BIALL conference, day one, Thurs 14 June

June 18, 2007

After managing to catch the 7.25 train from St Pancras and arriving in an extremely wet and grey Sheffield, I managed to find my way to the conference centre, Sheffield City Hall. Having gulped down a coffee, it was straight into the main hall for the day’s plenary sessions. Below are my thoughts on each of these sessions, which (for those of you in the profession) will also be appearing in the next BIALL newsletter, since I was the grateful recipient of a BIALL bursary. I’ll also blog about sessions on the Friday and Saturday as and when time allows.

“How to Work a Room” – Rob Brown, Relationship and Reputation Marketing Expert

I am always extremely sceptical of anything that has the slightest whiff of management speak about it. As such, I was initially doubtful about the extent to which Rob Brown’s presentation would prove useful, since there was some space filling on spurious “types of socialisers”, featuring not very hilarious pictures of animals as illustrations. However, when he got down to the nitty gritty of explaining tactics to use when you need to network, the session became very useful. In particular, he highlighted ways in which one can identify those people most available to talk to, and “non-threatening” ways in which to introduce oneself. While this stuff always seems fairly obvious in hindsight, it is always useful to have it set out, and Brown was an undeniably good presenter. An irony of Brown’s presentation was, however, that I felt nervous about using any of the techniques he outlined during the rest of the conference, for fear of appearing cliched!

“The Architecture of an Information Revolution” – Adrian Dale, Creatifica Associates

Adrian Dale’s presentation was the Willi Steiner Memorial Lecture, commemorating Steiner’s contribution to law librarianship and the information management field more generally. Dale’s key point (and one that would be examined by a number of other speakers throughout the conference) was the massive, and indeed overwhelming, expansion of information in recent years, and potential strategies for coping with this expansion. He cited a recent article which argued that information, if unorganised, essentially had zero value for any given organisation. Dale went beyond this, arguing that information actually has a negative value if not properly marshalled. This is because the costs involved in searching for information outweigh the benefits of the information itself once found. As such, an information revolution was required, in which information professionals such as law librarians must take the lead in “architecting” (horrible word) information. By this, Dale meant creating the structures for effective knowledge management and dissemination that would allow users of whatever stripe to access information effectively.

This session was something of a call to arms, or a challenge, in that it set out the problem of “too much information” (the conference’s theme) facing information professionals in extremely stark terms. Dale also emphasised, though, that it is “people like us” that should be taking up this challenge, since others were unlikely to do so, and since this is perhaps the information problem facing organisations such as law firms in the near future. This idea of “if not you, then who?” was one taken up by later speakers, and in particular Phil Bradley, on whose session more later.

“Counter Culture: New Libraries and New Futures” – Derek Law, University of Strathclyde

Derek Law, Librarian at the University of Strathclyde, gave a talk about the direction in which he believes the library sector in general is heading. He examined various different responses to the perennial fear of those in the library sector, that the library as traditionally understood is on the verge of becoming obsolete. He advocated the continuing promotion of the availability of new forms of socially and collaboratively produced media as an appropriate strategy, since resources such as Wikipedia provide such a wealth of information. An interesting strand of the talk was his distinction between the 20th century as a “textual” age, and the 21st century as a “visual” age, as we have ever-increasing access to visual media, whether these be film, photographs, computer games and so on. While I would agree that this is broadly true, surely it would also be true to say that the “text” is as prevalent as it ever was, even if this text might now be collaborative and provisional? I would also take issue with the assertion that social media and web 2.0 are unconditionally and unquestionably a good thing. For example, there is a line of critique as per the one reported in this BBC article, arguing that web 2.0 is the equivalent of a “digital mob”. Nevertheless, Law’s lecture was interesting and thought provoking, and by no means pessimistic about the future of the library.

“Building a Blog: Lessons and Challenges” – Andrew Mills, Freeth Cartwright

This session was on a topic particularly close to my heart! Andrew Mills is an intellectual property lawyer and partner at Freeth Cartwright. He is also the driving force behind IMPACT, a blog relating to intellectual property matters. He started the session by asking delegates whether they blogged, and I was forced to admit that I fitted into the long-time blogging demographic, for my sins. As such, and as Mills stated, the session didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about the technicalities of blogging. It did, however, highlight some interesting issues with regard to the reasons for blogging, and the status of information that is provided by blogs.

Mills’ argument for blogging was that, first and foremost, it’s good fun, a sentiment with which I would agree with wholeheartedly. He also argued that IMPACT provided information to his team, his firm more widely, clients and other interested parties in a less formal way than that provided by other possible channels. So, for example, IMPACT has provided FAQs on a number of legal issues that Mills and his team found they were consulted on frequently by clients. Instead of taking costly, formal legal advice, the client could be referred to the blog entry in question. For an example of these FAQs, there is a section of IMPACT dedicated to them, to be found here. This is, I think, an example of the ability of blogs to fill a niche that would otherwise remain unfilled, somewhere between formal, static information, and totally informal, gossipy information.

Ultimately, Mills’ message was “give it a go and see what happens” given the success of IMPACT, advice I would fully endorse, whatever your sector and whther it be for fun or for more serious ends.


5 Responses to “BIALL conference, day one, Thurs 14 June”

  1. […] « BIALL conference, day one, Thurs 14 June […]

  2. […] resources can be put to, was pretty inspiring, as was his call (echoing that of Andrew Mills on day one) to just get involved and see where it takes […]

  3. Rich Says:

    You are right about the ‘working a room’ presentation – no one wanted to use the recommended (and effective) techniques cos it looked a bit daft immediately after the session!

    Any idea where Andrew put that mobile phone video clip of the conference on the Impact site? After a (very brief) scan of Impact I can’t find the link and I didn’t note down the address he mentioned.

  4. neilstewart Says:

    Hi Rich! I’ve had a poke around Impact as well, and can’t seem to find anything- I think the URL suffix was /BIALL2007 or the like, but no dice. Can any readers enlighten us?

  5. […] whereabouts of Andrew Mills’ additional resources, to be found here, as  was discussed on this earlier […]

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