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Last week I went on a fascinating tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Library, kindly organised by CLSIG.

Bishopsgate Institute libraryTo be honest, I hadn’t heard of the Bishopsgate Institute before, but it is basically an education centre that provides courses and lectures, along with being a venue for debates and concerts and other events. The Chief Librarian, who very kindly provided the tour, described it as originally a Victorian self-help centre for adults, which has now grown in to a home for independent thought, and provides a library and archive on London history, labour and socialist history, free-thought and humanism, co-operation, and protest and campaigning. It has a public library which has journeyed through open access to closed access and back again, and has over 25,000 visitors a year with 120 per month visiting the special collections.

On entering the building I was struck by the inspirational quotes from famous figures dotting the walls, which I think introduces the revolutionary and open minded-theme of the library collection really well.Quote

The library itself has been largely untouched since it was built in the late 19th century, and is a beautiful traditional looking library with carved wooden bookcases and a glass dome. The library has over 80,000 books on London; particularly covering the working classes and the history of the East end, as well as many, many maps of London through the ages. It turns out that the first Bishopsgate librarian was a fanatical book collector on London (not the best hobby to have for a librarian with limited space and on some sort of budget!), and so now the library has become a unique collection shaped around the first librarian’s interests.Special collection

Not only does the collection include books and pamphlets as you may expect, but also any paraphernalia associated with the themes of the collection; such as the fishing tackle, glasses and wallet of Charles Bradlaugh, a 19th century political activist and atheist, African objects and possessions of Bernie Grant, a black Labour MP, the wetsuit worn by Trenton Oldfield when disrupting the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, and even the clothing he wore in prison (as modelled by the Chief Librarian below!) The library has a special collection and plays a role in preserving what may be valuable information about London for the future, such as over 150,000 photos of London, synagogue records, as well as London restaurant and take-away menus that may be of interest to generations yet to come. Much of the collection is still to be catalogued, and apparently letters of Charles Dickens have been discovered tucked away inside some of the books, so I can only imagine the hidden treasures still waiting to be discovered!

Chief Librarian modelling Trenton Oldfield's prison clothes

Chief Librarian modelling Trenton Oldfield’s prison clothes

The library operates with about 28 volunteers (mostly students and part time) with a paid team of 8, which again consist mostly of part time staff. I am certainly going to suggest to UCL, my old Library school, that it would be worth offering the Bishopsgate Institute Library as a destination for student placements or as a volunteering opportunity for anyone interested in special collections. It is an absolutely fascinating library with an incredible collection and in a beautiful library setting – I would very much recommend visiting it if you can, and I would like to thank CLSIG for the opportunity to learn about this hidden gem in the middle of the City of London.

Last week I attended an SLA event focused on the (fairly) recent publication of the SLA-FT report in to the modern information professional. It consisted of an interactive panel discussion, followed by networking with a lovely view of the River Thames, excellent company and some very delicious canapés.

The SLA and FT have collaborated on a research study to explore the evolving value of information management in today’s society, and published their results in Spring 2013. This primarily involved a survey asking the opinions of both information professionals (providers) and senior executives (users). The publication of the study can be found here and I would really, really recommend it to you as it gives a lot of food for thought!

The study suggests that there are 5 essential attributes for information professionals to strive for:

  1. Communicate your value
  2. Understand the drivers
  3. Manage the process
  4. Keep up on technical skills
  5. Provide decision-ready information

Stemming from these attributes, there are 12 actions or tasks that information professionals should complete to develop these attributes – and it is these 12 action points that the panell consisting of Sarah Farhi (Allen & Overy), Janice LaChance (SLA) and Stephen Phillips (Morgan Stanley), gave their thoughts and opinions and illustrated them with examples from their own work.

SLA 1Each panellist picked 3 of the action points to speak on, and then questions and discussion was opened to the floor. It was interesting how information professionals from different sectors viewed some of the action points so differently, particularly with decision-ready information (but I will expand on that later on).

Rather than describe the discussion as it happened, I think it makes more sense to cover the 12 action points in order, so that you can skip to the ones you’re most interested in.

1) Understand the business

This topic is largely hinted at in a number of the other actions, but here are 3 key points:

  • Understand the business and the practice of the customer, and then interpret the information for that user (to some extent!) with that context in mind.
  • Consider threats in the market and react to them before you are forced to act and it is to late
  • Fit our unique skills in to other areas of the business – for example, can our skills be used for risk mitigation?

2) Deliver decision-ready information

The debate on whether to be objective an provide all of the information available or to use your own opinion and analysis and provide decision ready information is a long and ongoing one. People value and trust the abilities of information professionals to provide their own opinions and analysis, and to render the information understandable to the user. Consider the context of the user and what their enquiry is for, and then present the information appropriately for them – don’t overload them with information which they won’t need.

This can be a tricky issue when it comes to an information service within a high risk environment – such as a law firm or financial services. Should we start interpreting information when we do not have law or finance degrees, and encroaching on the practitioners’ toes? If we did, we would have to carry the risk of our interpretation of what information our users need being incorrect, and potentially losing the firm their reputation and work. Sarah Farhi suggested that in these circumstances communications with your users is essential, and that reference interviews, although a historic tool, can be very useful for finding out what your users want and expect from you. Additionally, users are changing. Users previously wanted all possible information on the subject for them to filter themselves, but newer users used to Google and Wikipedia are happy with low level summaries.

3) Actively communication with your colleagues – Know your audience

It is important to know your audience, whether they are users, stakeholders or sponsors/advocates. Speak at their level (whether that is high or low) and use their language to send your message across at the most appropriate level.

Think about how you present yourself within your organisation – if you present yourself at a high partner level, people will see that, and you may be able to help parallel others leverage their products and goals in the hope they will do the same for you.

Make an effort to go to internal events and socialise with colleagues outside of the library service – hear it on the grapevine, learn about the organisation and what is concerning or bothering users.

4) Link your work to savings and profits

Make measurements of your performance relevant and relative to other parts of the business, such as by using unit costs like cost per hours. If you can, find out how you rank compared to other departments.

Also, be transparent and accountable to your own departments with the figures and costs of things.

5) Link your work to risk mitigation

As information professionals, we can provide an objective view within the firm with no agenda other than quality and ethicacy. We should instruct our users on good and reliable sources which they should be using, and equally, we need to teach users what they do not know by demonstrating our expertise, and what could go wrong if they use unreliable sources.

6) Proactively create solutions for the business

This can link to some extent to the action point of delivering decision-ready information. Sarah used the example of providing a picture with blobs to demonstrate the size of their various offices, which apparently the lawyers much preferred to the numbers. However, the risk here of presenting something so simple, is of not making the user understand fully how much work went in to the picture!

Additionally, you need to question your users of the utility of the information you provide – does it need to be repackaged? How exactly was the information used? This can be difficult if you are afraid of criticism, but ultimately it will makeyou more confident in the work you are doing and more valuable to your users.

7) Build relationships with key stakeholders

This is touched on in some of the other actions, but is primarily about integrating yourself as deeply as possible in to the business.

8) Be a technical mastermind

Make sure that you are better than your clients at technology! Customers may want to receive information from you in new and different ways, and you don’t want to create the impression of being old fashioned, so make sure you are aware of the current trends and keep your CPD current.

9) Go to the top

This is asking a lot. However, you need to know your value and most importantly be able to articulate it. To know and articulate your value, you have to know how you fit in to your organisation and how you contribute to its success, and you need to understand and be aware of the current goals and aims of the organisation. Additionally, to go to the top, you need to understand the bureaucracy and who are the key decision makers, and who influences those decision makers and who they listen to. Have an elevator pitch ready!

10) Walk the floors

Network, stay on the pulse of the business and seek out new opportunities to make a contribution.

11) Pursue initiatives that reduce the burden of stretched resources

  • Ensure that if you have self-service platforms, that they are being used efficiently.
  • Don’t feel that you have to do everything yourself – use your colleagues in different departments, and then offer your services in return. Recognise your own skills and knowledge that you have to offer!

12) Change your mindset

Changing your mindset can make many of the other 12 action points possible. Try to change your mindset to that of a business owner – think about what departments/services within your organisation you are a customer to, and can you use that to your advantage in any way? Think about your users as customers and give them a reason to use your service repeatedly.

I think it has been very useful to evaluate my work and my service against these action points, and consider how I may further improve on them. Coincidentally, I have an appraisal coming up at work and considering these actions points has been very helpful to me in setting myself some objectives and goals. It really was a fantastic presentation from an impressive panel, and overall a very enjoyable evening.

Chartership… for some this can be a mysterious and scary word.

During my first job interview following my MA, I was asked if I would consider chartership and I very enthusiastically said “yes, yes, of course, I’d love to!”… having absolutely no idea what chartership was. I thought that studying an intense Masters in librarianship was enough… well I couldn’t be more wrong. It turns out librarianship is a demanding profession which encourages its members to constantly strive for excellence and seek professional development opportunities – and to be honest I am very happy about that!

Chartership is one of many steps you can choose to take after qualification to help you develop professionally and to be recognised for your professional achievements and commitment in the UK. From my personal experience, I had only heard the word ‘chartership’ spoken in a tone of dread, or tweeted along with “overwhelming” and “difficult”. I also received the impression that it was only worth going for if you had loads of experience and was fairly far in your career already. This is not the case!

There are so many misconceptions surrounding chartership. It was only at the suggestion of my friend Sam Wiggins, who at the time had just passed his chartership, that I actually looked in to the requirements for chartership and considered whether it would be right for me. And so I write this post to describe how chartership was such a positive experience for me, and why you should consider it!

So, how did I benefit from chartering?

  • Identifying and prioritising knowledge and skill development

As a reasonably new professional, undertaking chartership forced me to stop and take some time to assess what skills I already possessed, what skills would I like to gain for the future, and what actions could I take to get there. For example, training is a huge aspect of any information role in the legal sector, and was something I had no experience in. Additionally, I had a deep, deep fear of presenting and public speaking, and avoided all public speaking opporutnities. This was something I needed to rectify, and chartership motivated me to really tackle this weakness of mine and turn it in to a strength, by presenting at the BIALL conference and the SLA, CILIP and BIALL Graduate open Day for new professionals. I honestly think that without chartership, I  may have cowardly skirted around my public speaking terror for as long as I could.

  • Reflection

The chartership process teaches you the value of reflection both on your own professional development and the library service within which you work. In creating your portfolio, you become more aware of your organisation’s values, and how your service fits within the organisation and how your own work benefits your organisation. Obtaining this outlook and the habit of evaluating how your own projects fit in to the bigger picture, is a skill that I think will be useful whatever role or industry you are in, and will particularly help if you move on to more senior roles where strategy and justifying the value of your service to the seniors of your organisation becomes a key part of your work. This can also help you innovate, and suggest improvements to your current service or brand new projects that will help your organisation, and will inevitably improve your library’s standing with the key stakeholders.

  • The value of a mentor

Maybe the biggest benefit of going through the chartership process was having a mentor to discuss my professional activities and experiences with, and being guided to reflect fully on the outcomes of these experiences. My mentor Sam Wiggins was absolutely amazing both at responding to my freqent panic over tiny details of my portfolio, and encouraging me to think more widely about my career and where I wanted to go professionally. In fact, it was one of these chartership discussions which made me realise that my work at the time was becoming a little stale to me, and that maybe I was ready to move to a new, more challenging role. A few months later, I have a new job that I love and I am a chartered librarian! Although the formal chartership process is over, I still very much plan on having Sam as an informal mentor for the forseeable future (Sam if you are reading this, I am sorry but you did such a great job that I’m afraid you wont get rid of me that easily). I am aware that the quality of mentoring can vary, but my experience was extremely positive! So much so, that I am considering becoming a chartership mentor myself.

 Chartership certificateSo, what now?

The challenge for me will be to continue taking the time to identify my weaknesses or new skills that I want to gain, and then to motivate myself to take action to develop them. Professional development is very much our own responsibility, and it can be so easy to get swept up in our day to day work and leave our professional development till ‘another time’. I plan on using my annual review as a reminder to to evaluate my professional development, as well as my blog to remind myself to write reflectively about my role.

So although after a hard year the chartership process is formally over, chartership has taught me that our professional development is a continuous exercise, and so in fact it is never over!

If you’re interested in chartership and what it entails, do take a look at the CILIP website where they have examples of portfolios, and consider whether it is the next step for you.

 

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

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!

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!

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.