A law librarian’s experience of the 11th SAOIM (SA Online Information Meeting) conference: Innovation in an age of limits, by Lydia Craemer
Initially I was very unsure about whether I should attend SAOIM. Once the full programme was made available, I looked at it wondering “what can a law librarian and law libraries gain from this?” However, as I looked at the topics my own personal interest in the topics was piqued and I decided to attend. One of the invited speakers, Maggie Verster had been instrumental in getting me on to Twitter many years ago. I was limited to the number of days and workshops I could attend. Hence I decided from the start that I would follow the conference on Twitter on the days that I could not attend. The goal was to learn from what I was missing. I followed the #SAOIM tweets on 5 June and 7 June favouring quite a few tweets that “spoke” to me and retweeting some that I thought would be of benefit to my followers. (Read the #SAOIM Tweets by Lydia Craemer (@infointuitive) – 5-8 June 2012).
I arrived at the conference venue for my first day of the conference with a mind open to possibilities, intrigued by what I’d seen on Twitter the previous day. I decided to tweet during proceedings as best I could. I have yet to master tweeting while concentrating on someone presenting at the same time!
Stephen Abram’s presentation on “Spotting trends and opportunities” gave me much food for thought because his views can apply in any kind of library or information environment. The idea that we choose and shape our future because we tend to be future-orientated “spoke” to me. This is true in the legal field – we have to know what is coming and how to prepare for it and keep track of it. Technology should align with humans, not vice versa – we can complement technology by bringing our strengths into play. And most important: information becomes knowledge based on the learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) of each unique individual. One thing librarians must accept: “Shift happens!” So true, when one thinks of how libraries, collections and our approach to information seeking have changed over the decades. Libraries are about an experience, one that can change information into knowledge. In the long term librarians should think in shades of grey, not black and white/black or white, embrace collaboration and not be afraid to experiment. Libraries must embrace their customers and librarians should cultivate an open mind-set. Stephen encouraged us to see “every exit as an entrance somewhere else”.
Ujala Satgoor defined innovation amongst other things as “to alter one’s approach or attitude; an act/process through which something becomes different”. The change factors (leadership, change management, economics and technology) that affect academic libraries affect specialised libraries too. The limits we face are many, including slow uptake of technology, budgets, our attitudes and not paying attention to what the library customer needs. Ujala encouraged librarians to change and be innovative to give new value to the library customers. It requires work but the impact may be long-lasting” She quoted Jean Sykes who said “…Librarians are very well-placed to make a difference and secure an enviable reputation for our profession if we continue to watch, listen, think, analyse, collaborate, share, test and try and if we deploy real leadership skills, displaying a genuine willingness to keep reinventing ourselves and our old skills to match the changing environment we find ourselves in at any stage.” What I learn from this? “Shift happens” and if it is embraced by libraries we will stay relevant.
Pavlinka Kovatcheva’s paper on the embedded librarian emphasised that librarians must make themselves visible and engage with the communities they assist. Law librarians have an opportunity to become embedded if they are in touch with events and shifts, and filter this to the legal practitioners. Her point that libraries should be customer-centric and not library-centric struck a chord – the library is about the people who use it, perhaps more so than the collections it contains. Continuous learning on the part of the librarian is crucial – not only from the customers or the environment in which the library is placed, but also from the collective knowledge that professional library organisations provide if you belong to one. Social media can play an important role in embedding the library in the organisation through the use of mobile technologies like Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as by setting up specialised pages on an Intranet if the organization has one.
Maggie Verster’s session was entertaining as she asked us to establish whether we and our colleagues were “dead” or “dead-ish” when it comes to using social media tools like Twitter. Those who do not use social media tools = “dead”; those who use them sporadically = “dead-ish”. We were also invited to participate in a poll called Twitter Pulse to see if we considered ourselves to be a) a networking librarian twitter ninja, b) a lurking librarian twit, or c) no pulse – no tweet. She emphasized again that collaboration is key to “staying alive”. We should be embedded, mobile and interactive with our customers. We should embrace social media tools and use them to the fullest advantage in whatever subject area we are in.
The papers presented in the second session on 6 June were aimed at academic libraries, yet the ideas expressed about training customers in library usage are as relevant to a law library as to an academic library. Bettie de Kock of the University of Pretoria showed the attendees a remarkable computer game that has been created by the library to familiarise students with regard to how they use the library. It covers the importance of the librarian as a reliable educator and research aide, research tools, and how to compile an assignment in an accepted style of writing. Three weeks later, in a blog post written by a law librarian, I found out that a law firm in Australia has also created a game to assist candidate attorneys in learning to ask the right questions and how to effectively do research. Librarians are keeping pace with the fast changing world!
The day closed with a presentation by Karen Blakeman from the UK in which she illustrated how Google and social media tools track individuals and personalize the information individuals receive when they do Google searches and when they access social media sites. If this is a sobering and scary thought, one can run two browser sessions when on the Internet. If one wants to keep certain personal information personal, then one disables cookies (the computer feature that tracks websites one has visited) on your browser, and one uses that browser for any searches that may be deemed personal and/or confidential. The other browser’s cookies are enabled and Google and social media can then track one’s preferences and tailor results based on those preferences.
As I returned to work, I felt invigorated and intrigued by the new possibilities that technology holds for libraries and librarians. I followed day two of the conference on Twitter and further enhanced my learning. The librarian is not “dead” or “dead-ish” ; s/he is very much alive and keeping a finger on the pulse of our ever-changing world.