Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Scots law jurisdiction – it is actually a real thing, you know

Admittedly, various legal database suppliers seem to think that English/Welsh law and Scots law are interchangeable.

For example: Westlaw. It’s developed a sort of “know how” product called Insight, which should allow more in depth analysis and updates on certain points of law. This is handy, and the sort of things our users like – no wading through articles or textbooks and checking if they’re up to date or take into account recent judgments – just nice primers on specific legal points.

Which would be lovely, if Westlaw could remember that not all jurisdictions are the same.

When I go into the Scots Law tab on Westlaw (which should restrict my searches to only Scottish material, hence avoiding a lot of time wasting and confusion when I’m looking for something with a specific Scottish meaning), it gives me the new option of Insight within that tab. “Oh good,” I thought, “they’re actually paying some attention to their Scottish users, and putting Scottish content on!”.

So I went into the Contract section…and immediately was irritated. As you can see from the photo, despite Insight being within the Scots law tab, the information on contract is for English law, as “The Law of Contract in Scotland” by William McBryde is the core text for Scots law.

Wrong. Oh so VERY wrong. Even more glaringly wrong when you consider that McBryde is available as an electronic book on Westlaw, just as they inform us that Chitty is.

If a resource is inaccurate and/or misleading, it teaches the service users to mistrust it: how much time will I be wasting telling my users that Westlaw’s accurate…but only up to a point…usually…and really, it’s best to double check everything they do on it?

How about we just agree Insight’s inaccurate for any Scots law, and have it removed from access via that tab until it’s useful?

And Westlaw’s not the only legal database provider being stupidly unhelpful and forgetting that English law and Scots law are not one and the same thing.

I used LexisLibrary to access Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland. Even ignoring the fact that their new style search results don’t work (a whole other issue we will need to go in to with them later), they’re working on being confusing too, although not to quite the extent as Westlaw.

If I’m using Stair, I am looking specifically for Scottish legal information. I will not be helped by being given information from other jurisdictions. So helpfully inserting a suggestion at the top of my search about what a term means in an entirely different context is of absolutely no relevance to my search. It may be a “key narrative definition”, but it’s for an entirely different country, and for an entirely different topic!

We, as the intermediaries for users of these resources, need to be able to confidently tell them: "Yes, that information's accurate - experts in legal issues have checked the contributions and I can confirm they're as good and reliable as you can get." Right now, I just can't do this, and it means our users trust in these (very expensive) resources is being eroded more each time they come up against a glaring inaccuracy.

So, legal database publishers, lets try going over this again, shall we?

Scotland is a separate jurisdiction from England and Wales
Scotland has different laws from England and Wales
Scotland has different legal terms than England and Wales
Scotland has different legal resources from England and Wales

Can you all repeat that until you know what it means, and stop trying to give us English/Welsh law instead of our own? Oh, by the way, you might want to remember that Welsh law is likely to start differing significantly from English law soon too, as their Assembly starts to exercise their powers. Try and take that into consideration for the future?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Less moaning, more action

So, after initially complaining that I felt a bit cast adrift, professionally, and then through discussions with other equally drifting mid career professionals, working out what we could do for ourselves in order to actually create the network we felt we needed, the beginnings of a plan are coming together. It's all thanks to lovely Moo (@_Moo_), also known as Lynne Meehan, and her partner. They've got the technical skills and resources to take the experiment a bit further, and set up an forum to see how exactly we could make this work.

If you'd like to be included as a Middler (loving that name, Lynne!), and take part in the experiment (AKA - poking about an online forum and axploring how to make things work as we go), either get in touch with Lynne directly (she's the Lady in Charge), or leave a comment below and I'll pass your details on to Lynne.

Lets give it a try, shall we? After all, if we don't do it, who will?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Supporting the middle sag

Well, my last post triggered a lot of discussions: one big thing was that many people identified that they felt the same in regards to losing the momentum to push themselves, but that they didn't really mention it formally because they felt they couldn't give any input on how to fix the problem.

But then that's not right - if you feel you can only speak up when you can fix a problem rather than be able to just identify that the problem exists, then that means there's a lot of silent people out there, quietly hoping for someone else to see and fix what's wrong.

So, while talking about this feeling of a need for some sort of support, Bethan Ruddock (@bethanar) and Celine Carty (@cjclib) and I started to try and work out what we felt we needed, and what was possible. Beth said that she was hoping to implement some sort of one-on-one mid-career support within SLA Europe, and Celine said she had been working on something for her group High Visibility Cataloguing (@hvcats). Initially, the ideas were based around providing a personal professional mentor for all career stages, not just for certain situations, like attending a conference for the first time, or when going through a process like Chartership. But then, this relationship can put quite a burden on someone, who's almost certainly going to be fitting in this supporting around their normal life.

So, what would be more realistic than asking one person to support others? Well, maybe a group? Perhaps something along these lines:

  • A group of about 6 volunteers, which allows for a good spread on the demands of members time.
  • Making sure that they're a mix of people - in different sectors if possible, but in different workplaces for definite.
  • Providing a secure and private chat space, with the understanding that all discussions happening in that space are entirely confidential, to ensure free communication between group members (a "what happens in Vegas" rule).
  • Having the facility to allow any member to voluntarily leave any group without having to explain or justify the decision, as people and situations change.

In this way, informal relationships across sectors could be developed, without the expectation of more demanding one-on-one support. However, as relationships naturally form, certain people will inevitably gravitate towards each other, and these may become more personally supportive relationships.

As people's situations change, they would be likely to shift between supporting, and needing support, and back again.. A fluid system of a private professional group would be more likely to allow this switching back and forth between giving and taking more easily.

Also, being able to see how people in other sectors are working can allow you to look with a more realistic eye at your own workplace and career. Ideas about mutual issues and solutions could be exchanged - for example, if you're not experienced in giving presentations, but one of your mentor group is, perhaps you could pick up some more detailed and tailored-to-your-specific-situation information than you would if you just put out a general "I need help" email on email lists and social media?

What do you think? Is this something that could work, or that you would take part in?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Careering along

When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”.

If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new).

What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at project manager level, so will never be visible as a leader or receive recognition for that? When you’re voluntarily acting as a mentor to other professionals, but not in a formal manner? When you’re motoring along in the middle, not frantically aiming to rule the library world, but just wishing for a bit more support for your “I’m not shouting about this, overall I’m quite satisfied with my current role, but I could do with some help in a few areas” feelings. When you’re doing your day to day work, and wondering how to keep yourself motivated and interested in the wider profession?

It feels to me that I’m entering the normal-career wilderness. I would say mid-career, but I’ve got at least another 30 years of working days ahead of me, so being only 12 or so years into my career I can’t really say I’m in the middle yet! But already I’m feeling it to be much harder to summon up enthusiasm for doing things outside my own core work duties than it was five years ago. I’ve mostly stopped attending things in my own time that previously I would have gone along to, especially those further afield, as it costs me both time and money that I could be spending on myself rather than work activities. I have spent many years doing a lot of things in my spare time to enable and support others in their careers: sitting on committees, organising training and social events, writing articles, mentoring people in various ways. But I’m looking around now, and I’m wondering: who’s doing this for me? I recently revalidated – unlike the Chartership process, this doesn’t require the involvement of a mentor. So somehow, now that I’m not new and have been through an approximation of the system once, I’m meant to be perfectly happy to do this process myself, with no support or interaction from anyone else? Luckily, I organised with a great professional to informally fill this role for me, but again, that was down to me, and involved further effort on my part and theirs rather than any involvement or support that I was being given by the system.

It feels like the profession has sort of gone “well, you’re not new and shiny any more, so on you go, sort yourself out”. But I’m tired, and I just don’t have the ability to endlessly maintain my own enthusiasm in the face of constantly seeing things that I can’t be involved in because I’m “too old/too experienced”. Where’s the ethos that to be a good professional you must constantly evolve and learn? We don’t stop needing that when we stop being new professionals, but it seems that the structures that work for new professionals vaporise when you progress beyond that point.

I’m not all moany – I do get a lot of support from other information professionals on Twitter, and it’s through them that I’ve gained most of my professional involvement over the last few years, but it’s not the same as feeling that there’s some sort of formal structure to support those just getting on with it, and regularly coming up against various issues along the way. And I don’t know what the answer is to this, but I just know that, because I’m neither a “thought leader”, “acknowledged expert” or happy to do conference presentations, I feel that somehow I’m regarded as having less value the longer that I go on in this profession.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Is your techie toy reducing your reading habits?

I've just read this blog post about a new subscription model for content on e-readers, based on the fact that:

"We have statistically calculated the average consumption for tablet users and smartphone users, which is lower than one book per month,'

Now, I'm not entirely sure which tablet or smartphone users they based their prediction on, but I know that my reading levels have definitely gone up since getting an e-reader. Now, I not only am buying books frequently from charity shops, but I'm downloading free, cheap and even full-price e-books, depending on the urgency of my desire to read them (e.g.if I read the first part of a trilogy and enjoyed it, I'd be highly likely to download the second and third parts, regardless of price, if I really wanted to keep going with the flow of the books). In November, I realised I'd read (at a conservative estimate, as I don't keep much track of the physical books I read, but I do have a "Read" file on my e-reader) at least 44 books that year, up to that point. By the end of the year I'd read 54 (it woulda been 55 if I hadn't started reading an ENORMOUS tome at the end of the year), and the fact that the second I'd finished one, I could flip onto the next was a great enabler. Plus the fact that it was convenient to chuck in my handbag, and use on the bus, at lunchtimes while in the kitchen, in bed etc.

So, my question is this: if you have a smartphone and/or a tablet, and e-reader, has it helped you to read more? Or is the calculation above correct: are you to busy to read a book a month?
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