Saturday, 24 September 2011

Thing 17 - Prezi

Oh. My. God. Yes, those were my actual words when I first got a look at what Prezi could do to my presentations. What. A. Tool. Okay, now I'll stop writing like that, I promise. But be prepared - this post is going to be pretty enthusiastic....

So it's no surprise if I say that until I read about Thing 17, I had never heard of Prezi in my life. Never knew such a thing existed. To me, Powerpoint has its place - like Ange says, it's important not to get too caught up in it and become a bit too involved with jazzy fonts and fading in and out etc, but there's no harm in getting the very key points of your presentation up there, just to give the audience an overview of what you are going to elaborate on. I mostly use Powerpoint at work for some of my trainee training presentations, and sometimes if I am doing a team training session (the seniors/managers all take turns in our team meetings at talking about one of our more 'specialist' areas of legal research etc). Other than that, there isn't much call for it in my particular role.

At work whenever we do a presentation, we are obliged to use a firm template, which means that each slide has our colour scheme and firm logo on it. Obviously something like Prezi is a world away from that, and for that reason I guess I do have the slight concern that while to all intents and purposes, Prezi is the obvious next step for all Powerpoint users, at the same time I wonder how well the 'look' of Prezi would go down with some of our lawyers!

That aside, I cannot stress enough how much I loved playing around with Prezi. I just signed up for the online, free basic sub, and after watching a 6 minute tutorial, started just messing about and getting a feel for it. The thing that strikes me most is just how amazing it looks - if I were to present to the trainees using even half of the Prezi functionality, I am sure I would definitely retain their attention just a bit longer. Funky diagrams and text could even make Statute law training a little bit more enthralling!

I also love the fact that you can embed videos, filed, photos etc on your screen. Now THAT is pretty amazing. I tried just including a Brandon Flowers video on mine - so easy, all you do is insert the URL and bingo! The YouTube video is on your screen as part of your canvas. I love the way you can reposition everything as well and at any angle, anywhere on the screen.

The one thing I didn't like quite so much was using the pathway functionality. It was probably just me being a bit slow, but I had to go and re-watch that but of the tutorial in order to understand how to use it, and even then I didn't really like it. But that's just a minor, personal gripe. Otherwise - how can this NOT be the future of presentations?!! Showed my practise one to Mr Law_Lib_Extraordinaire and he was suitably impressed!

On the other hand, however,  I have to admit I was not feeling the love for the second part of this week's Thing - or at least, the suggestion that a virtual CV could be the future of CVs! Can I just say one last time Oh. My. God. I mean, really? REALLY?!?!?

It was one of the most tacky, cliched, cheesy etc etc things I have ever had the misfortune of watching. If my manager received a CV in that format she would have a blue fit. In fact, if I received a CV in that format, I would first of all laugh myself silly, and secondly, question the candidate's mental health. Sorry, but I don't quite see that kind of thing going down well in a law firm. Maybe one day - but let's hope it's not until I have retired!

As for Slideshare - well, I don't really feel the need to use it myself, but I have to say it has often come in handy to me when I am perhaps looking for information on a particular individual for one of our fee-earners. If they have done a presentation at a conference, for example, to be able to send the fee-earner a link to the actual slides. Great insight for them into what the target individual specialises in etc. So while there's not really any need for me to use it in the law library, I am all for people using it in general as there can be some really useful stuff on there.

In closing, I will just add that while I am all for Prezi, I do admit that just like Powerpoint, with so much amazing functionality at your fingertips, you could get waaaaay too caught up with making your canvas as jazzy and glitzy as possible, that you do quite literally blind your audience by science. I think moderation is definitely the key...

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Thing 19: Catch up week on integrating 'things'

Time to reflect...

I have to say, I think this catch up week couldn't have come at a better time. Trainee training has begun with a vengeance in the law library, and I have spent all of this past week chasing my tail between trying to get my presentations sorted, keep on top of our endless enquiries - oh and deal with being stranded at home on Thursday, courtesy of a cable theft on my train line. (Cheers for that, you copper-thieving w!!**!*!)

Got another training session with our new trainee lawyers on Wednesday, and then another one the following Wednesday, and then a few more later in the year. Our training programme runs quite differently to any others I have participated in at previous firms...I think it's good for the trainees, because they are not utterly bombarded with everything all at once...but for me as one of the main trainers, it feels like it's never-ending! But more about that in another post - I definitely want to blog about the trainee training but not now. Not now.

So - reflection on all of the Things we have covered in the last few weeks. I think one of the things (excuse the pun) that I have definitely got out of the program so far is thinking about networking. I actually attended a great training session on this a couple of weeks ago (another thing on the 'to blog' list...) and I doubt I would have even signed up for the session had we not given the concept consideration in this program. The important of being able to network in our comunity has never been more obvious to me. Making other contacts is good not only from a professional development point of view, eg. looking for a job, but also opens our eyes to other kinds of library work out there. And you never know when you might need to call in a favour! (And vice versa!) Networking is not something I have ever particularly enjoyed; to be honest, I think a lot of people find it tiresome/trying etc, but in this day and age, it's a very good skill to hone. I'm attending a few seminars over the next month or so (one run by CILIP, the other by CLIG) so maybe that will be a good chance to put what I hope are some new-found skills into practice!

The other major benefit I have felt from taking part in CPD23 is becoming aware of a whole range of technology/online tools and applications, of which I would never have otherwise been aware. Jing was a complete eye opener to me and is definitely one which I feel could be used in our law library, to save time on some of the little ad-hoc training sessions we run every time a new joiner comes to the firm - or, it could be used to create demos of particular resources, and then they could be made available on our Intranet. The possibilites are endless.

Another concept I had never explored before was Google Docs and Dropbox. I had no idea that these kind of applications existed. While we don't really have use for them in the law library, as in our law firm we have a very strict system of filing documents in a particular place, where they are either available to everyone/certain individuals/private etc, depending on the circumstances, they have still made my life a lot easier at home! Being able to share certain docs with Mr Law_Lib_Extraordinaire has definitely saved a lot of time and hassle! I think the example I gave before was of our wedding spreadsheet - no more arguing over whose turn it is to log on to my laptop and update it! I think these tools definitely could benefit many workplaces, but not a law firm - not in my experience anyway.

Mendeley has also proved very useful in terms of writing an article. All my sources are in one place, and I don't need to worry about trying to pull them all together at the end.

The other idea that really got me thinking was the importance of social networks. Again it's something of a dilemma for me, for on the one hand, I am uncomfortable with the fact that I can be found so easily on something like LinkedIn - but at the same time, I see the importance of embracing a tool like this, because from a professional point of view, there is no denying that more and more recruitment agencies are utilising it. So while I don't feel 100% happy with having my professional working life documented for the world to see, I am not about to take my profile down because I recognise the benefits. That particular Thing also led me to joining LIKE, a LinkedIn group for London information professionals. While I haven't made it along to any events yet, I would like to do so in the future. So it's definitely opened my eyes in that respect.

The one thing that hasn't changed over the course of the program thus far is my feelings on using Facebook an Twitter in a professional capacity. Partly because, as you know by now, all these websites are blocked in our firm, but also, because I just don't like to mix my personal life up with my professional life. I feel LinkedIn should be suffiicient - there are many people on there who are professional acquaintances only, and whom I would never 'add' on Facebook. However, I am aware that I am perhaps in the minority in this respect, and that's okay with me - I am happy to just take a slightly less active role in the social networking commuity. I feel LinkedIn is enough in this respect.

All in all, it's definitely been an eye opener for me over the last few months. I have been made aware of so many applications that I never even knew existed, and it has highlighted to me the importance of keeping at the forefront of these trends. Information professionals should definitely be on top of these things, and I think prior to CPD23, I thought I was pretty clued up - but now I see I had a lot to learn! Definitely looking forward to the remainder of the program.

And now, alas, back to the trainee training. Statute law here I come....

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Do you like to 'check in' on Facebook? You might think twice after reading this...

So I think by now it's pretty well known that I have something of a privacy complex with regard to my personal information being made available online for all to see etc... You can therefore imagine my apprehension when I came upon the following post on the blog: App Tells You Which LinkedIn Connections Are in the Room. According to the writer, there is an iPhone app called 'Sonar' which pulls data from a number of social networks - and most recently, LinkedIn -  to tell the user which of their connections are in the same place as them. So effectively, all you need to do is check in via Facebook on arrival at a particular place, and someone using Sonar who is connected to you will be able to see this. You don't have to use the Sonar app as well - all you need to do is check in via Facebook.

Now while I realise there may be some benefits to this - perhaps at a conference or other event, where you want to network with others in your community, and so it could be useful to know which of your LinkedIn connections are actually in the same place as you. As the blog post says, the aim is to make networking easier and to facilitate introductions and so on. Don't get me wrong, I definitely get it...but at the same time, it still makes me feel a bit uneasy - it's just a bit too 'big brother' for me I'm afraid. Facebook check in in itself is something I rarely indulge in; but knowing that activating this functionality on Facebook could actually mean my LinkedIn data is coming into play too...hmmm. Call me old fashioned, but our data and actual physical whereabouts is just getting a little too available at times for my liking...

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Thing 18 - Jing / screen capture / podcasts (making and following them)

Law library podcasts?

Wow - even including the postponed Thing 17, we don't have many 'Things' left! Can't believe how quickly time is passing...

I have to say, I am really intrigued by Jing - I had NO IDEA that making a visual demo of, say, a particular website, was something that could be done so easily. I don't have a microphone so I cannot do anything with audio, but if we were allowed to incorporate that into the law library, I strongly believe that it would give a lot of value to the fee-earners. There are so many databases that we have to give the same training on throughout the year. Sometimes lawyers just want a refresher - if they have used the resource before, then they just want a reminder of the functionality to ensure they are getting the best out of it. Then there are others who are completely unfamiliar with some resources, so we are starting from scratch. I really do think that there is a lot of scope for us creating demonstrations for at least one of those categories of users - perhaps the refresher training. It is something that the fee-earners could watch at their desk as well, which would be far easier than trying to pin them down to a time for us to come and see them. (You have no idea how good it would be to alleviate that side of things - I have been known to spend weeks hounding certain fee-earners to commit to a short training session!)

I think the only problem would be convincing IT of the merits of this software...

Yet again this is something I was woefully ignorant of. I did pretty much know what they were, but I have never investigated them, only heard people talking about them. Also my iPod is so old that I wasn't even sure it would be set up to handle podcasts!! From a personal point of view, I don't really see the appeal - I am a strictly music kind of girl when I am commuting to work/walking about, and I just don't like the idea of having to concentrate on what a person is saying. Call me lazy but...!

That having been said, the series of podcasts that Maria mentions by the Careers Group - University of London, does sound like it could be interesting from a professional development of view. I do see why it is like an easy way of keeping up with things, because you are definitely using your time on trains etc much better than someone like me who just listens to endless music!

With regard to using podcasts in our workplace, unlike the screencast videos, I am less convinced of the merits of podcasting in the law library. I really don't see any need for this - nor can I see any fee-earners ever taking to the concept. I don't think it would make sense for any of the training we do. Perhaps it would be good as a standard introduction to our department and all that we do - but we do that in a new person's first week at the firm anyway. I don't think a podcast would add more to what we do already in this case.

Definitely found this week's Thing very enjoyable and interesting. It's great to be introduced to more tools, particularly ones that I had no idea existed OR just hadn't bothered to ever explore. And while I am not convinced of the benefits of podcasting myself, I can see why some people find it a great way of taking in information on the move.

I am really excited about the discovery of Jing, and would definitely like to broach it with my managers, to see if they think there is capacity for using it. Watch this space...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Future of Content Aggregation - 2011 Lexis Nexis White Paper

Is free information really all we need?

I obtained a copy of the above White Paper that explores the future of content aggregation in an age in which we have reams of 'free' information at our fingertips. I found this particularly interesting because this is something that we are constantly coming across in the law library. With so much information available on 'free' sites, there is always the danger that trainees and fee-earners will just rely on this, because sometimes they think it's easier to do a Google search, than a more tailored search on one of our subscription databases. While free information can be authoritative, there is still a huge amount that should not be relied on for legal research - so we often find we are valiantly trying to impart this to trainees as soon as they enter the firm, in the hope that it will mean they develop good habits from the outset.

The White Paper contains data collated via a Panel set up to represent the information profession, called 'The Voice of the Information Professional'.

'Content aggregation' is where publishers make their publications available via a paid-for database - the content is licensed to the provider, and the publishers are paid royalties. The other way that publishers make their content available is by putting it behind a paywall, so much like The Times newspaper did last year. Sometimes when this happens, it is removed from the content aggregators, but not always.

Free Information - how reliable is it?
The Panel were asked 'do you trust free information for work tasks?' 96% of respondents 'sometimes' trust free information for work tasks. I would say this is the view I woul have given as well. Obviously wherever possible, you want to be extracting information from an 'authoritative' source - so for example, I would rather refer a fee-earner to information from a journal article from Westlaw, or a note on PLC, than a random website that could have been written by a teenager! However, that having been said, it is a regular occurence that we get asked a number of weird and wonderful legal research/company information questions, and sometimes there just isn't any information on the more authoritative sources - so it's time like that where I will often have no choice but to use information from a more unknown source. I think so long as the fee-earner is aware of this, it is a reasonable option.

The White Paper also questioned the panel on what kind of 'free' information they would be more inclined to trust. It was generally agreed that content found on goverment-maintained websites, professional news firms such as Reuters or Bloomberg, and content on sites such as the BBC, can be considered 'highly' trustworthy.

The downside of 'free' information
One of the main problems surrounding free information is that it is not designed for the kind of research carried out by information professionals - it is far more focused on just providing an overview of what's going on in the world to the average member of the public sitting at his or her desk at lunchtime. The information is not stored in such a way that always makes finding it easy - therefore carrying out research on such websites can be time consuming and frustrating. This is often because the information is not indexed as well as it is on a content aggregation website. There's also the problem of inconsistency in terms of archiving: "Different websites have different approaches to archiving, and an article found online today may not be available tomorrow."

The benefits of using a content aggregator
The paper sums up the benefits for the user of a content aggregator, by breaking down the argument for why content aggregation is something worth paying for. They create a 'Value Chain' which charts the advantages of using this kind of provider, as opposed to trying to conduct your research over separate websites, all with separate access policies.

1. Save time
2. Save money
3. Increase search accuracy
4. Access an extensive archive
5. Have a single point of access

The Panel were also asked if they believe that a paid-for content aggregator saves times, and 77% said they believed that this does save time in terms of carrying out searches, and the set of results they receive back. Interestingly, the question was also asked whether or not they go to a content aggregator to look for a particular source, even if it may be on the web - and apparently 50% replied yes to this. Lexis Nexis claim that this highlights the value of content aggregation in today's environment - even when so much is apparently available 'free'.

Speaking from my own point of view, I would definitely say that I think the fact that the search interface on a content aggregation website is so good, means that I feel more confident that the searches I am running are going to bring back all of the results that are relevant. A particular publication might well be searchable online, and it might even be possible to obtain the full text of an item in this way. If I know exactly the item I am looking for, then I might well just get it from the 'free' source - particularly because on some of our content aggregation websites, we try and charge back any searches - and in this cost-conscious climate, the fee-earners are always happy if I can avoid doing so! But if I am just searching for articles on a particular topic, for example, I wouldn't be happy about just relying on Google, or Google News. I might well use it as a back up - so I often run searches firstly on the paid-for databases, and then supplement this with the free searches - but never the other way round.

Obviously it always depends on how much time you have, how in-depth your fee-earner wants you to go, and if there is a means of charging back any searches that incur costs. But speaking very generally, I can see where the opinion given in the White Paper is coming from.

Downside to content aggregation: vanishing publications
The Paper also discusses what many people believe is a big disadvantage to services offered by Lexis Nexis, Sweet and Maxwell etc - and that is that sometimes, titles that were once available on there suddenly disappear. Some argue that this is a clear reason why in the age of free information, content aggregation is obviously becoming less important. However, this Paper claims that the main reason for titles suddenly disappearing is simply that they stop being published, or the provider changes publisher and licenses the content to another content aggregator. Sometimes a publisher will also decide to license their own content directly. The argument is simply that new titles become available just as often as others go away, and therefore it is not an indication of the decline of content aggregators.

The future of content aggregation
Lexis Nexis maintain that information professionals can further the case for content aggregators within their organisations. They state that senior management need to understand that 'generic information' does not have the 'added value' that aggregated intelligence can provide. For example, a company report prepared by an authoritative commercial company information and intelligence provider adds so much more than simply giving a fee-earner a set of annual returns on that company, for example. It's time saving as a lot of the work has been done already, so it saves time AND costs, as the information professional doesn't have to spend so long piecing together a lot of information from different sources.

I think there is some truth in this, but at the same time, in our law library, we are always wary of some company information providers, simply because it isn't always clear how authoritative the sources of their information are - sometimes the info doesn't come from the primary source, eg. an annual return - so while yes, there's no denying these flashy, all singing and dancing company information reports can be very useful indeed, you always want to be sure that the sources are authoritative. So my point is, sometimes a set of annual returns being pieced together might well be more time-consuming - but at least you know you have taken your info from a known source.

Anyway, Lexis Nexis end the Paper by outlining the key areas that content aggregators need to focus on going forward:

- Continue to ensure that searching and indexing capabilities develop and keep meeting end user needs
- Retain supply of content through forging strong alliances with publishers
- Address the challenges of incorporating social and online media - there's a lot of information available via these channels
- Invest in their products in order to differentiate themselves from low-cost and free services.
- Build products and solutions that are specifically tailored to particular job functions

There is little doubt that this is a hugely topical issue for law librarians. Content aggregation vs free information, in a very cost-conscious climate, is something that poses a ongoing dilemma for the law librarian who is trying to ensure that they provide their fee-earners with authoritative information - but at the same time keeping costs at a minimum. Lexis Nexis appear to realise that providers like themselves are facing many challenges in order to ensure that customers continue to be able to justify paying for their services in today's environment.

Image courtesy of Graur Cordin:

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Thing 16: Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published

Library advocacy: I am ashamed to say that until I read Lauren's post this week, I had never really considered if there was some way I could get involved. As she correctly points out, a lot of recent activities thanks to the public library closures are a bit more like activism than advocacy, and I think it is really helpful that she provided some definition on what advocacy actually means and how we could get involved.

The topic of advocacy can be applied both to my own profession, and to the wider library community. With respect to the public library campaigns, I cannot express enough how much I think these are important. I am sure this is something that a lot of us librarians say, to the point I feel a bit cliched saying it! - but I have been a regular user of the library all my life, and I would be gutted if our local one had been closed. As it is the opening hours have been slashed, but I still feel lucky to have it at all. At the risk of sounding like someone's grandmother, I genuinely believe that so many kids today miss out by not being taken to the library. When I was little, going every Saturday with my dad was one of the things I looked forward to most. And nowadays, even if a kid doesn't want to read, there are still so many other things offered in many libraries now - can't say that I am happy about internet access and so on, but if it gets people using the library, then so be it I guess. But it really does infuriate me when people say that libraries are superfluous in today's society because soon, we'll all have e-readers and with regard to obtaining information, 'everything is online'. AAAAGGGHHH!!!

It does make me pretty sad when I think about how my kids will probably never touch an encyclopaedia for a school project - will they even be taught how to use one at school?? 

That's one of the reasons that I found the Thing 16 post so interesting. I had never heard of the 'That's Not Online' project (although it does make me laugh that it is online!) - but in all seriousness, initiatives like that are exactly what is needed to drive the point home - that while the Internet is obviously another world away from what I had available to me when I was growing up, there is still a need for physical libraries; they still have a lot to offer.

Advocacy in the legal information world
It goes without saying that I have a strong interest in ensuring that law librarians continue to be regarded as a vital cog in the law firm machine. This is something that has been discussed over the years in the professional journals, and is the main reason why there is a constant pressure on us to ensure that we prove our worth to the fee-earners. The recession has led to many acquaintances being made redundant and it is frightening to realise that when it comes to looking for ways to cut costs, the library and its budget seem to be at the top many partners' lists. In my current firm I am fortunate to have a department director who is utterly committed to ensuring that our department exceeds any expectations placed upon us. But even so, we recently had to cope with the suggestion of our library space being reduced to make room for more desks...apparently because 'no one uses the books'.!!!!!! Well that's the view of one fee-earner; fortunately not the majority whose practice areas do actually necessitate the use of textbooks!

There is no doubt that advocating for libraries as a whole has never been more topical. The recession has had a huge impact on our profession, and it's heartening to read about the various initiatives out there which are trying to secure the future of the industry. One of the things I shall take from reading about this topic this week, is giving some thought to how I could promote the law library profession. It was interesting to hear about how people have been published, and I like the idea that even keeping this blog up to date with some of the things I am involved with within the profession is contributing to public awareness.

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Thing 15: Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events

Over the years as a law librarian, I have attended a number of different events, although until recently, they were predominantly focused at people working in the legal information domain. Since beginning Chartership, I have begun to understood the benefits in terms of networking, among other things, of going to more general library/information events.

The events I have got the most out of are probably ones which have taught me a new skill, or been a kind of refresher on a particular area of law or legal research. CLIG have run a number of evening seminars over the years on things like researching company financial information, employment law and other areas of relevance to the law firms I have worked in. BIALL, our main legal professional association, also run similar sessions, and, of course, the annual two day Conference. The BIALL Conference is one of the main events in the legal information world, and is definitely one I would like to keep in mind for the future. Unfortunately in the last few years, the credit crunch has meant that spending on such things has been curtailed, therefore getting along to the more expensive events is a bit more problematic than it was when I first started out...

I definitely think there is a lot to be said though, to NOT limiting yourself to events that relate only to your specific profession. One of the best networking opportunities I have had was when I went to one of CILIP's Chartership events - it was a real pleasure to get the chance to talk to people who work in the library/information world, but have a completely different take on it compared to you. I am looking forward to attending a time management session later in the month.

I have a lot of admiration for people who present at conferences/seminars etc. In all honesty it's not something I have considered at this stage of my career. I really enjoyed reading Katie's CPD23 post this week though, because she gave some really excellent  tips on how to go about getting prepared for such an event - but right now, I am not sure it's something I would go for - probably because I don't feel I know enough about one thing to merit being up on a stage lecturing others! Maybe that feeling will change in time. It is certainly encouraging to read what Katie said, about just being a professional means that you may have more to talk about than you think! I would like to think that maybe some day I could do it, as I am sure the feeling of achievement after undertaking such a task would be very satisfying.

If I were to choose an area to talk about, I think it would probably be related to some kind of examination of the role of the Information Professional in law firms - just unsure as to what specifically! I would definitely want to stick to what I know best, and I think experience does count for a lot, so having worked in a few different law libraries/law firms, perhaps I do have more to share than I think!

Conferences/events I would like to attend
As mentioned above, I think attending the whole BIALL Conference would be a very enriching experience, as in years gone by I have looked at the programme of events and there are always some sessions that sound like they would be very interesting. Another one I have developed an interest in the more I hear about it, is the SLA Conference, but unfortunately I think that is definitely out of the budget at present!

This has been a really thought provoking Thing this week - simply because reading Katie's post is the first time that I have ever even considered the idea that I might be 'qualified' enough to present at an event of any kind. This is one of the things I love about the CPD23 programme in general - that it's making me think about things that otherwise would never even have been on my radar, most likely!

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