Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy System Administrator Appreciation Day!

Did you know that July 31st is System Administrator Appreciation Day? Yeah ok, either did I until about 5 minutes ago. ;)

In the honour of the day then, see: Mordac The Preventer of Information Services.

And the requisite light bulb joke:

Q: How many system administrators does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, they just keep everyone out of the room.

Monday, July 20, 2009

BC Pro Bono Advice-a-thon!

Pro Bono Law of BC is looking for lawyers to volunteers in Vancouver, Kelowna and and Victoria for Pro Bono Going Public 2009, a free outdoor legal advice-a-thon to raise awareness and funds for the provision of pro bono legal services in British Columbia.

The events are slated for September 11 (Vancouver), September 15 (Kelowna) and September 18 (Victoria), and PBLBC hopes that more than 50 volunteer lawyers will participate.

In each free legal advice-a-thon location, volunteer lawyers will work in one or two hour shifts throughout the day to advise individual clients in an open-air setting. Clients will be low- and modest-income individuals, including homeless people who may otherwise have limited access to traditional free legal advice clinics. Some clients will have pre-scheduled appointments, while others will simply drop in for free advice on a wide range of legal issues.

The event is in need of Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria lawyers to volunteer for one or two hours at the free legal advice-a-thon. PBLBC also needs friends, family, co-workers and members of the public to pledge financial support for the participating lawyers. The hope is that each volunteer lawyer will raise an amount equal to or above their billable hour rate. The ultimate goals are to serve the public, spread awareness around lawyers’ efforts to increase access to justice, and raise $20,000 or more for BC’s pro bono programs.

For more information, to volunteer, or offer financial support, please visit:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Highlights from SLA 2009: Competitive Intelligence for Law Firms

I saved the best for last at SLA 2009. "Incorporating CI into Your Services: Real Life Examples from Legal Info Pros" was my favourite type of session: fast-paced and full of practical, concrete examples.

Tim McAllister, Greg Lambert, and J.O. Wallace are all law librarians at BigLaw firms in the US and for an hour and a half, they shared with us their experiences in providing competitive intelligence (CI) to the powers that be. In short, CI is absolutely critical in protecting a firm's bottom line and reputation.

Coming from the relatively small Canadian legal market, I was fascinated to hear about the competitive nature of major law firms in United States. I described it afterwards to a friend as it almost being like the rivalry between McDonalds and Burger King. I knew that the American legal industry was bigger and different from ours, but I didn't realise just how fierce the competition between major law firms is.

Tim McAllister was up first, and discussed the process of creating a weekly CI newsletter for his firm. CI was always being done on a some level, but it was disorganized and disjointed. Administration had asked him to do some collecting, filtering, and distilling of the information to make it more streamlined. He emphasized that "When we do our jobs well, we give people the mental space to do their jobs well", and this seemed to be the guiding principle each step along the way of the newsletter's development.

McAllister created a newsletter that captures information in seven categories: mergers & acquisitions; office openings/closings; lawyer moves; law firm management trends; finances, fees, bonuses, salaries; the firm in the news; and special reports such as AmLaw 100, etc.

He then described the evolution of the newsletter: what works (3 pages, bullet points, facts, numbers, a BlackBerry-friendly format) and what doesn't (anything more than 3 pages, blocks of text or commentary, anything BlackBerry-unfriendly) and what methods he uses for collecting all the data.

The newsletter was very well received and the distribution list has grown from just the senior staff in the beginning, to include several other departments - sounds like a success to me!

Greg Lambert was up next, and he began his section of the session in remarking on the interesting position that CI finds itself in: CI is overhead, and yet CI is necessary to grow revenue. He he described his fascinating and novel experiences in crowdsourcing routine CI tasks using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Lambert talked about the testing, trial and error, and ethical considerations of this sort of outsourcing. It remains to be seen if this set-up will work for Lambert, but I am impressed with his innovative attitude!

J.O. Wallace spoke last, and showed us screen captures of several CI initiatives he's worked on. He helped to develop a sort of "bidding system" for defense work opportunities. Basically, his team works to swiftly assemble and deliver a snapshot of a potential case, which includes information on the firm's current relationship with the potential client, biographies of the client's directors and officers, a client profile, and conflict check information. Wallace also showed us exactly how he formats a CI newsletter that he distributes several times a week.

The presentation left me with the impression that BigLaw's fast-paced, cut-throat environment isn't just a reality for lawyers; info pros also deal with it day in, day out. It seems exciting and glamourous, even - but I think this just McAllister, Lambert, and Wallace's enthusiasm for their work shining through. And while I've not been asked (yet) to do CI in my own work, I feel like I'd have a good starting point if the need arose. An excellent session overall, and I hope to see more of this type at future SLA conferences.

That's it for recaps from me for this year - hopefully I'll be back next year with tales from SLA 2010 in New Orleans!

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Highlights of SLA 2009: Painless Negotiation

It's no secret that Mary Ellen Bates is a must-see speaker for me - it's impossible to go to one of her presentations and not come out of it feeling energized and excited about our profession. This year I opted to go to one of her more general sessions, entitled Painless (no, really!) Negotiating.

Bates described how she was one ultra-averse to negotiating, but told us to remember that "negotiation is a moment of discomfort to get a larger payoff". Here's a quick summary of her tips:
  • Keep an internal locus of control - do not allow the external world to control you
  • First ID your best outcome (not how you will get there)
  • ID the other person's best outcome
  • Look at all the alternatives.
  • Negotiate from a place of interest, not position
  • Shift from worst-case to best-case thinking
  • Always make a high first offer. If you offer what you'll settle for, you've got nowhere to go but down
  • You don't have to be dissatisfied to ask for more
  • It's business, not personal
Bates reminded us that in even in a situation that you see as have only two options, "there's yes, and there's no. And then there's apples" - meaning, there may be things you haven't thought of, or that only the other person can offer.

A final, but very important, point: language is important. As with all communication, "I" statements are key. And when you're negotiating, say "I want". Don't say things like "I deserve" (because "we all deserve more than we get") or even "I would like". These are conversation stoppers and won't get you very far.

For anyone in the library field, there are many instances where good negotiating skills come in handy. Salary and benefits discussions and vendor contract negotiations come to mind immediately, but if Bates is right when she says "everything is negotiable", then those are just the tip of the iceberg. Virtually every aspect of life can be improved with solid and confident negotiation skills.

Slides for Painless (no really!) Negotiation along with Bates' other two presentations are available at her website.

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New BC Court Rules Include Court Fee Reductions

The BC Government announced yesterday a number of changes that should help reduce Court costs in this province, including:
  • the Province picking up the tab for "up to three days of trial time before litigants are required to pay court fees";
  • "court fees for filing or responding to a legal claim will be eliminated for parties that engage in mediation prior to commencing a civil action"; and,
  • a new fast track process to simplify procedures for disputes of less than $100K.
The new rules were initiated by the Justice Review Task Force, and come into force on July 1, 2010.

The rationale behind these changes and an overview of the goals involved are also nicely explained in this Civil Rules Fact Sheet.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Highlights of SLA 2009: Critical Thinking

One of the best sessions I attended at the SLA annual conference was "Critical Thinking", presented by Rebecca Jones and Jane Dysart of Dysart & Jones and Deb Wallace of the Harvard Business School Baker Library. With such a short and plain title, this session might have been easy to miss in the program, but I'm extremely glad I decided to attend. I'll share here a little of what I learned.

Critical thinking is an intellectually disciplined process that requires skillful action. It's a way of thinking that requires constant acknowledgment of certain biases and traps that may impact your decisions. It is recognizing that you can't make decisions alone or in a vacuum. According to the presenters, it's hard, and it's worth it.

Critical thinking requires constant mindfulness not to fall into decision traps. The four biggest traps we we fall into are framing, status quo, anchoring, and sunk cost fallacy.
  • Framing is the idea that you already have about a situation and the way you approach it. The types of questions you ask will determine the types of answers you'll get. Reframing will take you from "How do we cut 10% of our budget" to "We have X dollars. How will we spend it best?". To avoid the trap of framing, don't accept the first frame or question. Look at it from different perspectives.
  • Whether we like something, we have a tendency to stick with what we know. Breaking status quo is psychologically risky because you open yourself up to criticism. Sticking with the status quo is not action, it's comfort. To avoid this trap, identify what IS the status quo, and ask how it is helping reach a goal. Evaluate the status quo against all other options in terms of the future.
  • Anchoring seems to be a bit like framing. The first things we hear or see determine our subsequent thinking - you have to take into account your past experiences and the order you learned about them. Awareness and using different starting points can help to prevent anchoring. When explaining a situation, give as little info as possible to begin.
  • The Sunk Cost fallacy revolves around people's tendency to want to justify past decisions no matter how the present and future are affected by that decision. It's thinking like, "We've already spent so much money on this. Why stop now?" To avoid it, consciously set aside past investments. Remember that a rational decision is one based on current assets and future consequences. Stop sinking costs into sunk ones. It's important to reward new ideas.
We were encouraged to remember that a little disagreement is necessary, and that disagreement does not equate to disloyalty. Essential characteristics for critical thinking are:
  • good listening skills
  • a keen sense of self-awareness (what is your conflict style?) and acceptance of that style
  • curiosity and interest
  • the ability to admit when you don't understand or feel you are missing important information
  • a willingness to assess and evaluate the issues at hand for their current value
Immediately, I began to notice the power of reframing: that is, changing the way you look at a given circumstance. I saw this sort of thinking displayed in a recent article in AALL Spectrum, Manhattan BigLaw Libraries with a Smaller Footprint: The analyses and processes of physically downsizing the law library/information center. In the article, one library director described the proactive approach he took to downsizing, whereby he negotiated a loss of space in exchange for an increased electronic resources budget:
“The second you find there is a potential reduction, be forthcoming. Be proactive if you have to reduce the library space,” says Cohan. “Think of ways you can save money. I gave up one half of the space and picked up a huge amount for my electronic resources. View it as an opportunity—not a take-away from the library.”
It's this sort of thinking ("View it as an opportunity") that Dysart, Jones, and Wallace encouraged us to try to develop. I think critical thinking skills are going to become more and more valuable for the library field, as we find ourselves facing change at an ever-quickening pace.

You can see more of Jones' thoughts on critical thinking on the Dysart & Jones blog. Interestingly, she submits that critical thinking comes more easily to Gen Xers and Yers because we were taught to ask "why?" in school. (That may be giving us too much credit, but it's worth considering.) The slides of the presentation are also available at the Dysart & Jones website.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

SLA 2009: Alignment Project and a New Name for SLA

Alignment was a more formal theme at SLA 2009, and took the form of SLA's Alignment Project:
"This alignment project will not only help refine our current positioning in the marketplace, but provide a framework for discussing the inherent value in the profession and the Association in a clear, compelling and cohesive voice."
In a nutshell, SLA's working with international PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, futurist Andy Hines, and information analytics firm Outsell, Inc to get a realistic picture of how our profession is viewed by business leaders and decision makers, and to develop strategies to improve our image and raise our profile.

With the Alignment Project comes the very real likelihood of a name change. According to SLA CEO Janice Lachance, "As SLA enters its second century, it is clear that we are burdened with a name that not only causes confusion but also fails to capture the aspirations of our members."

Research done for the Alignment Project shows that the word "special" is vague and doesn't accurately communicate the value of a librarian. SLA members have been told to expect a vote on a new name sometime over the next year. The Knowledge and Information Specialist Society (KISS), Specialized Librarians and Information Professionals (SLIP), and Global Association of Library and Information Professionals (GALIP) are just a few of the names people are proposing. You can see many of the suggestions at the SLA Alignment wiki.

Personally, I'm all in favour of considering a new name. SLA founder John Cotton Dana himself said that the organization's name "was chosen with some hesitation, and rather in default of a better." I think we can find a name that better represents what we do, and I'm excited to be a part of choosing that name.

The 2009 conference was a great one, and SLA's centennial gave us all the more reason to celebrate our organization's achievements. It's mind-boggling to try to predict what sorts of topics and themes will dominate the annual conference agenda 10 years from now, let alone another 100 - but it's sure neat to imagine.

Stay tuned for summaries of my favourite sessions over the next few days!


Friday, July 03, 2009

SLA 2009: ROI for Special Libraries

In addition to embedded librarianship, another high-profile theme at SLA 2009 was return on investment.

There seemed to be more focus than usual this year on ROI; this is not surprising considering the economy. Post-session Q&A almost always yielded at least one question about ROI: how to measure it, how to report on it, how to prove it, etc. Obviously, it's a topic that's on everyone's minds.

But what was different this year was a more straightforward, ruthless attitude towards it. I heard several speakers mention that they review their services regularly - not yearly, but every 90 days. If the service is not being used or aligned with the organization's goals, it's cut. No hemming and hawing - just cut it and move on. Attendees were also encouraged to be mindful of the discrepancy between what's important to us and what's important to the end user - there's often a big difference between the two.

During one session on critical thinking, the speakers emphasized how important it is not to get caught in the sunk cost fallacy. In other words, if a service or activity isn't worth pursuing, don't let the fact that you've invested a lot of time and effort and money into it prevent you from axing it. Just write it off as a sunk cost and get on it with. This sort of blunt, no-nonsense strategy was prevalent.

I don't expect that ROI will become any less important in coming years, and it'll be interesting to hear the innovative ways that info pros track and convey this important measure.

Up next: The Alignment Project and a New Name for SLA


Thursday, July 02, 2009

FriendFeed Live Search

Testing friendfeed's new live search. If this works, a widget will be embedded below for a live search of my name.

Update: added a boolean 'or' to include my twitter user name.

SLA 2009: Embedded Librarianship

At its annual conference from June 14-17, the Special Libraries Association celebrated its first 100 years. (Today, July 2nd, is SLA's official 100th birthday!) As usual, the conference offered many top-notch opportunities for learning and networking, and of course, the chance to explore beautiful, cosmopolitan Washington, DC. Over the next week or so, I'll share my thoughts and notes on some of my favourite sessions.

My first few posts will cover some of formal and informal themes that were evident at the conference. First up...

Embedded Librarianship

While it's been gaining momentum over the last few years, embedded librarianship was definitely one of the more popular topics at this year's conference (I also heard it described as portfolio librarianship and outreach librarianship).

It has no official definition, but the idea is to recognize that librarians can exist outside of, and even without, libraries. Typically, embedded-type librarians are assigned and dedicated to a particular practice group, division, or department. One good description is that they are "members of teams, groups, units — organizations — indistinguishable in status or value to the group from any other members, except for the fact that they bring a unique awareness of the importance of information and knowledge, and skill in applying information and knowledge to improve group performance" (see "What's in a name? Or, is an embedded librarian still a librarian?").

Library folks seem to be excited about embedded librarianship because it offers us a chance to really become a part of a team, and through this, anticipate and identify a team's information needs before, or as, they arise. Personally, I can see this being a much more rewarding way to provide research and reference services - instead of being separate and often overlooked as a resource, you'd be in the thick of things.

How often have we done piles of work on a file (or little bits of work on many files), but never found out what the outcome was? The nature of legal work is so fast-paced that it's impossible to follow up on every piece of research we complete. We all know that feeling of satisfaction when a lawyer tells us that work we did helped to win a case or seal the deal... imagine always knowing exactly how your work contributed to the end product.

It seems to me that a model of embedded librarianship could make work so much more meaningful, and I'm pleased to see it becoming a reality for so many of my colleagues.

Up next: ROI for Special Libraries


Emma Wood to Recap SLA 2009

I didn't get to attend SLA 2009, but fortunate for VLLB readers, our friend & stemployee Emma Wood did!

And... as any evil employer (got the laugh down, working on the costume...) would, I've had her slaving over her thoughts for a series of blog posts. Those will be delivered here on the VLLB over the next week.

Watch out for the first post later today!

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