Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge cafe’

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.


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.


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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On Wednesday 4th December I attended my first ever Knowledge Cafe, organised by SLA Europe and hosted at my previous place of work, at the beautiful offices of Norton Rose looking out on to Tower Bridge.

The reason I attended this event was largely due to the fact that I knew Allan Foster would be leading the session, and it would be loosely based on his Business Information Survey and consequently on trends within the information profession and how we can ensure the survival of our profession. But I was also keen to attend as I knew that a knowledge café is very interactive, and this in combination with the variation of professionals that SLA events tend to attract, would result in an enlightening evening.

As before any event, there was an opportunity to network before we all settled down. I had a really interesting conversation with someone who had worked in the financial sector as an information professional for all of his working career, and only the week before had moved to work for Macmillan Cancer Support. I was astonished at how brave such a move was, and was also delighted to find real evidence that moves between sectors can be done, even when you have been in one particular sector for 20 years or more! Although on speaking to someone later on in the evening from the British Library, there seems to be a view that it is easier to move from a corporate to a public or charity sector role, rather than the other way around, for whatever reason.

Knowledge CafeThe room was laid out with circles of 4 chairs, and David Gurteen proceeded to tell us knowledge café novices how the evening was to proceed. Allan Foster would speak for 5 minutes on a topic of his choice, and pose a question to us, which we would then discuss in our groups of 4. After 5 5 minutes of discussion, you changed groups, and then 5 minutes later changed again. This resulted in everyone having a chance to say what they thought, and in an informal group of 4 it was easy to chip in and develop on someone else’s point, and it was a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. You often brought with you what someone else had said in your previous group discussion as well as your own views, so it was a really effective way of sharing information very quickly.

So the topic Allan spoke on was the key pressures on the information industry, including:

  • Organisational turbulence
  • Changed user demands
  • Disruptive technologies
  • Role competition
  • Ever increasing pressure on costs & central overheads
  • Managerial skepticism

The question he then posed to us to discuss was:

Reporting to a highly sceptical senior manager, how do you convince her that the Information & Research Service is worth its continuing investment and has a future?

I thought this was a very pertinent question to ask, as we are in a time where the branding and image of a librarian to the general public generally doesn’t convey our professionalism (I am constantly presented with shocked faces when I tell people I had to obtain a Master to get my current role), and where users (in many cases misguidedly) feel they can retrieve the information they need for themselves using Google. It is also important in the particularly difficult economic time, where local authorities and large corporate organisations alike are under pressure to make save money, and the value of library and information services are under more scrutiny than ever.

I think what really came across in our group discussions on this topic was that in order to demonstrate your value successfully to your firm, you had to think of the objectives and strategy of your particular firm and how the work you do aligns and helps achieve those objectives. For example, as a legal librarian, I started off by saying that minimizing risk is of huge importance to a law firm. Legal information by its nature is constantly evolving, and it is my job is to ensure that users are directed to our paid for services such as Westlaw and LexisLibrary to retrieve current, validated and authoritative information – rather than simply Googling and using sources such as Wikipedia! One single error by a trainee finding a source on the Internet which contains out of date information could ruin a multi-million pound deal; and ultimately the reputation of the firm. So one of the reasons I would argue to a sceptical manager why the Information and Research service is worth investment is to minimize risk, which is a key objective of any law firm, as it is my job to organise services such as Westlaw and LexisLibrary so that we have appropriate sources of information to use in work for clients, and my job to provide training so that users know the potential dangers of simply Googling for information.Knowledge Cafe

Following our 3 group discussions, we then all came together in one (very large) circle, and various people volunteered to report back on what they had learned from the discussions and how they would tackle Allan’s question. Here are some of the key points:

  • Contextualise your argument in the terms of your particular business and use the kind of language your management will understand – if you work for a financial firm focus on cost and how you contribute to profitability, if you work for a law firm use legal terminology, etc.
  • A point I have previously mentioned – tailor your argument to the strategy and senior objectives of your organisation – what is important to senior management, and how do you help them achieve their goals? For example, if you work for the Medical Research Council, show how your open access policy and information service provides innovation and benefits society.
  • You can take another approach and explore the alternatives – how would it affect your organisation if they didn’t have an information service?
  • Discuss how you impinge on the other departments around you – have you embedded your service around the organisation? For example, do you help the Marketing or IT departments, and have you made yourself invaluable to them? If not, then maybe this is something you should explore.
  • Always be prepared with an elevator pitch (or 5 minute sales pitch) to anyone at any level of seniority – if you have a story of a specific example of how you service has helped, or equally a horror story of how someone used an inappropriate information source because they didn’t come to you, then this can be more powerful and memorable than rolling off a list of statistics.
  • There was some talk that if you got to the situation of being asked by senior management to demonstrate the value of your service, then you have already failed. I think this is a really harsh point of view, and there is no reason why senior management shouldn’t ask this question, as we should be confident in our worth! But ways of preventing getting to this situation was to prove your value pro-actively. At Norton Rose Fulbright (law firm) the library circulate usage statistics and highlight key examples of they have helped users to key individuals within the firm every month – without waiting to be asked for them.

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