Archive for the ‘SLA Chicago 2012’ Category

Tuesday was, of course, another very busy day, and with a rather early start at 8am! I first went to a ‘spotlight session’ called E-discovery Preparation through Information Management and Data Mapping. Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the content of the session was very technical and I knew within a matter of minutes, if not seconds, that it wasn’t going to be very useful to me, and I felt rather disappointed as I had woken up especially early to see it.

Now, in the UK it is not the norm to hop between sessions at a conference – I think we consider it as rather rude to do so – but I was told that in the US that it was accepted practice, and I was advised very strongly my newly made American friends at the conference to leave a session if it was not going to be of use to me. So, feeling very embarrassed and a little guilty, I left very quietly and attended a different session, which I found extremely engaging and interesting.

From Info Pro to Info Hero: 5 Easy Ways to Turn Information Insight into Insight by Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates' session Information Pros to Heros

Info Pro to Info Hero

By the time I got there, the room was packed and there were no seats left, so I had to sit on the floor. And no wonder this session was so popular – Mary Ellen Bates was an extremely engaging and exciting presenter. Unfortunately, by the time I arrive Mary Ellen was already on to point 3 (I spent quite a long time mentally debating whether to leave the previous session or not), but the content of her session was very applicable to the majority of information professionals, and especially to anyone who conducts any type of research for a client, and so I will summarise her presentation in some detail here:

Way 3: Know your audience

As information professionals we are comfortable with lots of data – however, we are not normal, and ,with Google and lots of white space. We need to find out about the client – how do they normally acquire and use information, and what does the information look like? What does the client really value?

Design the information for the client. Format and styling indicates value, and people often judge the authority of information on its appearance, such as if it is an executive summary or a report. This may be superficial, but it is also common sense. Also, when designing the information, think about how you can make it more absorbable.

Way 4: Tell a story… with pictures

Humans are geared to take in information through pictures; historically, we are storytelling human beings. So try and find the narrative of the information – when gathering data, look for patterns, gaps, anomalies, and trends to tell a story.

Visually, there are a number of ways you can accomplish this:

  • Slideshows – look for commonalities in information and make in to bullet points and summarise – think of it like building a taxonomy up
  • Word clouds – visualising word frequencies can provide insight to the information. It can also be good to create a word cloud as preparation for research, as they can provide you with the tone and highlight important buzzwords, as well as allow you to see real trends.

Way 5: Build a value-adding collection

This was largely a summary of what had already been said, but I am going to refer you to Mary Ellen’s website MEBaddsvalue.com which talks about various tools and techniques you can use to add value to information.

Tales from the Trenches: Contract Negotiation

soldierIn my current role I am responsible for journal subscriptions, and I think that as more information resources go online, we are going to have to deal with more and more contracts in our jobs, and so I was really interested to see what advice I could glean from this session.

There was 1 set question put forward to the panel, and then each speaker gave an answer. Much of the answers were duplicated as speakers agreed with each other, and a lot of it was fleshed out with personal stories and examples which I did not take notes on, so I am going to provide a general overview of their answers, rather than tell you what each individual speaker said. Interestingly they had vendors as well as information professionals on the panel, which consisted of Carol Ginsburg, Steven Goldstein (Alacra), Barbara Hirsh, Laurie Leichman, Bob Lemmond and Bill Noorlander.

What are your key points or goals as you enter a contract negotiation?

  • Preparation – have all of the information at hand to ensure a successful income, and have an understanding of what you want and what you are willing to pay. It is also your job to do the homework, and conduct analysis on usage and find out what it means and decide what’s important – what will be the drivers for your users?
  • Building relationships – think of this as part of the preparation process.–This is a partnership and collaboration and work must be done throughout the entire cycle, so that when it comes to negotiation there are no surprises. Remember, negotiation is only at the end of the process. Also, you must build relationships with everyone involved – what will shareholders pay? What does the firm need?
  • Control the agenda – lay out your key issues and ensure your concerns are heard clearly
  • Expand the solution space and don’t feel bound by the operating environment – dream a little, dare to ask and you get what you wish for. As long as you ask politely, you can ask almost anything! Especially if you can provide a n argument and logic for a new business model, then don’t be afraid to propose it.

Lunchtime and the best pizza in the world

PizzaThe ECCA winners decided to do a bit of sightseeing and to try some authentic and world famous Chicago pizza. It was a pleasant break from being stuck inside the conference centre all morning, and so we ventured out in to the outskirts of Millenium Park, took in the general sights and went to Giadorno’s, home to the best pizza I have ever had! Rather strangely the pizza was really thick, almost like a pie, and unlike any other pizza I have ever had, it had a thick layer of cheese first and then a delicious of layer of tomato pizza sauce on top. Certainly one of the highlights of my trip!

Having gorged ourselves on this monstrosity of a pizza (and entrusting Simon to take home and preserve the left overs for us to eat the next day), we returned to the conference centre for the afternoon sessions.

Social Media in Action by Maria Lettman

Unfortunately for me, firstly I arrived rather late as I couldn’t find the room (and being so full with pizza I couldn’t run), and secondly, I think this session was aimed at social media novices and so there was not very much new content I could take away and learn from this session. However, there were 2 main topics that I found very interesting:

  1. There are different ways of thinking of social media; you can think of it as a publishing and distribution tool, or you can think of it as tool for knowledge creation. It was using social media to create knowledge that I found intriguing, and this can be done through crowdsourcing, marrying social media data with other data to discover new knowledge, and even open source innovation where you throw information out there in to the social media sphere and see how others choose to build upon it. A principle that links with arguments for open access publication of research… but that’s a whole other series of blog posts I need to write!
  2. The idea of using social capital as rewards. In this session, the speaker suggested that to encourage information sharing, you can reward it through points, gold stars and badges on social media profiles. Now this may sound very childlike, but, for example lawyers can be extremely competitive not just with other firms but internally as well – especially with other teams and departments. So you could use a reward and/or competition system to encourage them to share precedents and know how, and obviously those who contribute and share the most, wins and possibly gets a star on their profile. Now obviously it is not the points or the stars that matter, but the fact that they symbolically represent that they have beaten others, and I think this may work in a competitive environment like a law firm.
Anneli and myself playing gangsters

Anneli and myself playing gangsters

IT Division Open House Party

In the evening we attended the infamous IT Division Open House party. It was fancy dress 1930s Al Capone themed (of course, we were in Chicago after all!) and set in the beautiful ballroom at the Hilton. Sophisticated and elegant by day, then SLA disco by night. I had been told by many, many conference attendees that the IT party every year is fantastic and it is the one time where everyone lets their hair down and have a whale of a time. I had my reservations, but it really turned out to be a spectacular evening where everyone was up dancing all night (which is the best kind of party in my opinion), and I really couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last night in Chicago.



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Bloomberg Law Breakfast and Legal Division Business Meeting

Tracy speaking at the Bloomberg Breakfast

Tracy speaking at the Bloomberg Breakfast

Monday was the first full day of the conference, and rather nerve wrackingly for me, it started with the Bloomberg Law Breakfast and Legal Division Business Meeting. This was a rather formal affair, again hosted at the Hilton, and I was pre-warned that I would be introduced to everyone as an award winner. The breakfast was a nice opportunity to speak again with Legal Division members that I had met the day before, and to make some new acquaintances. Half way through the breakfast Tracy Z. Maleef, the Legal Division Chair at the time, led us through the business meeting in thanking our sponsors, and thanking and awarding various members who have responsibility within the Legal Division. I was thrilled to see my US mentor Liz Polly win a lovely award, and I remember this session reiterating the impression I had received the day before at the general session, that the SLA as a professional organisations places great value on its membership and displaying its recognition of its members hard work with awards. Of course, my turn came round to stand up and receive applause (luckily I didn’t have to say anything to this huge room of people!), and once I sat back down I remember feeling very grateful to have the privilege of being at the conference and to be a valued member of the SLA.

60 Sites in 60 Minutes by John DiGilio and Gayle Lynn-Nelson

SLA 2012

I then made my way to the conference centre and proceeded to my very first conference session – 60 Sites in 60 Minutes. It was extremely popular and very oversubscribed, with a large number of people having to sit on the floor around the edges of the room as there were not quite enough chairs! I soon learned that this was quite often the case, particularly with spotlight sessions or popular speakers. As you can tell from the title, this was a very fast-paced session which resulted in myself frantically writing down lots and lots of notes that are barely legible when I look back at them now. I had not heard of the vast majority of the sites, and they covered a huge variety; from social media, to personal development sites, search tools, news aggregators, travel sites, fund raising sites, and others I cannot even being to categorise because they are so unique and bizarre. For example, one of the sites explored was ‘Stillness Buddy’, which is basically yoga and life coaching you can receive through your computer. I did not find many sites that would be particularly relevant to my work, but it was a very enjoyable session and certainly opened my eyes to the sheer variety and amount of stuff out there on the web. SLA Europe are hosting an event that follows the same concept which I am very much looking forward to attending, and will explore apps as well as sites.

Seeing Your Career from the Outside In by SLA Fellows

The next session I attended primarily because I knew Bethan Ruddock was one of the SLA Fellows on the panel presenting it. The session was structured so that there were some standard questions that were asked of each of the Fellows (I think there were 4 on the panel), and then they opened the floor for any questions from the audience. I am not going to completely reproduce my notes of the session here, but I will hopefully give you a very brief insight in to the content of the session.

View of Chicago from the Conference Centre

View of Chicago from the Conference Centre

The first standard question asked of the panel was which soft competencies are useful for building our careers. The answers covered variations on the skill of problem solving as the core soft competency – being able to identify the correct problem to address, and problem–solving being a mind-set rather than a skill as we use all of our past experience to aid us in this and learn additional skills to improve at problem-solving as we move along in our careers.

The second question asked of the panel was the importance of leadership. The panel had quite a lot to say about this, but the highlights I noted was that leadership is a process that is primarily about being influential, and not necessarily about whether you are liked or not. Bethan’s view was that leadership is something that happens most effectively when you are not thinking about it. From her own experience, she had become a leader through the number and variety of activities she participated in and by thinking of new ways to improving the organisation she worked for.

The third question was about using soft skills when dealing with users. The notes I have are focused on lawyers as users, and I believe a speaker on the panel used them as an example. Information professionals who work for lawyers must be careful that their dealings and relationships with lawyers do not lead to a lack of self-confidence on their part. We have to consider what is important to our users and what do they really value? The answer for lawyers is, of course, that they care about money. Some law firms charge their clients for time spent and services rendered by information professionals on their behalf. My law firm does not do this, but I do save lawyers time by conducting their research more efficiently and effectively that they could themselves due to my knowledge of information sources, and I took this as something to remind myself when I am ever feeling insecure about my competence.

The Evolving Role of Competitive Intelligence in the Legal Marketplace by Zena Applebaum, Nathan Rosen, Toni Wilson and Emily Rushing

I think this session was the one I most enjoyed for the whole conference. The speakers were very engaging, and the content of the session was varied due to the number of speakers. There was an emphasis throughout on the importance of human intelligence – apparently 80% of what a law firm needs to know it knows already – but it needs a human to organise that knowledge (or know how) and to know where to look for it. This session also put a great emphasis on information professionals being inter-departmental, and not just helping the lawyers, but other departments such as marketing, where competitive intelligence is just as important. When asked for information, information professionals need to move from providing, for example, simple company information, to additionally providing industry analysis and contextualising the company with its competitors, and this is what they referred to as ‘competitive intelligence’. I think this is a valuable point, but I would like to add that providing competitive intelligence is a balancing act; you need to be confident enough that the additional value information you are providing is reliable and offering a full picture to your users. You also need to be aware of what your users want, as maybe they only need the basic company information, and by providing extra analysis you may be wasting valuable time.

Competitive intelligence as a balancing act

Competitive intelligence as a balancing act

Interestingly, one of the speakers compared the information profession to the marketing profession in relation to law firms. Apparently marketing departments in law firms are maintaining their size (in contrast to libraries) and are spending a 30% increase in research. The speaker advised law firm libraries to demonstrate to their firms that they have a strategy, and that they aim to provide value wherever they can in the firm. Librarians also need to demonstrate how law firms can make a return in their investment in libraries; for example by providing tender packs on potential clients and saving the firm time and money in aiding them to select appropriate clients.

To close the session, the panel reviewed that our roles as information professionals are changing. 35 years ago, legal firms did not have marketing directors, and now they do. 15 years ago law firm librarians were solely focused on conducting legal research, but are now conducting business development research. We need to understand that our role is evolving, and add a level of analysis and competitive intelligence to make ourselves indispensable to our firms. Information is quick, but intelligence takes time.

SLA International Reception

In the evening, we all attended the International Reception which was held in the beautiful ballroom of the Hilton.

SLA International Reception

We watched the award presentation to Anneli Sarkanen for the SLA Europe Conference Award, and got to know the Europe Chapter members a little better over a lovely dinner. Later on we proceeded to gate-crash a number of ‘open houses’ by divisions such as Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division and the Solo Librarians Division, which were basically social events with free drink and food. This was a practice that apparently everyone did, as you bumped in to the same people over and over at different open houses – and of course this is unsurprising when food, drink, and librarians are a perfect combination for a lovely evening.

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Chicago on Sunday morning

My fellow ECCA winners and I decided that in order to fully experience Chicago, it was absolutely compulsory for us to have pancakes for breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, and the first opportunity we had to walk around Chicago and to fully absorb the sights, sounds and smells. On walking out to Millennium Park, the city appeared so calm and serene, and it was the perfect morning to recover from the stress of travel the day before, and it provided us with a breather before we fully launched ourselves in to the SLA conference experience.

PancakesWe spotted a pancake house, and I was surprised by how big and extremely busy it was. I remember spending ages choosing from the hundreds of sweet and savoury pancakes on the menu, and when my pancakes with strawberries came I was not disappointed – they were absolutely delicious.

Having been revitalised by the pancakes, we proceeded to the McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center where the conference was being held for the very first time. I later found out that it was the 2nd largest conference centre in the world. Personally, it reminded me of an airport – you would have to remember which ‘gate’ your coach departed from, and the sheer size of the rooms and corridors were staggering. It was so enormous that the centre always seemed to be fairly empty, despite the fact there were approximately 4,000 conference attendees (or so I was told). I was very glad that I had been instructed beforehand to wear comfortable shoes, because there was a lot of walking to get just from one session to another.

RibbonsThe very first thing we did was got our conference name badges and ribbons. There were what seemed to be hundreds of different coloured ribbons that you could attach to your name badge depending on your interests. Their was intention was to be conversation starters and so that you can spot people in the same division or chapter as you and go and talk to them. I think we got more than a little over excited with our ribbons, and the number of them we each had certainly attracted a lot of attention!




We proceeded to the INFO-EXPO exhibit hall to see what stalls and products were being advertised, as well as to collect a few freebies! As I had only started my new job 2 weeks before attending the conference, the INFO-EXPO was of limited use to me, although it was still very interesting and enjoyable to walk around. I couldn’t believe the scale of the exhibition, and we ended up only seeing about half of it before we all rushed to attend the SLA Fellows and First-Timers Meet session.

I was rather nervous as this would be the first time I would network with SLA members outside of the Europe group, and the first time I would have socialised with Americans in a large number. But everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and you got a real sense of community from the Fellows who were greeting each other warmly. They were extremely welcoming, and the Americans are so at ease with walking up to complete strangers and introducing themselves, in complete contrast to our British reserve, that in fact much of the I networked by being approached rather than having to bravely venture out on my own and approach others.

This was also the first instance where I learned how important the practice of exchanging business cards was at American conferences. It is an expected protocol that when you talk to someone, you exchange business cards at the end of your conversation. By the end of the conference I had quite a number of business cards to go through and try and remember which card belonged to who, and whether I wanted to follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn, etc. Unfortunately, the drawback of business cards is that you tend to only get their business contact details and often not their social media details, which would have proved more useful to me.

View of the Hilton lobby from the Leadership Tea

View of the Hilton lobby from the Leadership Tea

I then proceeded to the SLA Legal Division’s Leadership Tea at the Hilton – which was a very posh affair with glamorous sandwiches (if sandwiches can be glamorous) and lots and lots of varieties of tea. It was very strange to be doing such a quintessentially British tradition in the heart of Chicago, surrounded by Americans. But it was a really lovely experience, and as we were seated at tables I was able to meet some of the Legal Division members properly and put names to faces. It was really interesting comparing our experiences of law, and I distinctly remember them being rather jealous of my job title, as I am a ‘Information Officer’. In the UK, legal librarians tend to be called Information Officers, which the American Legal Division members thought sounded very impressive. I remember discussing the upcoming Olympics, and learning about American football and how ingratiated in American culture it is. It was here that I also met my US mentor, Liz Polly, for the first time. Liz was very welcoming, and I was absolutely fascinated by her Kentucky accent. Unfortunately for me, I did not get to see much of Liz during the conference due to the busyness of our schedules and our hotels being fairly far apart; but it was still very comforting to know that she was there to help if needed. I think having a US mentor as well as a UK mentor is a really great practice to help the ECCA winners get the most out of the conference experience, and I only wish I had the opportunity to get to know Liz better.

Awards Presentation

General Session and Awards Presentation

After the Leadership Tea, we headed back to the conference centre for the General Session and Awards Presentation, and for the keynote speaker Guy Kawasaki. It was in a huge theatre and I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect the flashing disco lights and music that we got! What struck me the most, was how happy and proud the award winners were, and how they seemed to have a large number of fans in the SLA crowd who were willing to cheer, whistle and in some cases dance, as the winners went up to the stage to collect their award. This was my first impression of the SLA as a very strong community of professionals made up not only of work colleagues, but also very good friends. Watching the award winners and learning about their achievements was a very inspiring experience – particularly to me as a new professional. I was just about to complete my MA in the UK and until this point I hadn’t really been able to focus on what my next steps would be after becoming a qualified information professional. But this session showed me what I could be aiming for in the future, and it has certainly motivated me in my current work for the SLA Europe chapter as a way to focus on my personal development and as a stepping stone to hopefully gaining some of the achievements of those award winners on stage.

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As I mentioned, this was my first trip to the US, and my first time travelling ‘alone’ (at least, without friends and family). However, happily for me I was going with the other award winners; Anneli, Giles, Ruth, Sarah and Simon.

Sarah, Anneli, Giles, Ruth and Sarah on the first day in Chicagotour

Sarah, Anneli, Giles, Ruth and Simon on the first day in Chicago

This made the travelling aspect much less terrifying and a lot more entertaining. I had briefly met some of them at an SLA networking event the previous week, and of course we had contacted each other through Twitter so we were not complete and utter strangers. I think the lasting friendships I developed with the other ECCA winners over the 4 days where we spent almost every waking minute with each other, was something that I had completely under-estimated as a huge benefit of the award.

Braving the many, many networking events together, as a small group of Brits against the seas of what were mostly loud Americans, made the experience much less intimidating and enabled me to get the most out of the networking parties, when I probably would have just sat in a corner on my own too scared to approach anyone otherwise. Six months on and the award winners are all still in touch; mostly through Twitter as some of them are dotted over the country, but we are all in some way still working for SLA Europe and consequently get to see each other fairly regularly. I think the shared experience of SLA Chicago 2012 is something that we as a group will never forget.

The L

The L

So, back to day one. About 45 minutes in to the taxi journey from the airport you begin to see the skyscrapers. Once you get further in to the city, you realise that everything looks like how it does on American TV – all of the roads are at right angles, the huge number of taxis and the mammoth size of the roads and ‘sidewalks’. The strangest thing I found difficult to get used to about the city was the L train, which was basically an elevated version of the tube that ran all over Chicago. That, and the weird queuing system and different meal combos available in McDonalds, although this may have been due to my jet-lagged brain not being able to cope at the end of our first night.

Mine and Giles' feet on the Ledge

Mine and Giles’ feet on the Ledge

After arriving at our lovely hotels (I got to stay in a Hilton!), we had arranged in advance to go on a 3 hour tour of the ‘Highlights of Chicago’, in an attempt to force ourselves to stay awake and get our body clocks on Chicago time. This certainly seemed a good idea before the trip, but I know I certainly felt like going to bed after all of the travelling, queuing in airports and carrying our luggage around. Despite having a 3 hour tour, we managed to spend a whole hour of it queuing to go up to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. The views of Chicago and Lake Michigan were spectacular; particularly as we managed to see it at sunset. I also braved going on the Ledge, which is basically a glass box that extends out over the edge, allowing you to see through your feet to the ground from 103 floors up. I’m afraid the rest of the tour merged in to a bit of a blur for me, as I think it probably did with the other jet-lagged Brits. But what I do remember is the feeling of excitement at being in Chicago, and the nerves at the thought of the unknown at attending my first conference the very next day.

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

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Almost a year ago to the day, I was writing my application for the SLA Early Career Conference Award (or ECCA), sponsored by the Legal Division. If I am perfectly honest, I had not heard of the SLA before the award, and I really had no idea what to expect from them as a professional association, or how I would benefit as a member – which is exactly why SLA Europe offers a number of awards each year to introduce new professionals to the SLA and to provide them with the opportunity to attend their annual conference, all expenses paid.

Welcome to SLA 2012

When I won the award last year, the SLA’s annual conference was in Chicago and it was my first trip to America and my FIRST EVER conference. You can imagine I was really overwhelmed… in fact, it was such a surreal experience that much of the time I couldn’t really believe that such an incredible thing had happened to me… that I was in CHICAGO and at one of, and possibly the, biggest library and information conference in the world.

This is partly why I have not already blogged about my SLA conference experience, but not fully. On getting back to the UK in July 2012 I was scrambling to write my dissertation for my library Masters and I had just started my first professional role as a full time Information Officer for a law firm. You can imagine the panic I felt both at learning my job and completing the dissertation in time. It has been 6 months since then, and now I am actually glad I have decided to delay the blogging of this enormous event as I would not have been able to do it justice, and it has given me time to fully process my experience of the conference.

So, how do I go about blogging about a conference that caters for all kinds of special libraries; from legal to forestry; from academic to food; from military to marketing; from engineering to a cop who decided to create a library in his police station (honestly, and this cop was actually at the conference!). You get the picture – the sessions were so varied and so numerous to accommodate for the extremely varied membership of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), that it took a lot of planning for me to decide which sessions to attend and to make sure I got the most out of the conference.

PizzaI think the simplest way forward will be to blog about each day – this hopefully means that I won’t forget to write about a session if it doesn’t fit neatly in to a theme, and it should also give an overview of the entirety of my Chicago experience (including eating the most amazing pizza on the planet).

I should mention that I have already written a couple of short pieces on the conference already:

Also, I would really recommend reading my fellow ECCA winner’s fantastic and entertaining pieces about the conference on their personal blogs: Simon BarronRuth JenkinsGiles Lloyd-BrownSarah Wolfenden and Anneli Sarkanen.

Award winners

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