Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From a conference to an unconference

So, between Thursday 13th June and Saturday 15th June, I attended the annual BIALL conference in Glasgow, thanks to the help of a generous bursary from BIALL. Now, due to funding restrictions with my previous employer, I'd not been able to attend this event since 2008. As this is the main professional event for the UK legal information sector, I always felt frustrated that I was missing out on being somewhere where important developments were being discussed, and that I wasn't getting to make the connections with people that I should.

However, since 2008, lots of things have changed, especially in the way people who are effectively strangers to each other can communicate. Basically: Twitter happened.

Now, through Twitter, I feel like I have an excellent network of contacts both within my sector and outside it, and as I restrict the amount of people I follow/allow to follow me, I feel I really know them quite well. So when I need help with anything, I can ask my contacts, and get a good range of trustworthy responses. This has also meant that, when I got to the conference this year, I already "knew" (from Twitter interactions) a large number of people. Of course, meeting in person is great to allow the cementing and further development of these online relationships, but the ice was already broken on these relationships by initial online contact.

So, what was the conference useful for, beyond the development of professional relationships? It was a chance to attend talks and sessions on areas of legal activity that were of interest to me. The only problem with this was, although the talks were often good in content, the format of a conference means that you just don't get the time to discuss topics in details. You have a speaker, who speaks, and then answers a few questions from the audience. It's a discussion, but it's only with one person. There's a certain amount you can learn, but it's only from one person, and anything that others in the audience may have to contribute is filtered out by time and format restrictions. Also, it's a discussion being held solely with legal information professionals: a subset of a profession only talking to itself about itself isn't particularly healthy!

Therefore, after discussions with some other attendees, I had an idea, and made a suggestion to some of the Committee members of the Scottish Law Librarians Group. I suggested that we try and create a Scots Law Unconference, to enable professionals working in Scots law to interact with each other, across all sectors, not just those working as information professionals, but academics, government staff, and legal practitioners. It's just the beginnings of an idea at the moment, but I think that there's a real lack of a space for people working in Scots law to have contact with people in other areas of the law, which means you can become very blinkered about what factors are impacting on not only your own work, but that of others working in law too. There's also the problem with the standard conference format, in that it's set up to enable one person to teach a group about their topic/experiences, rather than allow a group to discuss and learn from each other around a theme. I know there was some frustration at BIALL at the lack of an opportunity to do just that (although in one case, discussing Open Access in academia, a lunchtime discussion meeting was set up informally), so an Unconference format, with a body/group guiding the discussions themes would be more conducive to this type of sharing. As the main body for legal information professionals in Scotland, with members in various workplaces and sectors, the SLLG would be well placed to investigate the possibilities of an event like this and host it, welcoming any participants with an interest in Scots law.

It might take a bit of effort to get it off the ground, and the format might not suit everybody, but if it doesn't work out...well, at least we tried, right? And if nobody ever tries, nothing every changes.

Now....anyone out there want to volunteer a lovely venue to the SLLG, and perhaps some nice sponsorship ;)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Meeting, Tweeting and Fb’ing – An SLA Europe event

On the 24th of April, I went along to the National Library of Scotland to attend the SLA Europe event “Meeting, Tweeting and Fb’ing”, which promised to cover topics such as “how useful is social media for libraries? Can Facebook really help me to promote what I do? What benefits can using LinkedIn bring me as an information professional? “

We began with Bryan Christie of the National Library of Scotland (NLS) giving us an overview of the aims and activities of the NLS on social media. The purpose of this approach is to increase the NLS’ digital presence, and raise awareness of the interesting, non-digital materials within its collections, especially to a younger audience. Bryan views a relevant social media presence as being like journalism – you have to find the interesting information. He’s found that posts on Twitter publicising material from the NLS collections is driving traffic to the NLS website, for more information on these materials. Examples of traffic-creating posts on Twitter included an online discussion of the new, e-legal deposit responsibility of the NLS, with the accompanying hashtag of #digitaluniverse allowing easy collation of the discussion. The NLS’ Facebook presence is also focused on promoting the collections through highlighting interesting holdings – a post showcasing Mary Queen of Scots last letter was particularly popular. By analysing the statistics on www.Twittercounter.com, it can be seen that the followers of the NLS Twitter account have trebled in the last 18 months, and comparing the NLS Twitter account to that of the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Ireland, all libraries are experiencing an increase in followers. Bryan did say that at this point, it’s hard to know whether this growth is due to the NLS being an active tweeter, or due to the general integration and uptake of Twitter in the general population. Using Twittercounter, it was also possible to pick out some of the basics of the Twitter approach of the other National Libraries, including whether they had a set target amount of tweets per day to create. Another example given of a successful NLS social media campaign was the “Scotland At The Movies” Facebook competition, which attracted around 1800 entries over the three month period of the event, hugely increased referrals from Facebook page to the website, and reached a younger demographic  (a majority of 18-34 year olds)than other methods of attracting interaction. There was also an effort made to monitor the entries for inappropriate language, as the competition was open to all, and therefore potentially able to be abused.  In general, Bryan said that the best way to build a social media presence is to be active, be interesting, be funny,  monitor,  listen and respond.

Nick Goldstein, Senior Account Executive was there as a representative of LinkedIn, which currently has a membership of between 80-90% of UK professionals. Nick began by describing one of the benefits of social networks – they allow tracking of the dissemination of information within them. They also allow power to be in the hands of the people producing the material hosted on them, and people are producing material at an astonishing rate – the activity statistics of users of social media are mindboggling, and the number of users continues to rise. The major players in social media are sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, with the different sites fulfilling different purposes for users, whether it be for personal or professional use. Personal use of social media is centred on activities that link to the desire to have fun, keep in touch, and the enjoyment of nostalgia, while business use mainly relates to learning, developing, and finding information. LinkedIn itself is a massive company, with 11 million members (if not 12 million by the time of writing of this article) in the UK, and over 200 million worldwide, as at December 2012. Its growth has been purely viral, as it doesn’t advertise, and it’s now so massive that it’s the only real professional platform, internationally, and is the 21st most visited site on the internet. Although it is already a massive network, it aims eventually to have all of the world’s estimated 640 million professionals as members. It makes acquisitions of key business that it thinks will enhance its offering, such as their purchase of Slideshare in 2012, designed to allow better representation of members work. LinkedIn also uses member activity to tailor their homepage to what it believes to be their interests, basing the news it presents to them in their LinkedIn Today section on each individual users previous activity history. This ability to see what individual users are doing also allows them to see how the way LinkedIn is being used changes throughout the day – in the morning, it’s mainly accessed via mobile devices, as members travel to work, in the daytime, it’s mainly desktop based access while users are in offices, and in the evening, access is mainly through tablet devices.  It also has an open API (Application Programming Interface), which makes the development of new elements to the site, and its integration into organisations far easier.

After each speaker had given their presentation, there was an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. The first question related to using Twitter in business, and how to improve your reach. The response boiled down to:
Have guidelines in place for appropriate account use/content (with the example used of the April Fools Top Gear joke tweet issued by the Danish police, as a time when more care should have been taken)
Be interesting
Be active

The next question was how best to use LinkedIn for career opportunities. This led to a long list of tips to enhance your account:
Get an 100% completeness score – adding a photo is a large part of this.
Get recommendations, by giving recommendations – 3 recommendations are required for a full profile.
Use the headline area – describe what you do and who you are. It’s better than the job description area.
Flesh out and give detail to your previous job information.
Join groups – you can be a member of up to 50.
If you make sure your profile is as complete as possible, it allows their algorithms a better chance to match members and their skills to opportunities. 

The issue of false staff having claimed on their profiles to have worked at organisations that they didn’t actually work at was raised next. It was explained that as LinkedIn is an open platform, sometimes things do get abused, but checking algorithms are running, and human moderators are also performing checks, so there’s a constant mixture of human and machine monitoring. Also, individuals can alert LinkedIn to any false users or claims.

Then… it was onwards, to the networking!

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by the amount of user activity tracking that’s going on behind the scenes with LinkedIn. I don’t ever actually look at the LinkedInToday section, as it’s not a site I go to for news, nor are the suggestions every particularly relevant to me. I don’t know what they base their news suggestions on - perhaps it’s related to whose profile I clicked on? But I’m pretty sure I’m not deeply interested in learning about management from bees or golfers, which is today’s main story! Personally, I think I may be the wrong market for any site that wishes to tailor its content to my viewing preferences by using data on my browsing history: I have PrivacyFix installed on my browser, and try to minimise any information I give to sites that I know are using me as the product, like Facebook.  If I *want* a tailored service, I’ll give the information requested, I actually find the thought that this is being done in the background, based on how I use a site, kind of uncomfortable. But I think I must be in a minority – personalisation seems to be the way forward….

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