Rights and Other Critical Issues in Current US Law”.  It was organized by the Hugh F. Macmillan Library in collaboration with Emory University Law School.  As IALL President, I would like to share this brief summary with you and acknowledge all who had work tiredlessly to put it together and to flawlessly execute it, and to thank our generous sponsors.

Assistant Professor Mark Engsberg, the Director of the Hugh F. Macmillan Library, appointed Christina Glon as Chair of this year’s Course.  Amy Flick, Jason LeMay, and Avery Le also contributed to the programme.  It has been a great success, and I want to thank once again Christina, Amy, Jason, Avery and Mark dearly.  The kind support of our sponsors allowed us to host the “Dine with the Dinosaurs in the Fernbank Museum” event and to enjoy a relaxed evening of bowling.

The overarching theme of this year’s Course was the painful historical passage of race relations in the United States of America (and in its Southern states in particular) first from slavery to segregation during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and then from Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement to today’s still ambiguous situation (Ferguson, Charlottesville). The current American President’s shadow was a constantly present throughout.

On Sunday, the Course commenced with a Workshop about archival documentation and rare printed works and the possibilities of using these library techniques to educate about current developments (for example, in explaining and contextualizing the Black Lives Matter movement).  The rest of this day was taken up with activities around the beautiful Emory University campus.  We visited an exhibition about the American intervention in World War I; the too-often-overlooked role of African American soldiers in it; and what this exposure to the wider world meant for black emancipation.  This tour was followed with a presentation in which the historical, economic and political background of the legal subjects covered in this year’s Course were explored, with specific emphasis on Emory University’s history (historically, the so-called “Coca Cola” University of Candler and Woodruff but now equally famous for the National Center of Disease Control (which played a leading role globally at the time of the Ebola outbreak)).

Monday opened with a historical lecture. The lecture stated that after the abolition of slavery, with the failure of Reconstruction, no true emancipation of the African American population took place; rather, a state-imposed segregation was quickly put into practice that was eventually granted legal recognition (and even codification). The discussion then turned to the emergence of the “new-negro” in the Jim Crow era (c. 1870 and World War I).  This period is characterized that legitimized violence such as lynching against black Americans. From the end of the 19th century, Supreme Court of the Unites States provided legal basis for the state-imposed segregation to settle the (national-legal) order.  Later, even a great progressive president such as F.D.R was not especially generous to the plight of the black population (contrary to his wife, Eleanor).  World War II ushered the gradual transformation of racial relations in America which rose to its peak during the Civil Rights Movement. Currently, there is much discussion about Confederate Monuments, many of which were put in place to justify and cement the Jim Crow order. How can new policies about imagination of history be created? For this the Yale Principle can help: take into account the time frame in which the monument was established.  The next lecture on profit-seeking and criminalization of poverty addressed the current situation (especially) in Georgia, where increasingly those who are already living in poverty and thus are unable to pay fines (which are levied by courts, who have to run their own internal economy), and thereby end up in jail (and subsequently occasionally end up in a downward spiral, for example, by losing their employment as result of their incarceration). This thought-provoking day ended with a visit to the very impressive National Center for Civil and Human Rights.  This center focuses on the Civil Rights Movement, before and during and after Martin Luther King. Dr. King’s fascinating life played, of course, a leading role, and his method of peaceful resistance (and of tolerance and love) remains a power beacon for many throughout the world.

Tuesday started with a chapter on American refugee law. Surprisingly, the individual States regulate refugee law as there is no federal policy (which might imply, for example, that there is a lot happening in New York, but Georgia acts extremely minimally).  Next, the Health Law Session in the United States outlined how the law determines to a significant extent a changing situation in individual health and healthcare (legal epidemiology), e.g. tobacco, car driving etc. The Carter Center offered a lecture on the worldwide de-marginalization of women by means of Providing Access to Information, underpinned by the Freedom of Information (resulting from human rights). The day ended with a visit to The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. This visit was preceded by a lecture delivered by the curator, who spoke about the phenomenon of Presidential Libraries (and the underlying law); accessibility of government archives – President Carter, a passionate and unconventional politician and peace activist, has always believed that everyone is allowed to know about everything relating to his life (except for real military secrets) and the library tries to follow this view.  In the museum, President Carter’s effort for togetherness, understanding of fellow human beings, justice, peace was well illustrated with photographs and historical film and television images.

Wednesday’s activities commenced with a keynote address. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations states that the convention is for everyone.  On the basis of ‘race’, the comparison was made with universal values and how these are playing a role in the United States. The universal values would be in stark contrast to the civil rights, as an exponent of human rights, within the United States. Paradoxically, the United States (not signing international treaties) has also pretended to be the world leader in this area, and the protection and promotion of human rights is often the stated reason to intervene humanitarianly in other countries. A lecture on Security Governance in the United States looked critically at Human Security, which is not equivalent to Human Rights, because the first refers to policies which precede, whereas the second nowadays is mainly expressed by judicial statements.  In lectures on the teaching of Legal Information Literacy, the currently much-discussed false/fake news phenomenon was considered; and techniques for uncovering fake news were introduced.  The day ended with a lecture (Wrestlemania) about the election struggle between Clinton and Trump, in which a political scientist argued that everything Trump accused Clinton of were already previously known practices and facts. She compared the way Trump acted with a TV beauty contest, Wrestling on TV and with reality TV.

Thursday was the Optional Day, or “post-conference workshop”.  It started with a fascinating discussion of the film industry which is now emerging in Atlanta (or the Hollywood of the South as some call it). Various legal issues associated this industry were discussed including its unique contracts and liabilities as well as lawsuits.  Discussion then turned to what is required to create a film: the writer, the script (often the tension between the original (book) and the actual film it is based on), the quality of the performance, and the legal responsibilities of the actors, producers, financiers, the cinema chains, the trade unions on the set and, finally, copyright.  At the end of the day we visited the famous Ebenezer (Baptist) Church of Martin Luther King.

Finally, I hope to meet you again (or for the very first time) between Sunday, 30 September and Wednesday, 3 October, 2018 for the 37th Annual Course. This Course will be organized under the theme “Luxembourg and the Law in Europe and Worldwide” and the host will be the Max Planck Institute for International European and Regulatory Procedural Law.



Jeroen Vervliet,

IALL President.


This Blog contains entries by members of the International Association of Law Libraries on issues germane to the Association’s areas of focus. Views expressed in an individual entry only represent the views of the author.