Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fighting for access

This is a follow up to my post on Open Access in May.

A few times recently in work, I've been asked if there's a publicly accessible version of an academic article available. This wasn't because we wanted to get a hold of a copy of the articles: we already had them through our subscription services, and the solicitors had read them. What the solicitors were wanting was a free, public version of the article, which they could direct clients and other contacts to, saying "read this, it's important/relevant/well written". They wanted to highlight that the content of the article was useful, and that the author was a reliable and authoritative source.

Sadly, I wasn't able to get a hold of a copy of any of these articles, because the authors hadn't deposited a copy of their work into their institutional repositories. That meant that the solicitors couldn't direct their clients and contacts to read the useful materials written by those authors, and the authors missed the opportunity for their work to be publicised more widely, and for their name to be associated with peer approval.

So please, authors: if you write it, deposit it! Open Access is for YOUR benefit just as much as ours!

Taking the fun out of LinkedIn

I think it's almost standard now that most types of professionals these days have a LinkedIn profile. It effectively works as an online CV, allowing contacts to easily review your skills and experience, and lets you gather many disparate facts about you into one place, such as your non-work skills and experience.

One element of the LinkedIn offering is that colleagues and contacts can "endorse" your skills, allowing you to build up a list of your abilities that have been verified by others. On the face of it, this is a handy option - people who know you and your skills are able to vouch for you, and allow others to get an unbiased view of what you can actually do. Skills would be selected from a pre-approved range of options. It all sounds sensible, and useful.

However, the reality was a little different in practice. It turned out, those pre-defined options were actually quite wide ranging. And in some cases, somewhat odd. I've attached a screenshot of the current endorsements I have, that are waiting for me to approve them before they go on my profile (endorsements for a skill you've not been endorsed for previously seem to have to be approved by you before they'll show on your profile...thankfully). As you can see, there are some very strange skills you can be endorsed for, albeit they're relevant in their sector. And there are some very strange skills, full stop.

Personally, I'm proudest of my "Murder" endorsement. I could tell you how I got it....but then I'd have to kill you....although "Breathing" is a close second favourite.
The endorsements above are the result of an endorsement war that myself and a few friends launched when we realised that there were such odd options available. We went all out to find silly skills, and endorse each other for them, and laughed ourselves silly when we found a new, obscure skill for each other.

So, in the end, the Skills section of LinkedIn became so easy to mess with that those endorsements were irrelevant. And it appears that at some point recently, LinkedIn realised that. This week, I went to endorse a new contact for "Library". This is my favourite pointless endorsement, as it's a skill that looks like it's real, but in reality it's utter nonsense. Imagine the conversation:

"What are you good at, I was going to endorse you for your skills on LinkedIn, but I wanted to be sure they were ones you agreed you had a strength in. It suggests I endorse you for Library. Are you good at Library?"
"Oh yes, I Library really good. Of all the people who can Library, I am the best at Library, I can assure you. When my peers think of others in the profession who can Library, their thoughts immediately turn to me as an outstanding Library-er."

So, needless to say, I wanted others to know that she was good at Library.'s GONE! As are the other fun endorsements. No more Murder. No more Cucumber. No more Breathing.

Dagnammit, LinkedIn went and took the only fun bit out of having an online CV!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Referendum experience

I don't know if you've noticed, but something big is happening in Scotland at the moment. A long-promised referendum is happening on the 18th of September, asking one question of the populace: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Now, I've made my decision, and I've voted already (the joys of a postal vote), so I can watch things ramp up in the last week or so of campaigning with a certain level of detachment. I'm a voter - I've always voted, and always will, as too many people fought too hard for me to gain that basic right of self determination for me to give it up because of silly issues like the polling station being inconveniently located, or because it's raining. But there's something different about this referendum, that sets it apart from all the previous elections of all types that I've voted in.

The difference is, that people now seem to think they have a right to know what your choice has been, and it's not the people who live in Scotland who're asking. They're often polite, and interested, but...I'm just not used to having people (both close friends and acquaintances) think they have some right to know my vote. I'm usually polite and just deflect the question, although if I think the person's not going to rant at me about my choice, I may well share it, but I was brought up to believe that what you voted was your personal choice, and not something that other people should ever ask of you.

So, when did we all become so crass as to feel it was OK to ask others about how they have or will vote? When did my political choice flip from being private to being something that other think they have a right to know about? Is this going to happen in the next General Election in 2015? Will people be asking each other about their voting intention beforehand, and jeering them for it after?

Where did our political politeness go?

Time flies when you're having....a lot of stuff going on!

Phew, it's been a long time between blog posts here, huh?

Mainly, this has been because I've been super busy at work, between settling in to my role, and working hard with our intake of summer students. Settling in, and having people get to know me (made much easier now by the fact that the Information Services team and our Library have been located on one of the main office floors since mid April, so we're far more visible to staff) means that the fee earners have become more comfortable with asking me for research help, and passing research tasks to me to deal with, so my day-to-day workload has been picking up. Plus I've been checking over and altering the training materials I inherited from my predecessor...and testing them out on the Summer Law School students!

The Summer Law School at my current workplace is partially similar to the one which was run by my old employer, but it's also substantially more involved. Unlike the previous 2-sets-of-students, 4-weeks-each-session scheme I was involved in at my old workplace, this Law School involves only one set of students in a single 8 week session. The participants have come through a highly competitive application process, with tough application sifting and interviews bringing the hundreds of applicants down to only 12 or so attendees. During their time here, they experience the wide range of types of legal work available in the firm, while attending weekly business skills training sessions, and also participating in a group charity fundraising project. It's a VERY intensive experience for them, and I was super impressed with how well they all's not easy to work as a team while you're also competing against each other! That competitive element comes from the fact that the Summer Business School is effectively an intensive 8 week long interview, as at the end of it, the best candidates will get offered a traineeship place.

So, as part of my role, I've been supporting these students as they get used to the various differences between studying law, and practising it. It's an excellent opportunity for them, allowing them to get to grips with different departments and their work. However, it's also potentially overwhelming, because they're being presented with scenarios and situations that they may not have encountered yet (they're here prior to completing the last year or two years of their studies), so I'm there to help them with any information-related issues they come across, and guide them with research tasks they get given. We also have some online resources available to staff that are more business-oriented, so the students were unlikely to have encountered them before, and I gave training and support on those.

As a neutral person whose role is specifically to help and support them, and being placed outside their formal mentor/team situation, I'm able to give them information about how the firm works/what's expected of them/ the appropriate way to do things, without them worrying about it being factored into decisions about traineeships. I'm also able to provide some reassurance that, just because their line manager thinks the answer will take 5 minutes to find, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will actually be that quick (otherwise thy'd have done it themselves)!

But it's not just the students that have been learning during the Law School, I've been learning too! Not having worked in the academic library environment, I didn't know how much support law students had available to them from the library in their universities. Or how much power those library staff have to prod the students into attending training on the online resources they're likely to need and use. However, from working with the students during the summer, I realised that many of them were only using the most basic functions of certain databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis, and didn't fully understand some of the deeper tools available to them, which implied that they'd skipped a lot of the training on offer to them! To make up for this, I encouraged the students to book time with me, in order to go over certain subscription resources in more depth, and to explore new ones. In these sessions, we looked at the more advanced options in the resources, and used additional tools like setting up news alerts, and creating subscriptions in RSS feed readers. I was quite surprised that RSS feed readers were a new idea for most of the students, but impressed with how quickly they grasped how much time they could save by using them, and how much of a better awareness on certain topics they could develop by using them to manage their news sources.

I also realised (thanks to being able to ask academic librarians online) that the academic version of resources like Westlaw often didn't have the same tailoring available to the users as the way we access it. This was down to the fact that the students were accessing it via IP authentication, whereas we login with passwords, which means each user has an individual, tailorable experience, including folders, search alerts and RSS feeds. They were most disappointed when they realised their academic access wouldn't give them the same tools, as many had said how useful the folders and alerts options would be when undertaking research for their dissertations!

And now the summer students have all gone, and we'll be welcoming some of them back in a few years, so it must be quieter around here now, right?


Now we have the new trainee intake, all settling in nicely with their teams, and now starting to ask their own research questions.

It's never quiet in the Library, really!
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