Posts Tagged ‘#SLA2014’

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?


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’.


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.


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.


  • 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)


  • 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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Quick take – The librarian is where? Supporting clients across miles and timezones by Mary Frances Lembo

I thought this session would be helpful for my new job, which will require a lot of international enquiry desk work serving lawyers in our various global offices. However, I misunderstood the description and it was focused on working remotely! It was still interesting though, as it is something more and more employers are now offering as an employee benefit. This session was also a ‘quick take’ – which meant it was a 15 minute summary of the fuller session presented earlier in the day. I thought this was a great idea as it meant I could attend another session which clashed with this one, and still glean the key points from the 15 minute summary, which I have reported below.

The speaker, Mary Frances lembo, actually lives in Michigan but works for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington, on the other side of the United States!

The Laboratory seems ahead of its time in actively encourages all staff to telework or remotely work at least once a week, for a number of reasons:

  1. They are committed to environmental issues and reducing their staff driving work and consequently CO2 emissions
  2. As an employer, they want to offer flexibility, and research has shown that flexible working can improve staff morale, staff retention and attract the best candidates to work at the Lab
  3. Economically, if the Lab has to close due to extreme weather conditions, productivity does not have to be decreased if their staff can work from home.
Remote working is not always a holiday! Photo by Giorgio Montersino

Remote working is not always a holiday! Photo by Giorgio Montersino

There are some social issues to be aware of if you choose to work remotely:

  • If you are out of sight you are often out of mind. For example, if you are calling in to meetings, the physical attendees may forget to ask your opinion, or even forget to invite you to the meeting in the first place! This can be extremely frustrating, but if more people at your organisation work remotely, this becomes less of a problem as they are less likely to forget you and to understand the same problems you have.
  • You have to work really hard at building and maintaining relationships, so that when projects come along they still think of you. It is important to still have small talk and personal conversations digitally in order to build connections and relationships.
  • If you work at home, you need to have a dedicated space and focus so that you do work, and will not get distracted.

As I said, this session was not particularly relevant for me, but it is still good for me to be aware of the challenges of remotely working for those of my colleagues who occasionally work from home.

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Speakers: Hyoshin Kim (Douglas College), Don Roll (Alacra and SLA Europe President) and Catherine Lavallée-Welch (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)
Moderator: Geraldine Clement-Stoneham.

This, along with the Rising stars and Fellows Roundtable, was my favourite session of the whole conference, which I have to confess was rather a pleasant surprise!

This panel session was full of educational (and in many cases entertaining) stories of mistakes made when working with people from other cultures, and lots of useful information and practical advice for working in different parts of the world.


Don, Catherine, Hyoshin and Geraldine

The session was in the style of a chat show, with Geraldine Clement-Stoneham acting as the Graham Norton-like host asking the panel searching questions, and Hyoshin Kim (Douglas College), Don Roll (Alacra and SLA Europe President) and Catherine Lavallée-Welch (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) as the celebrity guests being interviewed. As with the Graham Norton show, there was a lot of audience participation in terms of both asking questions and sharing stories from their experiences of working in different cultures.The practical tips and insights I got from this session would have been near impossible for me to obtain from any book as they came from a number of different people’s real life experiences. I think this is a vital aspect of what makes the SLA, with such a varied international membership who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences, so beneficial and valuable as an association, and is something they should try and make more use of.


The first question Geraldine had for our very varied panel, was what exactly is culture?

Hyoshin Kim, who to give you a bit of background was born in Korea, has lived in Russia, Kazakhstan, England and currently lives in Canada, stated that the term ‘culture’ is a confusing one in the English language. It can be appropriated to mean or apply to anything; whether it is about more food, music and national customs, or even about work or librarians! As such, it is more of an attitude or a way of mind, rather than a thing in itself.

Don Roll highlighted that there are traditionally 8 aspects of culture, but they can include aspects such as age, corporate, country, education, gender, religion and arts.

Don then used his experience as an American who has lived in London for over 20 years (he thinks of himself as English with an American accent), to talk about how the culture of the City (the financial district of London) has changed. Previously in London, the social aspect of business was extremely important, and so lunch breaks used to be incredibly long and often extend in to not returning to the office at all for the rest of the day (from my own personal experience this does still occasionally happen although not very often!), and the culture was generally quite slow paced and very social. However, over the past 10-20 years, Don has seen the eating clubs close, long lunch breaks down the pub changing to eating lunch at your desk, and the culture has become much more focused on work, and less on socialising – like it always has been in New York.

Meetings across cultures

Don then gave some extremely useful insights in to meeting protocols which vary depending on culture.

In the UK, it is customary to spend the first 10-15 minutes of a meeting on social niceties and catching up with your colleagues. In Southern Europe this becomes even more magnified, having several meetings which are mainly social, before getting to the work at hand. In Japan, developing relationships and trusts is an extremely important part of their culture, and as such it can take years to develop a sufficient level of trust before being granted a meeting at all! By extreme contrast, New Yorkers apparently launch straight in to work in a meeting, without much warming up as it were. Hearing this objectively from Don, who was originally an outsider to the UK culture, really made me consider how much of our culture we take for granted as ‘normal’, and how this may make us insensitive to those we work with from other cultures, who may not be aware of our UK version of ‘normal’ customs and practices.

Meetings across cultures

Photo credit: Office Now

This led on to a question from the audience regarding how can we respect other’s culture through virtual means, such as when you are having a virtual meeting or webinar?

It was mentioned that when we meet in person we can adjust our body language, such as our posture and eye contact, to amend our communication accordingly. In Korea, it is important not to make much direct eye contact as it is disrespectful, as it indicates you are questioning their authority.

The panel suggested possibly setting some ground rules or guidelines that all of the meeting attendees have to follow; such as confidentiality and respectful communication, and establishing some common ground. You can also make an effort to ask someone’s opinion as soon as possible in the meeting, so that they feel that opinion is valued and that they have a voice in the meeting.

Language and accents

Apparently only 60% of human communication is successful between native speakers of the same language – so in the best possible circumstances where you both speak the same language, only 60% of your communication is getting through! It is therefore very important to be aware of the difficulty of communication for non-native speakers in your work place.

Even in English speaking countries there are lots of differences and variations in the vocabulary. Hyoshin told a story of how she once attended a meeting where an English person said he could “kill two birds with one stone”, and all of the Spanish meeting attendees cringed and thought he came across as a violent person! So pay particular attention to sayings and proverbs when you are with non-native speakers.

World Cup themed IT Division party

World Cup themed IT Division party

The discussion then moved on to the difficulty of understanding accents. Of course, some people say they don’t have an accent; when of course absolutely everyone has an accent – it’s just whether you are used to it and think it is ‘normal’ for your area or not. It was interesting this came up, as while I was in Canada and speaking to Americans and Canadians alike, I found that many people asked me to repeat myself – and I think this was simply because they were not used to my accent, and it took them a little extra time to process what I was saying. And I thought English accents were easy to understand! But that is obviously me being incredibly biased, and it is this kind of thinking that hinders working across cultures.

Geraldine referred to accent as the music of language. Growing up in a bi-lingual country such as Switzerland, Geraldine commented that as a child you have the ability hear many different languages and accents clearly and properly, but as you grow older and grow used to just speaking one language, then you become inhibited in listening to other languages clearly. Geraldine also provided a top tip of watching regional TV programmes to become more accustomed with accents, and referred o watching Taggart to become familiar with regional accents in the UK.

Tips for moving to a new culture

A member of the audience mentioned that she was moving to Kazakhstan and wondered what advice the panel could provide on moving countries, and below is their key advice:

  • Learn a little of the language – as this will show you are making an effort and indicates that you are being considerate
  • Be flexible
  • Embrace and be comfortable with anxiety – you will experience it at the beginning!
  • Plunge yourself in to their culture, but also be aware that there may be stereotypes within the pop culture that may not ring true in reality

I was really sad that at this point we ran out of time. I didn’t realise this session would be as interesting and as useful as it would be to me. I have recently moved from a primarily UK law firm with some Middle East offices, to a global law firm with over 50 offices across Europe, Asia, Canada, North and South America, Africa and the Middle East. One of the reasons I moved to this role is the unique opportunity to work and collaborate with the librarians from our various global offices, and not only am I certain that some of the practical advice above will come in handy, but this session has made me more aware of the importance to not unwittingly cause offence, or to appear inconsiderate or insensitive when communicating with those from different cultures. Quite importantly, I must remind myself that just because I am used to British customs, that does not necessarily mean they are better than the customs of any other country!

It was a fantastic conference session, and I hope the SLA will continue to organise these cross-culture theme events; as this is where its strength really lies in being a truly global association of librarians.

SLA Europe members

SLA Europe members

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You may be surprised to hear that I find the Opening Session to be of the utmost importance to my conference experience.

Welcome to SLA 2014Not only does it set the tone for the whole conference, but it was a particularly great start to #SLA2014 for a number of reasons. The first, is because SLA Europe’s Kate Arnold, who is the first non-American President of SLA, presented the session and did a fantastic job!

The second, we had a special guest who was a representative of what they call here in Canada the ‘First Nations’, but us Brits refer to as Native Americans. Elder Shane Pointe got all 2,000 of us at the opening session to hold hands while he chanted. He rather flatteringly likened us to his medicine people; gathering knowledge from the spirits and from where others could not see it, and sharing this knowledge so that all of us can all enjoy the world more. This was a very special beginning to the conference experience, and I think it is important to appreciate the fantastic and culturally rich location of Vancouver.

Sam Wiggins receiving his Rising Star award

Sam Wiggins receiving his Rising Star award

The third reason it was a great start to the conference, was that we had a number of SLA Europe members receive prestigious recognition during the award ceremony of the Opening Session.

When I first attended #SLAChicago in 2012, I remember being stunned and overwhelmed by the vast lists of professional achievements various SLA members has achieved in their careers, and felt that the success of these professionally intimidating strangers would be completely impossible and unattainable for me. Two years later, having volunteered on the SLA Europe Board and Digital Communications Committee, I now know 3 of the 2014 award winners extremely well, and instead of being stunned in to feeling professional inadequacy, I felt truly inspired, enthused and encouraged for my future career and for the whole profession. Meghan Jones, Sam Wiggins and Tracy Z. Maleef are three extremely worthy award winners who have spent an incredible amount of time and effort in furthering SLA’s goals, in furthering the profession at large, as well as demonstrating innovation in their jobs. I feel honoured to be able to name these 3 inspiring professionals as my friends; but also by being their friend, I now know that if I work hard there is no reason why I couldn’t follow their example and achieve success in my future career and even within SLA. I should mention that I attended the conference this year as a result of winning the Non-U.S. Law Librarian travel grant; and I feel extremely privileged and proud to have been selected for this grant, and hopefully this is a start in the right direction!

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