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Well over a year ago, I was asked to present a session at the SLA Conference on behalf of the SLA Legal Division. I instantly knew that if I did present a session, I would like to host a knowledge cafe. I have attended knowledge cafes in the past where I have learnt about the real world experiences of fellow law firm librarians; and it’s this practical knowledge which I have found the most valuable to my work.

SLA 6However, I was very nervous about accepting. I had not presented at a conference in a couple of years and I had certainly never chaired a large group discussion before. Not to mention that I also dislike public speaking (in fact I would have called it a phobia a few years ago) and I was worried that my nerves for presenting a session would ruin my entire conference experience.

But I have learned that, at least professionally, you should never turn down an opportunity to challenge yourself. So I agreed to chair the Knowledge Cafe.

I was very fortunate that I had Victoria North and Bobbi Weaver as my lovely co-chairs for the session, and we worked well together in preparing our topics for discussion. The way we structured the session was to have each of us introduce a topic for a couple of minutes and then pose a leading question to our audience, who then discussed that question in groups of 5-8 people.

Once all of the topics and questions had been discussed, I then went through each question with the audience; listening to and responding to their comments and occasionally chairing further discussion with everyone as one large group. This was something I was particularly nervous about as it is not something that you can prepare for in advance, and I don’t usually think of myself as being very good at thinking on my feet! But I felt that it went really, really well. I underestimated how much knowledge I have accumulated as a professional in the last 5 years, and I was able to respond to comments with views and ideas of my own.

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Of course, as a presenter it is difficult to know how you came across and if the session was useful to the attendees. But I was lucky that one lady came up to me at the end of the session to give some feedback, and what she said is etched into my brain because I was so utterly shocked and so pleased, that I can almost tell you her exact words:

“I can see why you are a Rising Star, you were born to speak and moderate. You were so natural and clear”.

Now this feedback frankly didn’t just make my day, it made my year!!! Fear of public speaking is something that I have had to get over, and improving my public speaking skills has taken a LOT of practice and putting myself voluntarily into uncomfortable public speaking situations. So to receive this feedback really made me ecstatic. And considering what a positive effect this feedback has had on me, it is difficult to imagine someone giving this feedback at a UK conference. So I urge you all – if you have positive feedback for someone, take that extra minute of your time and just go and give it! It could give a huge confidence boost to that person. We shouldn’t let our British reserve get in the way of giving positive feedback where it is deserved and where it could make a world of difference.

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Below is a summary of the group discussions from the Legal Division Knowledge cafe, kindly transcribed onto a flipboard by Victoria during the session.

1. How can active members of the law library profession promote the value of joining organizations such as SLA to the law librarians of the future and to others whose membership has lapsed?

  • Networking, particularly with librarians in other sectors and industries and having access to them
  • Being responsible for your own professional development and expanding your skill sets
  • Access to vendors products
  • Promoting SLA membership on your own social media and personal blogs

2. Embedded vs. central library – where’s the best place for info pros?

  • Being embedded helps info pros gain specialisms in particular areas of law
  • But how do you ensure a continuity of service for embedded librarians when they are away on leave or off sick?
  • Having a central library team is better so that you have an immediate team of fellow professionals to consult with
  • It was raised that not may firms will have a choice in the matter of whether to embed their team or to keep it centralised
  • Is there sufficient space to embed a member of your team in a department? You would have to get partner agreement to use up a free desk within a team
  • Buy in from the practice area is key for an embedded librarian to be successful

3. What do you do when a patron wants an English version of a law from a non-English-speaking jurisdiction? Are translations reliable?

  • It is difficult to obtain authoritative translations
  • Still requires interpretation by expert lawyers
  • Local counsel websites are a good source for translations

4. How do you overcome barriers to knowledge sharing?

  • There are different ways of working and sharing knowledge for different lawyers
  • Methods to encourage knowledge sharing requires buy-in from senior stakeholders in order to be truly successful – to embed it as a step within processes
  • There’s a risk of not knowing the context of documents, in that a document may not be suitable for re-use in a different deal
  • Documents for knowledge collections could be approved in order to eliminate this risk

5. Business development – working with them or working for them?

  • There’s an issue where the information team provides research/work for the BD team and the BD team distributes that work as their own and takes credit for it
  • A method to prevent this is to provide orientations to new BD team members so as to set their expectations and explain the role of your team – you work with them but not for them!
  • Facilitate training sessions for BD so that they can conduct their own research
  • Look to be given credit for your work – consider branding the library team’s work by using a watermark
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A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend my third SLA conference, which this year was held in Phoenix, Arizona.

SLA 1The European Chapter of SLA generously funded me to attend the conference as its President, but I am additionally grateful to the SLA Europe Board as they nominated me for the SLA Rising Star award, which I received at the conference.

This award is given to new professionals who demonstrate potential for leadership and innovation within the profession, and I received it on the basis of my volunteer work for SLA Europe and for presenting at and organising the SLA, CLSIG and BIALL Graduate Open Day in previous years.

I realise this is no Oscar and that it may come across cheesy, but I really do mean this and want to publicly thank my mentors (and friends!) Tracy Z. Maleeff and Sam Wiggins. Tracy and Sam have both encouraged me to constantly challenge myself professionally, to volunteer in leadership positions at SLA and to present at conferences, even though I used to have a phobia of public speaking. SLA has been a wonderful part of my life for the past 5 years and I really wouldn’t have got to this point without them.

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Receiving the award in front of 1,500 library and information professionals was a little nerve wracking to say the least, but when I did lift my eyes off the floor for one brief second to look at the audience applauding me, it really was a lovely and uplifting feeling! Receiving the award at the opening session was also great in the sense that many people who I spoke to later at the conference instantly knew who I was and congratulated me (in that easy going, not at all awkward, very American way!).

So now I have a very beautiful and shiny award sitting in my living room, but what happens next? My aim now is to try and keep progressing; to keep volunteering with SLA Europe, to keep being active in the profession, and to try and ensure that I have not peaked too early!

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Brighton Pier

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the annual BIALL conference as SLA Legal Division’s representative. Many professional associations invite delegates from other associations (and particularly international ones) to their conferences, and this certainly fitted in with the theme of this year’s conference – Collaboration, Cooperation and Connectivity.

Me on brighton beachAnd rather unexpectedly this theme came to life for me in the social interaction and niceties of the conference. Now, having a few conferences under my belt, contacts and friends in the profession, and some years’ professional experience, I absolutely loved and thrived on the social networking opportunities that the BIALL conference offered. I began the conference by attending the infamous Justis party held on Brighton Pier with the first (of many) offerings of fish and chips, which was so much fun and a great way to meet other people as it was a smaller, more intimate setting than the big formal events of the conference.

PrenaxThere was also the exhibition hall with vendors, who had many games and prizes to be won as well as copious amounts of cake and sweets to be eaten (the vendors had well and truly done their research on librarians!). BIALL also came up with a Magna Carta quiz to celebrate the 800th anniversary, which required you to visit each vendor in order to get an answer to the quiz. This was a great ice breaker to approach vendors with, and I really enjoyed speaking to them and learning of the new and upcoming products out there. It’s also good to put faces to names, when we have worked with vendors either by email or telephone but have never met in person – I feel it makes a huge difference to your working relationship.

Brighton MuseumAnd of course, when we talk of social networking we cannot leave the formal evening events out! The first night was held at the Brighton  Museum and Art Gallery, which was full of the weird and wonderful, and in some cases quite frankly disturbing. The exhibitions served as great talking points, as were the fish and chips served up in small individual bowls, which logistically proved difficult to eat while holding a gin cocktail at the same time (first world/librarian problems!).

The final evening was the formal President’s reception and annual dinner held at the Hilton itself (it was lovely only having to totter down the stairs in high heels and not to walk to a different venue), and this was the highlight of the conference for me.

Myself and Helen

Dancing the night away – Helen and I

Being the SLA rep meant that I had a place at the head table with BIALL committee members and some of the other international delegates. Some of the members I already knew and some I didn’t, so it was really lovely to get to know the individuals I had heard of but had never met in person, and to catch up with old friends. It was also particularly special to see my friend and fellow SLA member Anneli Sarkanen receive the Wildy Law Librarian of the Year Award, which was thoroughly deserved and was given to a very stunned and modest Anneli! The awards were followed by dancing the night away, and I was reminded of the SLA IT dance parties I have attended previously and the great community feel that it evokes. It’s just so nice that everyone celebrates the end of the conference by getting up, having a dance and singing loudly to well known classics. An evening which confirms in my mind that I am certainly in the right profession!

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The SLA Legal Division, who generously enabled me to travel to Vancouver to attend the annual SLA conference, have published my article summarising my conference experience in their  quarterly publication Legal Division Docket (2014, Volume 3, Number 2): http://legal.sla.org/newsletter/lddv3n2/beyond-borders/

I can’t believe it was over 2 months ago! It was such an amazing experience, and re-reading this article, which I wrote immediately on my return from the conference, has brought the memories flooding back.

SLA Europe members

SLA Europe members

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How not to run a meeting: facilitation skills 101 for librarians by Dave Pollard

One of the conference sessions I was most looking forward to was How to not run a meeting. I only need to chair team meetings at work on a very infrequent basis, and it is always a very calm and well–organised meeting, so it was not so much for my work as for my volunteering role as Secretary for SLA Europe that i was interested in this session. SLA Europe has monthly meetings where it is a real mix of board members attending in person, on the phone or via video using GoToMeeting, and sometimes it is difficult to keep to time as we have so much to discuss and so many views that need to be communicated. So I thought I could try and get a few tips from this session that could help SLA Europe, and that I could use in my future work.

The structure of the session was very interesting. Dave’s argument was there are 9 aspects or ‘patterns’ to meetings. Volunteers from the audience acted out 9 fictional meetings about implementing a knowledge management strategy, and then asked the audience what we thought were the positives and negatives about the meetings.

I confess that I have never come across the idea of having an appointed facilitator at a meeting – maybe it is an American thing, I am not sure, but I think it is the equivalent of whoever is chairing or hosting the meeting except that I got the impression that a facilitator tends to be completely neutral to the meeting and can even be external to your organisation. But Dave gave 6 steps to becoming a better facilitator:

  1. Observe the good and bad in meetings and learn from them
  2. Volunteer to facilitate
  3. Ask for feedback on your performance
  4. Don’t try and be a facilitator and a content provider to the meeting at the same time – you must adopt one hate or the other!
  5. Practice whenever you can
  6. Apply the ‘patterns’ (I’ll explain what they are later on) in every interaction

So, what did I learn from the 9 fictional meeting scenarios, which enacted the 9 different patterns?

Pre-meeting

Firstly when creating a meeting, make sure everyone who is invited to the meeting has shared ownership of the issue; make sure everyone understands and cares about the project. Equally, ensure your meeting invitation is a good one with a purpose, so that everyone knows what the meeting is for!

Secondly, provide a context and a history to the issue and highlight the key points. As a facilitator, offer to meet one-on-one with any of the attendees before the meeting to discuss any possible concerns or problems they have before the big group meeting; that way, they can use the big meeting to think constructively, rather than worrying or taking up valuable meeting time focusing only on negative isues.

During the meeting

Begin the meeting by being open and welcoming. The facilitator has the role of setting the tone, energising the meeting’s attendees and engaging them.

A good facilitator always asks others first how they would go about the issue – draw out the thoughts of each person and hear out everyone’s differences. A good technique to use (in moderation) is mirroring, where you reflect back the essence of what you heard to ensure you have understood it, and to allow time for the other attendees to absorb the new idea. You should also accept people’s reactions and allow them to explain their reactions and validate them.

It was also raised that it is deemed unacceptable to become emotional in a corporate environment at work, and particularly in a meeting. However, sometimes people do become emptional, and particularly if they feel passionate about the issue at hand or if they really don’t get on with a particular colleague and if they feel that they are not being respected. The facilitator needs to create a holding space where people can feel comfortable to express both their emotions and their ideas.

Photo credit: Office Now

Photo credit: Office Now

One way to encourage creative thinking or to move the meeting to neutral territory is actually to take it away from the office – even to have it outside in the sunshine! If this is what you are going for, you may also want to allow some unstructured time to let the group’s ideas stretch and evolve.

Invite feedback from the group without observing judgement, and ask what is working and what is not? Ask how they would define success, and how the project can be further utilised beyond its original remit, i.e. can it be used successfully to help other departments or teams in your organisation?

So, these played out scenarios all focussed on a different ‘group pattern’; some of which you can see in what I took away from the fictional meeting above. Dave has a theory that there are 9 group process patterns:

  1. Intention – knowing why we’re here, what we’re striving to accomplish and how
  2. Context – understanding and working with place, history and culture
  3. Relationship – quality of connection, awareness of power structure, sensitivity and authenticity
  4. Flow – rhythm, energy, balance, pacing
  5. Creativity – using everything you have to help imagine what’s possible and how it can be achieved
  6.  Perspective – finding and exploring different ways of seeing, divergent viewpoints, ideas, values and opinions
  7. Modelling – honing, demonstrating, encouraging and exemplifying good group practice skills
  8. Inquiry & synthesis – gathering, organising, distilling, conveying knowledge, thinking, asking important questions, building on what you know, exploring
  9. Faith – trusting and accepting what happens, the process, emergence, encouraging the group magic and the connection

It’s an interesting way of thinking about meetings, but maybe what I found most useful was the allotted time to discuss with the nearest audience members useful tips they had for having a good meeting:

  • Provide a timed agenda ahead of time, and stick to it!
  • If you think certain meeting attendees may have strong opinions about a particular item on the agenda, try and discuss it with them ahead of time. If this is not possible, anticipate the points they are likely to bring up and address the conflict in the meeting by providing a readymade list of pros and cons to save time and to encourage a sense of urgency in reaching a decision.
  •  Have someone in the meeting appointed to monitor those who are calling in to the meeting with an instant messaging system to see if they have any comments.

I certainly like the idea of someone monitoring an IM system during our SLA Europe board meetings as so many of our attendees attend virtually, and I worry they don’t communicate their views as fully as what they would do if they were there in person. This is also good for if we have any technical difficulties (which we have had in the past) and I am certainly going to suggest this at least as a back up for future meetings.

Overall I really enjoyed this session, and I think it was really good to provide time for us conference attendees to discuss and share what has worked for us from our experience along with time for the expert to tell us what he thought was vital for a good meeting. This is where I see the true value not only at the SLA conference, but conferences generally, as you can learn just as much from your fellow attendees as from the speakers. Equally, if you have any tips or tried and tested techniques for having an effective meeting, then please do share!

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For those of you not so familiar with the SLA as an organisation, every year at the conference a special few are awarded the accolade of ‘Rising Star’, for early career achievement and for having great potential for becoming future leaders with the SLA and for the profession as a whole. Members have to be nominated for this honour, and my friend Sam Wiggins very deservedly won it this year, along with Angela Kent and Tanya Whippie, which is why I attended the Rising Stars and Fellows Roundtable.

This turned out to be my favourite session of the whole conference (along with the Working Across Cultures panel session). This was structured so that each Rising Star was paired with a newly awarded Fellow (outstanding mid-career SLA members), and each pair discussed different aspects of the #SLA2014 conference theme ‘impact beyond borders’.

Internationalisation

Catherine & Sam

Catherine & Sam

First up was Sam Wiggins, and Fellow Catherine Lavallee-Welch on internationalisation, who questioned each other on their topic.

So what does internationalisation mean?

For an information profession, internationalisation is about your outlook and outreach; being aware of the global economy and news, aware of international materials, working with colleagues in your international offices, and working with vendors who develop products globally in order to understand how they will affect us locally.

With regards to the SLA as an international association – Kate Arnold is the first non-North American SLA President, the Arabian Gulf Chapter is the fastest growing chapter and we have to ask ourselves ‘where is the SLA going?’ SLA is unique in its structure of divisions (subject divisions) and chapters (geographical regions) and has great potential to grow globally.

What does a North-American (a typical SLA member) think are the benefits for a non-American for joining SLA?

  • Offers a wealth of international resources
  • Fantastic networking opportunities with peers across the globe
  • Possibly there is not a local organisation that fits their needs as well as SLA

How does the benefits of being a member of SLA translate in to the workplace?

  • It helps to break down international barriers and help you to build up an understanding of cultural nuances
  • Meeting people of different nationalities helps to dispel stereotypes
  • By diversifying the workplace, you can better make connections when working with colleagues in different offices.

Career frontiers

Second was Fellow Daniel Lee and Rising Star Angela Kent on career frontiers. Unfortunately their time was cut short, but they advocated SLA as a great resource:

  • The SLA is great for providing practical advice and numerous networking opportunities – whether you want to get in to the profession or not
  • It can be particularly useful if you are relocating to a different country or region and want to meet local professionals and learn about local resources
  • The SLA also provides a good and safe place to experiment and gain new skills if you choose to become a volunteer

I can certainly second that final point as an SLA volunteer myself! Volunteering for SLA Europe has provided me with opportunities to develop skills and gain experience that my current (and fairly junior) job cannot offer me.

Networking

Tanya Whippie and Leslie Reynolds gave their top tips for effective networking beyond the inner circle:

  • It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you
  • Volunteer for an association, and publish an article if you can to get your name out there
  • Discover people in similar positions at different organisations so that you can cross-pollinate and bounce ideas off them (particularly useful if you are a solo librarian)
  • Network with people in your organisation who aren’t librarians; particularly those in the know about the organisation – don’t underestimate the power of sports and happy hour!
  • Be prepared for describing your work to non-librarians (similar to elevator pitch) – always have 3 things about your library that you are proud of!

Finally, fellows Tony Landolt and Mary Ellen Bates paired up to do something rather different to the other pairs. They created a scenario in the future, and a job description for an information professional (preferably a rising star) in 2019. It was very entertaining, but I’m afraid I don’t have all of the details to recreate it for you.

 

I think what I really got from this session was enthusiasm about the profession, reinforced belief that our profession is a great one and it is made up of some very wonderful people, and in conjunction with the opening session it has really motivated myself to think about my own person career and to aspire to one day become a Rising Star or Fellow, and the best possible professional I can be!

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Borderless CI: Researching International Intelligence

This was a panel session featuring Jonathan Calof (University of Ottawa), Adeline du Toit (University of Pretoria), Scott Leeb (Rockefeller Centre), Annie Joan Olesen (A9 Consulting) and Phani Tej Adidam (University of Nebraska).

Credit: Institute for Competitive Intelligence

Credit: Institute for Competitive Intelligence

The session was purely a Q&A between audience members and the panel, so the quality of the content depended very much on what the audience asked! I think it would have been a much better session if it began with each of the panel giving a 10 minute talk, to provide some really high quality content and to give this session some structure.

I attended this session as in my new job I will be asked to do a lot more international research, as my current law firm has over 50 offices all over the world. A lot of the answers seem more applicable to academic librarians, and I am not sure how much of the below is applicable to me, when many of our international offices have library staff that I can refer enquiries to if I had to get some really detailed or ‘on the ground’ research, but here are some resources mentioned that sounded really useful:

  • Geert Hofstede – provides a comparison of the cultures of countries by examining 6 variables of culture
  • SLA International Information Exchange Caucas – of course, if you are an SLA member and you are looking for international information, the chances are that one of the 9,000 SLA members probably is an information professional in the area that you are interested in, and may be able to help via the International Information Exchange List!

Accessing non-English materials

  • Collaborate with local freelancers
  • You need on the ground people in gathering and interpreting knowledge in the local context. It is also important to note that for some countries it is equally important what is not in the media as well as what is in the media, as some government will only publicise the material they want you to see,
  • You need local translators – for example, South Africa has 11 official languages!

Non-English language data mining

  • There is not the richness of data in non-English social media to be harvested for data mining, so there is a lack of a critical mass of data with which to see consumer trends, and so the big companies are not willing to invest much money in to it yet
  • If you are trying to receive intelligence from a particular country, it may be worth contacting the local university who may be willing to look at it at an academic level.

CI & KM

  • Find out what has already been found out – don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Use a CRM (client relationship management) system – have a list of standard questions that you ask each client to find out exactly what information they need
  • A CRM system is only as good as the content that is fed in to it. It is absolutely crucial to insert it in to people’s workflow, and to encourage individuals to add to it by making CRM contributions part of their KPIs (key performance indicators)

Ethics

  • Governments can play a role in providing information to companies depending on the jurisdiction. For example, India, Vietnam and Indonesian governments will disseminate information to the companies who ‘play ball’, and not to others.
  • However, even if you are gathering intelligence in a country where ethical standards are lower, you should try and be as above board as possible as the reputation of your employer takes years to build but only seconds to destroy.

 

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