Sunday, 22 April 2012

Time to learn computing

So as our technology practice grows, we find that we are being forced to brush up (or in my case, just acquire some!) knowledge on the concept of  'cloud computing'. Now if you're anything like me, i.e. not a technophobe but not exactly on the cutting edge of every new technological development, then the term 'cloud computing' might be a bit hazy for you. One of my colleagues who is very 'techy' - although I doubt he would appreciate that tag! - explained the concept in very simple terms for me.

Basically he said to imagine 'the cloud' as a virtual filing cabinet - so basically, you can store music/documents etc in the cloud, instead of having, say, a physical hard drive to back them up on. There are some free cloud providers or you can pay for them.The main benefit is, though that it means your files are accessible anywhere - it means you don't have to be on your home PC, for example, to access that Word document you were working on last night. And so on and so forth.

Not surprisingly, however, with this major new concept comes a whole host of legal issues, everything from data protection and data security, to environmental concerns - indeed only this weekend Greenpeace have spoken out about concerns that big companies who provide cloud services, are using too much coal as opposed to 'cleaner' sources.

One of the issues of most interest to me in terms of the intellectual property research I often do, is the implications for copyright infringement - who is responsible for illegal material stored within the cloud - is it the provider? Indeed this is something that is still under debate in terms of who is responsible for preventing illegal material being downloaded - is it the internet service provider? There's also issues surrounding the processing of personal data. With all of these rapidly changing technologies comes new and unexplored legal issues.

I don't think this is an area that I will ever become a specialist in, but it certainly looks like there is no getting away from the increasing number of questions we are receiving in the law library with respect of this topic - therefore I think it may be  a case of, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em....

Researching non-profit US organisations...

If we law librarians are totally honest, I am sure that many of us can empathise with that sinking feeling you get when certain names appear on your phone screen when it rings...I can't deny that I have a few fee-earners who, although are perfectly nice people, still make my heart sink whenever they appear at my desk/ring me up/appear in my inbox. This is because without fail they are going to ask me to carry out a piece of research which a) I have never had to do anything like before and which b) even none of my most experienced colleagues have had to carry out. Very often there is also c) the question is related in some way to US law, which means even more trouble, as a lack of resources comes into play, and so favours with our US law librarian counterparts need to be called in...

In case you couldn't tell already, a), b) and c) all happened to me this past week, in the shape of a query about finding out more information about a particular foundation based in the US - specifically, information about its charitable status, and if available, any financials.

After my initial few minutes of feeling frozen with fear as to how I was going to go about this, I started with the obvious - finding out if they had a company website so that in the first instance, I could just get it clear in my head exactly what they are and what they do. Some of this information formed the preliminaries of my report.

My manager then suggested that I contact one of our US colleagues in order to get a bit more information on where we should be looking. They suggested the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website as there you can search for tax-exempt organisations:,,id=249767,00.html,,id=249767,00.html

Unfortunately the company I was looking for did not appear on this section of the website, which was disappointing, as it seemed they do not have a tax exempt status, which surprised us.

I was also advised by the US to search the New York Attorney General's Charities database, but again there was no evidence of them having a listing here. My US colleague again suggested that I check this website, as she thought that they would have had to file something here.

In the end, the research is non-conclusive. I am waiting to hear if the fee-earner wants me to try contacting the IRS directly to try and obtain more information. I was also able to look at the skills of some of our US attorneys to see if any have experience of non-profit organisations, and suggested perhaps contacting one of them too.

I have to admit, I find this kind of conclusion totally unsatisfactory! It's very frustrating when you can't find a definitive answer to something, but unfortunately in the law library, it's very often the case that there IS no definitive answer out there, but rather, a likely answer must be pieced together from a number of different resources/materials etc.

Welcome to the joys of the corporate law library....

Image courtesy of: Salvatore Vuono /

Saturday, 7 April 2012

A little bit about product placement....

So for one (intellectual property) reason or another it became necessary in the law library this past week to take a crash course in product placement. Here's a little summary of what we learned...

- Product placement is simply where a brand owner will pay to have their product featured in a TV show or film, for example. It's been allowed in the USA for some time but was only made legal in the UK in Feb 2011. Prior to this advertising could only take place in the ad breaks.

- There are quite a few famous instances of product placement in the US - famous because they have been criticised for being a bit OTT. You might already know some of them - the dating website 'Plenty of Fish' features prominently in music videos by both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, while Virgin Airlines and other products received substantial coverage in several episodes of popular sitcome 'Friends'.

- In the UK, product placement cannot take place in news or children's TV shows, nor can products such as cigarettes, high fat foods or baby milk be used in placement deals. There are other prohibited items too, for exmaple things that cannot be advertised in the UK eg. guns.

- One of the reasons that product placement often attracts such criticism is because there are specific Ofcom guidelines that state that product placement must not be overly prominent; in other words, you shouldn't be able to take one look at a scene and realise that product placement is occurring! This is often one of the reasons why it attracts so much controversy.

- In the UK, if a show features product placement, a logo must be shown at the start of the programme to inform viewers this is going to happen.

The one major thing that stood out to me was that product placement is still very much in it infancy in the UK, whereas in the US it has been going on for years. In the last year there have only been about 20 product placements on UK TV! There has been suggestions that Ofcom guidelines are too restrictive, but there are no plans to change them going forward. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Let's hope that the critics aren't proved correct and UK television becomes chock-a-block with brand promotion!

Articles of interest:

What Hinders UK Product Placement Growth: Rules, 'Free Prop'-agenda
Feb 29 2012

Will product placement change TV?
Feb 16 2011

Image courtesy of:


Saturday, 31 March 2012

It's not a lack of motivation - it's a lack of follow-through....

Well, according to the Harvard Business Review it is anyway!

HBR says that very often when we have a task to complete, it is not a lack of motivation preventing us from getting it done, but simply that our brain are talking us out of it. So you probably know that it IS an important task and you WANT to do it, but you allow yourself to keep telling yourself you have more important thing to do, or you will just put it off another day. But what happens when that day never comes and the week passes and the task is still undone?

HBR recommends that you simply make a decision to do something and then STICK TO IT. Do not let your mind talk yourself out of it.

Sounds simple doesn't it? Sometimes life simply gets in the way and the plans we have made simply have to be changed, but very often I do find that I make a decision to get something done, but somehow don't manage to stick to it. I put it off and start something else, then feel that sense of frustration at the end of the day when I haven't 'followed through' on whatever it was that I said I would. 

As HBR says 'Don't let your mind sabotage your aspirations'. Very good advice, but how easy will it be to follow?

Image courtesy of: Rawich /

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Managing your time more effectively - where do we begin?

Mind mapping
Time management is something that every busy professional thinks about from time to time - are we getting the best out of the time available to us in the working day? How much time do we simply fritter away, starting one task, starting another, and feeling like we never really fully accomplish what we set out to achieve?

I took part in a session really which was all about the concept of 'mind mapping' and how this tool can be applied to many aspects of life - not just to help you become better organised at work. It can be used to help you plan a project, or assimilate a large amount of information such a studying a particular topic for an exam.

I was intrigued to discover that I have been using mind maps on a basic level since I studied for exam at school - and also for planning essays! Basically, you start off with a blank sheet of paper and in the centre of that sheet of paper, you write down the topic/subject, and then from that, you have a number of different branches stemming from this main topic. These branches you draw initially are the 'parent' branches, and are labelled with just one key term. From these parent branches you then add sub branches, allowing you to drill down into a particular key topic by as many level as you wish. It was also suggested that if there are any links between ideas on different branches, then show this link with a dotted line.

You can also use images on your mind map - a lot of the time it just depends how your mind works - some people remember things better in graphic form, others (like myself) are more 'wordy'. That having been said, I did study for a physics exam at school by illustrating practically every unit in my textbook into a mind map!

I don't think the concept of mind mapping is necessarily new - in fact it is in my eyes more of a step up from the 'spider diagrams' we were taught to use at school, for example when brainstorming ideas for an essay. I think they are a great way of breaking information down though, and in the workplace, I would like to consider using them more for large scale enquiry project planning, or where I am simply trying to think of all the various options open to me when carrying out research.

The session I was involved in definitely reminded me that mind maps can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, but fundamentally they are an excellent way of helping you organise your thoughts, problem solve and analyse situations.

Improving time management

I came across an interesting white paper produced by Citrix online which focused on how to run meetings in the workplace more effectively. This is definitely something that I have always found particularly frustrating - when a meeting is allowed to drift on long after it's 'official' finishing time. This can often be caused by poor chairmanship - it is up to the person running the meeting to ensure that it does not overrun significantly. The key suggestions to prevent this from becoming an issue are:

- Determine who exactly needs to be at the meeting in order to achieve the desired objectives - eg. who are the primary decision makers; who only needs to be there for a short time and so on.

 - If you are chairing the meeting, make sure that the agenda also fits in with the objectives and what you want to achieve, or be decided by the end of the meeting. Make sure you politely stop people who simply like the sound of their own voice! Summarise decisions/results as you go along to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what is happening.

- View the agenda as the plan for the meeting - and make sure you stick to it. If you run out of time, suggest another meeting rather than letting this one drag on painfully.

- Someone should always make sure that minutes are taken and consequently all decisions/discussion outcomes are documented. If you don't do this then the meeting will have been pointless.

It is interesting to know that only 20% of meetings produce 80% of the results - food for thought next time you are planning that team meeting!

Controlling the inbox
Time management also touches upon a subject that is of great interest to me - information overload. The white paper gives us a few suggestions with regard to how to keep on top of your inbox and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

- Decide quickly whether to respond to a message immediately, archive or delete it.

- Remember the telephone! Nowaday it's almost instinctive to hit the 'compose new message' button but sometime a 60 second call can clarify what a chain of emails will take far longer to!

- Don't feel that you need to respond to people immediately - within 24 hours is normally acceptable.

The last point is one which can't really be applied in the law library - if we were to simply leave enquiries sitting in our inboxes, we would not curry much favour with the fee-earners! However there are other emails that we can put this into practice with, eg. non-urgent communication from suppliers and so on.

Email overload is also looked at from the opposite perspective, i.e. what can we do to make sure that we don't contribute to other people's overload? This is a point that I have addressed in the past - as information intermediaries, we are at risk of bombarding our users with too much information - how much is too much is the million dollar question and to be honest, it varies from lawyer to lawyer in my experience!

The white paper suggests ensuring your subject line is clear and concise, a well-structured email using short sentences, bullet points and paragraphs to ensure that the reader isn't immediately overwhelmed by a wall of text!

If you are giving someone instructions make sure you only include a small number and you give a clear deadline.

I think these tips are definitely useful to me from my perspective of giving people instructions by email. Sometimes if I am managing a particular enquiry project, I try hard to ensure that the email containing the details is as clear and concise as possible. It is very important not to ramble, but to ensure that everything included in the email is non-repetitive and necessary.

I think that time management will always be something that will be of significance to any law librarian, because the lawyers we work for are often working to very tight deadlines and this pressure is tranferred to us as a result. It's important to be as efficient with how we use our time as possible, in order to ensure maximum productivity, but also ensure that we feel in control in the workplace and not overly stressed.

Image courtesy of:

Monday, 27 February 2012

Appraisals and the art of delegation....

So suddenly a couple of weeks have flown by since my last post - I still can't quite believe we're hitting March this week! It's been a hectic time in the law library - enquiries flying in left right and centre, and coupled with my extra responsibilities I have taken on since we had our appraisals, to say I have been a bit stressed is a serious understatement!

One of the main responsibilities I have taken on is a lot more delegation. This is not something that comes easy to me either. In all honesty I often find it easier to just do something myself than ask someone to do it for me. But one of my managers explained to me that part of learning how to be a good manager, is developing your ability to pass on and manage tasks, as opposed to just getting them done yourself. Teaching someone else how to go about a particular piece of work, and then ensuring that they do it within the alotted time frame and to a sufficiently high standard is a skill in itself.

When my managers are out of the office at the same time (one is part time so this does happen from time to time every month), and it is only the team Director, me and our 2 junior staff members, responsibility to allocate enquiries and act as the first point of assistance has moved from the Director to me. I would be lying if I said I don't find this daunting; I hope it's something I shall just become accustomed to and therfore more comfortable with, but at present, it's been a nerve racking couple of weeks as I have had to step in 3 times already! I think the most difficult part of delegation is knowing when and what to allocate to particular individuals! I am always wary of overloading the others in my team, or giving them something that perhaps is above or below their skillset. However, the only thing that will really help me to get over this is practice, so that's what I am doing. Let's call it a work in progress...

The appraisal process has always been fundamentally the same in every law firm I have worked in, and it's certainly useful from a Chartership point of view to have a chance to reflect on what I have achieved in the last year, and illustrate how I have gone about meeting the objectives we set last year. It's also helpful to get feedback from fee-earners and team members - it definitely makes you feel more appreciated!!

One thing that I did speak about during the appraisal once again was to what extent I can specialise in a particular practice area (mine being IP) - and again it's a tricky one. One of my goals this year is to help the other junior team members become more au fait with this practice area. One of them is going to be working with me on my Bulletin, for example. This will involve me coaching him in the various topics that are covered in the Bulletin, showing him how to pick out stories of interest from the various news sources I follow, and how to summarise and edit them for our Bulletin. The idea is that while I maintain editorial control, so to speak, I am sharing the knowledge that I have acquired with at least one other team member. It definitely makes sense, although again, I find it difficult at times to let things like this go, as I Really enjoy working on them! However, it's a good opportunity for me to work with one of the others on a one-to-one basis - it's good practice for me also in terms of taking control of tasks and delegation.

I am not sure if delegation comes naturally to some more than others - I suspect it does, to an extent, but I wonder if it really is just something you can become more comfortable with over time, or if it is either something you like or you don't like. I'd be interested to hear from anyone else on this kind of thing....

Image courtesy of: photostock /

Sunday, 12 February 2012

CILIP London AGM Feb 2012

I attended my first ever CILIP branch AGM on 8th Feb 2012. I decided to go along because I want to understand a bit more about how the branch works and what the committee members do and so on. The AGM was also followed by a talk by CILIP's President titled 'Around the world twice on a library degree'.

The AGM itself was very straightforward, going through last year's minutes, looking at the annual report and latest accounts, formally agreeing these and outlining CILIP London's plans for 2012. The one very positive thing is that the branch is in a much better financial position now than it was at the start of 2012. They are hoping to run a program of events similar to those in 2011 (although these events won't be held at the Sekforde Arms anymore).

Phil Bradley gave a very thought provoking talk on how CILIP is involved with the library community all over the world. I had no idea as to how 'global' CILIP actually was. Bradley spoke about how as the President, he is the 'face' for media outlets of the library community. He also speaks at library conferences around the world in this capacity.

It was also interesting to hear about CILIP's work in relation to the 'big' global issues affecting librarianship: copyright, information literacy to name but a few. In terms of copyright, there is legislation pending that will change how all kinds of works are regulated in future. Information literacy focuses on ensuring the internet is used responsibly, but at the same time maintaining a 'free', uncensored internet as well.

The last part of Phil's talk considered the 'globalness' of librarianship, looking at all the many Google+ library pages, and highlighting the importance of CILIP as an organisation within all this. The library community spans the world and this can be seen on Facebook, LinkedIn and every other social network out there.

What I found particularly interesting was the realisation that CILIP qualifications are recognised internationally. I don't think that I quite realised the importance of CILIP to the library community worldwide. Attending this kind of event and listening to Phil's talk was definitely motivating when it comes to completing my Chartership portfolio!

It was also really interesting to actually be present for the branch AGM and learn more about the branch committee and what ways CILIP members can get involved.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Training team members - what works, what doesn't?

One thing that I am always trying to learn more about is the best ways of training a fellow colleague. This is a part of my job that has become pretty significant and looks set to only continue in this way, as one of the aims of 2012 is for me to take on a bit more of this side of things in order to free up my managers a bit.

In the last couple of years, I have attended more than one seminar and training course focusing on the best ways to train, training methods, how to be engaging....and so on. One thing that always concerns me is: can you really be taught how to train? Or is a big part of being able to 'train' successfully down to an inherent skill that you either have or you haven't?

I would say that while you can definitely improve your training methods and techniques, there is a certain something that you've either got or not got...that quality that makes you engage with the person or people you're training and that makes you explain things in a logical and easy to follow fashion, and that makes you approachable and easy to ask questions of. 

I'm still trying to discover if I have that certain something, but in the meantime, let's have a look at what's important when, say, you are training a fellow team member on something.

Having been party to many training sessions over the years, I am certainly well enough equipped to know what makes a one-to-one training session a successful one from the point of the 'trainee'. At times like this I always use my 'unofficial' mentor as my role model (regular readers will remember me waxing lyrical about this lady from a post in 2011) - now if anyone could make a training session engaging, it is this lady. I had many one-to-one sessions with her over the years we worked together, and the things I remember being most helpful were a) she never patronised me or made me feel stupid. b) she was patient to a fault and made herself available for endless questions during and after the session and c) no matter what the topic was, she always managed to make me laugh, even when I was very stressed out or upset because I didn't understand something. 

Believe me, having now been in the shoes of the trainer, as opposed to the trainee, to be able to do all of the above is no mean feat! Let's look at each point in turn:

1) Don't patronise

Unless you've made a real error in the recruitment process, chances are that you are not dealing with an idiot - you're just dealing with someone who is new to a role, or a particular procedure. So while you want to make every step abundantly clear, don't talk down to them as if they are a child. I have had that done to me and believe me, it's inufriating, even if well-meant!

 2) Don't tell - show

This is one of the key pointers given by The Harvard Business Review Management blog

and it's definitely one of the most important. It is much easier to teach people something with a real life example, rather than just explaining in the abstract. Find an example of how what you're showing can be applied to their daily job. Talk them through each step and explain why you are doing something.

3) Allow your colleague to ask questions

Asking questions is often how we learn the most, because only after we have been shown something, and we have tried to replicate the task ourselves, do we realise what makes sense and what didn't. It is impossible to know if you will be able to carry out a task you have just been shown, on your own, until you physically sit down and try. It is only then that you sometimes realise your three pages of scrawled notes are not quite as helpful as you thought! So make sure as a trainer you make yourself available for questions, not just in the hour following the session, but days and weeks after it too. It may be that they don't need to carry out the task until some time in the future, by which time the notes they took will be virtually meaningless. It's important to ensure that you foster an environment in which they feel they can approach you at any time, even if it means you need to go through the same thing all over again. 

4) Don't be too serious

As I mentioned earlier, some of the best training sessions I have had are ones in which the trainer has been laid back and displayed a sense of humour! There is nothing more off-putting or guaranteed to make you make mistakes out of sheer nervousness, than being in the company of a po-faced trainer. If you are relaxed, your colleague will relax too and consequently take in more as a result. You don't have to be a stand-up comedian - just try and put them at ease, and then if they are doing something while you watch, they're less likely to make silly mistakes out of nervousness.

Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles /



Sunday, 22 January 2012

Copyright law - an update

Anyone who reads CILIP Update magazine will have seen the recent items regarding the proposed modernisation/revamping of the copyright system in Britain. This is of particular interest to me, not only from a librarian's point of view, but also because some of the fee-earners for whom I work are closely monitoring the developments also because of their practice area.

There appear to be some very mixed reactions to some of the proposals. For those of you who don't know the background, a review was carried out last summer by Professor Ian Hargreaves as to how copyright law can be updated to better serve what is now referred to as the 'digital' economy. One example is that at the moment, turning a CD of music into an MP3 file is illegal! But how many times have we all done this - almost everyone who owns an ipod or iphone or other music player will have done so! This is a clear example of where copyright law is completely out of date. Hargreaves suggested that the harm done to rightsowners is minimal and the law should be updated accordingly.

Another issue of debate is that the review proposed that 'data mining' rules should be relaxed and allow for non-commercial researchers to be able to access all data. The reason given is that it will promote innovation in Britain - but many publishers feel that they will lose out in terms of copyright and licensing fees that they are currently allowed to charge for such access to the data contained in their journals, for example.

Hargreaves has also called for the setting up of an agency which will make it easier to obtain permission to use copyrighted works. This is known as the Digital Copyright Exchange. A feasibility study is currently being set up by Richard Hooper to consider what options are available for implementation. The plan is that the study will recommend a solution by 2012 summer parliament recess. A consultation is open until 10 Feb 2012 on the matter.

There is no doubt that the implications of the copyright review are significant for librarians as much as lawyers who work in the field of intellectual property, because dealing with photocopying restrictions and other digital  content licensing restrictions are a substantial part of what we do. It is really helpful to keep on top of the latest developments via CILIP's magazine updates, and it shall be interesting to see how things change over the next 12 months.

Image: Stuart Miles /

Saturday, 7 January 2012

An interesting enquiry - and happy 2012!

Where on earth do I start with this one?
 So my first post of 2012 - happy new year to all!

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog from the outset was talk a little bit about any unusual enquiries we receive in the law library! I think the most unusual one that I was asked to tackle in the week before Christmas was trying to find out how many times a well known and long-running cartoon has been broadcast in the UK. It was definitely one of those questions where you read it and think to yourself, where on earth do I start?!

General internet searching (if in doubt, turn to Google - although obviously we don't tell the trainees that!) threw up a whole host of references to the cartoon, but one of the initial problems was that it has been broadcast on a whole range of terrestrial and satellite/cable channels. Therefore it was not simply going to be a case of contacting one particular channel or broadcasting company.

I approached it ultimately in a sort of two-pronged approach. Firstly, I decided to try and ascertain if there exists some kind of database that holds all this kind of information about TV broadcasts, and secondly, to contact the BBC, who seemed to be the principal terrestrial broadcaster. I was of the opinion that with this kind of enquiry, we would be lucky to obtain any kind of data, therefore even if I was only able to obtain information from them, it might be sufficient to give the fee-earner a general indication of how often the programme has been shown. Experience has taught me that sometimes even just a bit of information will be better than nothing.

I had hoped to get through to the archives department of the BBC, but this was a fruitless task which involved being past from pillar to post, but never quie seeming to reach anyone who could assist me.I ended up being put through to the audience enquiries department, who were certainly very polite and sounded like they wanted to help, but were unable to answer such a query over the phone. I was asked to put the request in writing in order for one of the researchers to look at it. I have to admit that I was quite hopeful about this, although the fact it was 4 days before Christmas, and the information was needed early in the first week of January at the latest, I didn't hold out much hope in hearing from them before the deadline. Anyway, I sent the letter and moved onto my other approach.

Various internet searches led me to the British Film Institute as a potential source of information. I spoke to someone in the library first of all, who said that they do not have access to this kind of information, but suggested that I contact the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) as they would have access to some databases that might be able to help.

It turns out that there are some databases out there that comprise of TV show broadcast information! One is called TRiLT, the other TvTip. The only problem - and it's a big problem! - is that they are for academic research purposes only.

TvTip (this covers the period from 1955-1985)
TVTip provides a unique searchable index to the London edition of the TVTimes, the listings magazine for ITV broadcasts, from September 1955 to March 1985.

TRILT - Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (this covers TV listings from the period 1995-present)
The Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching is the best source of UK television and radio data on the web.
 - Listings for more than 300 TV and radio channels since 1995

Admittedly this means there would be a gap in the data as the period from 1985-1995 is not covered, but again, if I could just access those databases, we would be able to get a very good broad overview of how frequently the show was broadcast.

The only way that we would be able to access the databases would have been to become corporate members of the aforementioned BUFVC. Unfortunately, it was prohibitively expensive when the fee-earner determined how much use we would actually get out of it apart from for this enquiry. However, I was very fortuate indeed to speak to someone at the BUFVC who was willing to do a very basic query on the TV show name for me on the TriLT database. This threw back a specific number of results and covered terrestrial/cable/satellite channels. Any more in-depth research could only be performed if we were members.

In light of the tight deadline and the difficulties involved in obtaining this kind of information, the fee-earner decided that even just obtaining that number was helpful. However, since then I have been able to make contact with someone in the Archives dept at the BBC, and I am awaiting their response to see if it is something they might be able to help with - even though we are now past the deadline, I am loath to let it go! Also, it is always useful to know what information is available for future never know when you are going to be asked something so obscure again!

Image: 89studio /