Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#AALL2011 Annual Meeting Schedule

I'll start with full disclosure. I am a fan of both AALL and the Annual Meeting. I have a long history of participation and leadership. I don't think I've missed an Annual Meeting since I entered the profession in 1997 (Baltimore).  I've studied for the bar while attending Annual Meeting (Baltimore), nursed a baby while attending Annual Meeting (Anaheim), and I even attended Annual Meeting when I was 8 months pregnant (DC) and had to take the train because the airlines wouldn't let me fly! I find the Association to be a wonderful source for professional engagement and the Annual Meeting to be a time for re-energizing and re-connecting.

But as an engaged member it's also my responsibility to speak up when I think something isn't working. And after having had time to reflect, and to speak with some of my colleagues, I think the Annual Meeting isn't working. It's just frantic! It reminds me of that game show booth where they blow air in and cash swirls all around you and you have to grab what you can. Everything swirling around you is great, but you only get to keep what you can hold in your two hands. And even though there is a million dollars in the booth, the producers know you can't get out of that booth with more than a very small percentage of that cash, even if you have a great strategy. So in the end, you'll walk away with something valuable, but you'll lament what you left behind.

In Philly, I got a lot of good work done, but there was a lot left on the table. It seems like we're moving in the wrong direction; trying to accomplish MORE in LESS time. I need that extra day back that we lopped off the AM a few years back! And I really would like to see at least one group event reinstated (luncheon, closing banquet). I think we miss out on a sense of cohesiveness and community without one such event. This year, with the exhibit opening switched and some of the association activities (awards, closing ceremont, etc.) moved into the exhibit hall, the lack of an association event was even more apparent. These events, which are typically better attended than the annual business meeting or plenaries, might give our keynote speakers a better audience and allow awards and recognitions to colleagues and sponsors to be given the attention they deserve. And finally, I still believe we should rethink programming. In this respect, less is more. Maybe we should think about tracks? Or some other scheduling innovation? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, July 28, 2011


The Annual Meeting of AALL adjourned earlier this week in Philly. Congratulations to everyone who made it such a productive endeavor! It was a very successful meeting for me personally and for NELLCO. The always effervescent Theresa McCue staffed the NELLCO booth for the entire meeting, and her friendly and helpful personality drew members and non-members alike like moths to the flame! We answered lots of questions and shared tons on information. Theresa provided demos of our forthcoming website and the new acquisition process. We gathered lots of recycled conference bags and gave out lots of contraband healthy snacks. NELLCO hosted a river cruise on Sun. evening that was a big hit with most of the attendees. The dance floor stayed busy! I hope we got to talk with you, but if not you can always feel free to contact us by phone or e-mail. You can find our contact info on the NELLCO website.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Innovation, failure and the economy

The title of this post is derived from 3 themes I keep bumping into. I'm wondering if it's the same for you, too. I know it is with respect to 'the economy.' That's like whack-a-mole. But what about the other two? I've been thinking and talking about the importance of failure for organizations and collaborations in a few different contexts recently. A blog post at ARCLog today challenges librarians to recognize the opportunities for innovation or risk irrelevance. Also today, failure was the topic of a weekly twitter chat I follow (#assnchat). It had come up in a previous assnchat when we were discussing risk-taking. In a culture where failure is not an option, there isn't likely to be much risk-taking. Organizations have to come to terms with failure in order for innovation to have a chance. In today's chat the bold idea of a failure budget or a failure fund came up. What a great way to embrace failure and embolden your Board, staff and members to lead innovation!

In a down economy we may need to be even more innovative to accomplish our missions. And yet, if leaders don't feel supported enough to be risk-takers during flush times, fear of failure is likely to be even more inertia inducing in lean times. So create a culture that acknowledges and accepts the risk of failure, learns from failure, and maybe even plans for failure. Does this sound like your library?  How do you manage failure?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Anecdote = #Fail!

I'm a lover of stories. When I read for pleasure it's almost always fiction. I love a tall tale, a well-spun yarn, an eloquent narrative. But I've come to believe that the anecdote is failing librarians. I mean specifically the anecdote presented as evidence for a thing, or as justification for our behavior or action. I think we do ourselves and our profession a desservice when we resort to the anecdote to support our claims of fact. And it's even more egregious when we wield the anecdote as an excuse for our own inaction.

A few examples might help me illustrate my point. After the Durham Statement came out I was researching the reasons for the apparent resistance to a shift to e-only publishing of law journals. I wanted to make the case that e-only would save law schools money. I based this argument on the anecdote I've heard about these publications for as long as I've been aware of them. "Law journals are loss leaders for their home institutions." I tried to find hard evidence, as I had foolishly assumed there would be, to support my anecdotally-based argument. I was hoping for a scholarly article with actual figures, or at the very least a footnote somewhere. I have yet to find such evidence. But this anecdote is alive and well.

Another example of a pervasive anecdote emerged as I tried to understand this insistence on print journal publishing. That is, the purported article author's lament: "I want to send a copy of the article to my grandma so she can see my name in print." Really? Is the hue and cry of these student authors so vociferous that all of our well-informed efforts to persuade them otherwise have failed? Or have we simply passed around this well-worn anecdote to relieve us of the responsibility to persuade?

One final anecdote relates to acquisition decisions and often affects me directly in my work. This one, typically proffered whenever we're discussing why a library might decide to acquire a particular resource despite widespread opposition to the terms, pricing, access model, etc., seems to be an unassailable precept: "Our faculty have to have/demand it!" Again, Really? When you were faced with the decision did you sit down with the faculty member(s) in question and explain what's at stake? Did you share the cost/benefit analysis? Did you tie it back in to the budget of the library? To the principles and best practices of librarianship? Did you explore what the faculty member(s) really needed and offer alternative resources that would meet their information needs?

At last week's Future of Law Libraries meeting, John Palfrey called us to lead our own destiny, rather than react to one thrust upon us. "Shame on us!" he declared, if we don't shoulder that mantle. I could not agree more! In order to do it, we have to shrug off these useless anecdotes that elevate the whims and fancies of others and devalue our skills, knowledge and expertise. So if you should hear me spouting one of these (or any other) hackneyed justifications, call me on it will you? I'm going to try to do the same for you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Collaboration mythology

Recently I read a press release by Gartner, Inc., an IT research and advisory firm based in CT, which identifies 5 collaboration myths. The myths are:

1) The right tools will make us collaborative.
2) Collaboration is inherently a good thing.
3) Collaborating takes extra time.
4) People naturally will/will not collaborate.
5) People instinctively know how to collaborate.

I might tweak #3 a bit to reflect those on the other side of that particular myth; Collaborating takes extra time/saves time. And I might want to add a myth about the costs of collaboration. Maybe #6 - Collaboration saves money/is too expensive.

It's a quick read that invites you to challenge your assumptions.  Have a look.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Information vendors, librarians, associations and antitrust

I've been loathe to jump into this fray. Not because I don't have anything to say. I've spent a great deal of time actively involved with librarians/libraries and vendors relations since even before I joined this profession. I was a Westlaw Rep as a law student. That gave me an introduction to the vendor/library milieu. Later, as a reference librarian I gained a different perspective as a consumer. Now, in my 10 years with NELLCO negotiating with vendors on behalf of member libraries, and having served AALL as CRIV Chair, my perspective is, in my opinion, fairly well-balanced. The reason I've hesitated to enter the conversation is because there is such passion on both sides. I'd like to see us engage in a dispassionate, honest debate about what's at stake for all of the stakeholders. No fingerpointing, no fear mongering, just frank dialogue. So with that goal in mind, I offer my thoughts here. I'll start by identifying the stakeholders and their primary interests as I see them.

First, libraries/librarians, as consumers of legal information, have an interest in providing the most relevant resources to their user community at the most favorable terms they can negotiate. The obstacles they face in meeting this goal include increasing budgetary constraints, an ever-expanding array of information resources in the marketplace, constantly evolving technology, and limited staff time for vendor negotiations.

Second, information vendors/content providers (my focus here is primarily on commercial publishers) have an interest in providing the content to meet the demands of the marketplace while generating the greatest possible profit margin. What I mean by this is not that they're money-grubbing opportunists. They're good capitalists in a capitalist society. They may have shareholders to consider. They pay attention to the bottom line. That's business in America. But the bottom line isn't the only god they serve. As good capitalists they understand their reliance on good customer relations. In addition to profit, they need to generate and maintain good will and strong reputations with their customers.

Third in this triumvirate are the associations and organizations that support the relationships between the vendors and the libraries/librarians. These include professional associations, like AALL, and consortia, like NELLCO. Our interests lie in serving our members and generating the revenue necessary to do so. Therein lies the rub. As non-profit, member-driven, dues-reliant organizations we need to keep our revenues healthy in order to continue to provide the services members need. As we grow, members naturally ask us to do more. That's a sign that we're succeeding. And of course, it's a vicious cycle. The more service we provide the more it costs to operate the organization, so the more revenue we need to meet our operating costs.

AALL has been criticized for not taking a vocal enough lead advocating for law libraries around vendor issues. The creation of the Vendor Liaison position has been viewed by some as an attempt to usurp the role of CRIV. I don't agree. I think AALL was trying to respond to the members to the best of their ability as these issues were bubbling up . It makes perfect sense to me that CRIV would have an intermediary role to serve between libraries and vendors, while the Vendor Liaison would serve as ombudsperson between the association and vendors. There are completely different interests at stake. Now there is new movement among the AALL membership to create a caucus on consumer advocacy. I don't necessarily think this is a bad idea. In fact, it's great to see people acting instead of just complaining. However, I think there are some political realities that need to be aired. None of this is news, but I think it's worth saying.

In their 2008 Annual Report (most current posted on their site), AALL reported dues revenue in excess of $1m; almost 28% of their total revenues. This is fairly typical. Needless to say, most organizations want to keep their members happy. AALL has vendor members. The expansion of AALL membership to include vendor (and other) members goes back to the 90s and is well-documented. (Whether that was a good decision in hindsight is another discussion.) So AALL has an interest in keeping their vendor members happy as well those members employed in law libraries and information centers.

I would also submit that AALL's concerns about subjecting the organization to scrutiny for violations of antitrust laws are not entirely without merit. Having vendor members subjects AALL to even greater exposure to antitrust scrutiny. The antitrust provisions as applied to associations presume that associations are necessarily composed of 'competitors' in a given trade or profession. The intent is to preclude anticompetitive behaviors (collusion, price fixing, etc.) among competitive members that will result in a restraint of trade. Looking at AALL's membership prior to the inclusion of vendors the 'competitors' would be law libraries. I can't imagine much concern about market manipulation among that group, who, unlike plumbers or doctors or even lawyers, are not competing with one another in an economic market; law libraries serve their patrons. With vendor members AALL now has a class of members who are in fact 'competitors' as anticipated by the antitrust laws. Thus, AALL has taken a conservative, risk-averse stance on the advice of counsel. As a member I think they're tying to be responsible fiduciaries of the Association. However, based on  my research on this issue the question of precisely which association activities constitute violations of antitrust has not been definitively determined. There is no ready checklist. In the cases on point the fact patterns are critical to the courts' determinations. Who are the parties, what is the intent of their actions, what is their market power, etc.  I think some of the activities that have concerned AALL would stand up to scrutiny under antitrust analysis, but the association would clearly be taking a risk to find out. See Hillary Greene's recent article Antitrust Censorship of Economic Protest in the Duke Law Journal for an excellent overview of the issues. Ms. Greene also makes the case for an approach that would more carefully balance First Amendment interests with free market concerns.

In 2008, AALL also reported almost $1m in additional revenue from vendors (cash, non-cash, exhibits, and advertising). These are all typical non-dues revenue sources. Most associations avail themselves of these kinds of revenue opportunities. There is nothing inherently unethical about this and there is an obvious benefit to the Association and its members, as well as to the suppliers. There's a quid pro quo, a value exchange.

So given all of these complexities it's unrealistic to expect that AALL's interests will always be perfectly aligned with every member of the association. Especially given that the interests of the members themselves aren't aligned. So where does all of this leave us? It leaves us (me at least) wanting to have a more robust, transparent dialogue about what members REALLY want the association to do for them with respect to vendor relations, and what the Association is willing and able to do without putting itself at great risk. Many of us are lawyers and we can understand the complexities involved given the chance. We all need to be educated. Perhaps we could organize an open, scholarly forum around this in an effort to better understand the rights and responsibilities of all parties. Perhaps those organizing the caucus effort could start with this. Any other suggestions?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Should law libraries collaborate around print retention?

Law libraries are between a rock and a hard place these days. Patrons want their content yesterday, preferably in digital format, hopefully optimized for mobile. Deans and state legislatures want serious budget cuts and have little to no concern for print preservation. And of course, library space is at a premium, squeezing libraries from yet another direction. Law librarians recognize the need to fill patrons' information needs on a just-in-time basis and are happy to oblige. And we also acknowledge that the changing role of the library and librarians might drive us to repurpose library space. But many of us also feel a responsibility as stewards of information to be sure that the preservation of the print artifact, as cultural record, is being attended to by someone. We recognize that in the digital information era we no longer have the luxury of maintaining redundant print collections, just-in-case.

With that in mind, this week LIPA and NELLCO joined forces to hold a Summit on Print Repositories in Chicago at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). We were hoping to bring together members of our respective Boards and some of the leading experts in the field today to help us determine whether there is a role for our organizations to facilitate and support the retention of and access to print legal materials. Margie Maes, LIPA Executive Director, and I have been exploring the idea seriously for well over a year now. We visited a number of repositories, reviewed the literature, spoke with many librarians and consortium leaders involved in print repositories, and even designed a pilot project as a starting point.

The idea for us to delve into this arena stemmed from the need we were hearing expressed from among our memberships to do something collaborative and responsive around print retention. Law libraries have attempted distributed retention efforts in the past, with libraries agreeing to retain some portion of some subset of materials (e.g. foreign primary materials from jurisdiction a, b and c, or law reviews with titles starting with a-f, etc.). Last copy agreements have also been a manifestation of this concern. These efforts, while commendable, are usually informal agreements with time limits (e.g. we'll agree to this for 5 years, then we'll revisit). Given that there is no systematic approach to the determination of what to retain in print and no enduring and binding commitment on the part of the well-intentioned participants, the result is that no library is able to discard local print holdings in reliance on the collaborative effort.

In the original pilot model envisioned for LIPA and NELLCO, the participating member libraries would engage in the establishment of a centralized, coordinated print collection, managed by a commercial library services company. We would take advantage of the administrative and processing infrastructure of the commercial facility, while retaining control and coordination on the business model and policy side of the collection (what to collect, how many copies, how to fund, etc.). The collection would be collectively owned and accessible by any participating library. Delivery would be provided digitally when practical, or the item would be shipped to the requesting library when necessary. An on-site reading room would also be available in the rare event that a researcher needed that level of access. Costs for this model would include accessioning the materials from the donating libraries, validation of the print copies to be retained, processing on site for high-density storage, ongoing storage costs, and retrieval and delivery costs. These costs would be shared by the participating libraries based upon a formula developed by the collaborative.

I believe a model like this would relieve the burden many libraries feel to retain extensive print collections. We would be able to carefully monitor use of the materials in able to determine the actual demand over time. If we were to reach the point in time when another format was perceived to provide a level of permanence and reliance that truly made the print obsolete, we could dismantle the collection.

At the meeting at CRL this week we heard from others in the field undertaking a variety of approaches. All agreed that we're in a time ripe for these types of efforts, given the forces at work. So what are your thoughts? Would this work? Why or why not? What are the biggest obstacles? The biggest opportunities?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Visual Meetings

Back when I had 2 babies less than 2 years apart I became an ebay addict. There's not a single room in my home where I can't point to something I bought on ebay back then. If you know ebay, you know there isn't anything you can't find there. In their art section they have a category called outsider art. I used to browse through pages of artwork just to kill time between diapers. There was one particular artist I followed, waiting until he posted something I couldn't live without. The artist's ebay handle was Zen and Ink. He did beautiful, simple ink drawings on cocktail napkins. Something about them just struck me and I'd search for new works every few days. I never bought anything and eventually there was no new work posted. I don't know if he found a new medium or just gave up on ebay. Maybe he was discovered and he's hanging in a gallery somewhere to great acclaim.

In any case, that's what I thought of when I was browsing on Amazon recently and came across a book entitled The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam. But Roam's book isn't about napkin artwork, it's about using pictures to solve problems and persuade people. While I was reading the book and researching the idea I came across David Sibbett's Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity. I've already decided to implement some of the ideas I've picked up from these two authors. The gist of their work is that using simple images is a very effective way to communicate ideas clearly in a group setting. It's a very low-tech idea that I really like as a collaboration tool. How many times have you come away from a meeting thinking everyone was on the same page, only to find out later that not everyone saw things the same way? Adding visual restatements, explanations and clarifications can go a long way to making sure everyone is speaking the same language. And you don't need to have any artistic talent. Both authors provide you with simple techniques and the use of some basic shapes that can do most of the heavy lifting. Of course, for you artists out there, this would be a real opportunity to not only enhance your group work but also showcase your inner artiste. Check out these great books and go visual in your meetings!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Innovation and collaboration

Recently I came across a white paper published by the Wisconsin Society of Association Executive entitled Innovation for Associations. The paper led me to the Innovation Hub for Associations. Innovation is written into NELLCO's mission statement and we aspire to be innovators. I think we're successful. And the reason we're successful is laid out very clearly in the WSAE whitepaper. The authors posit four traits of organizations that are successful innovators:
  1. Culture of innovation driven from the top of the organization
  2. Commitment of resources to the process of innovation
  3. Understanding the mind of the community
  4. Freedom to experiment and fail
NELLCO ticks every box. I would say that each of these is also true for collaboration. If you replace the word 'innovation' with 'collaboration' in numbers 1 and 2 on the list, the same traits will be found in organizations that are successful collaborators.

Which of these do you think is the hardest to cultivate? I think understanding the mind of the community is a moving target. It's like trying to squash a blob of mercury under your thumb (remember when we played with mercury!). "The mind of the community" is a misconstruction. Is there anywhere a community that thinks with a single mind? The job of NELLCO and other organizations is to understand the minds of the communities they serve. No small task. What are some ways an organization might approach this?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

All librarians should read Curation Nation!

OK, I'm not done with it yet but I'm still recommending it. Steven Rosenbaum has done an excellent job of capturing the current state of affairs in content creation and information distribution. His book should warm the hearts of every librarian out there who fears being rendered obsolete by the new information economy. According to my reading of Rosenbaum, as practitioners of a discipline steeped in the tradition of curation, librarians ARE the next big thing! We've been ahead of the curve all along.  Despite his mischaracterization of librarians as "a group of daunting and often stern people," the curated world Rosenbaum envisions is OUR world! "Curation," says Rosenbaum, "has always been the process of discerning quality." EXACTLY! I think we should throw over the term 'collection development' in favor of 'curation.' And get this pearl from Rosenbaum. "No longer is the owner of the distribution system the king of the castle. Today, curation is king." (emphasis mine!) This is our day people! As Stephen Abram said on his blog Stephen's Lighthouse, "If library land can’t find a strong positioning in this world, we’re not looking hard enough." READ THIS BOOK! Discuss!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Post-ICOLC musings: bats and serendipity

Last week I visited Austin for the first time. The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) meeting was held there at the AT&T Conference Center. It was a great facility for the 100 or so attendees of this rite of spring for consortium professionals from around the globe. While I didn't see enough of Austin to form any real opinion, I did learn about the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

These Mexican Free-Tailed Bats apparently comprise the largest urban colony of bats in the U.S. Our wonderful hosts for ICOLC, Amigos, TexShare and the University of Texas System Digital Library, were able to arrange a boat tour for us to go and witness the nightly graceful exodus. Tom Sanville of Lyrasis shot this video.

As I understand the story, the engineers of the bridge were unaware that they were creating a perfect bat habitat when they designed the bridge with hundreds of crevices running beneath the roadbed that spans Lady Bird Lake. But once the bats stumbled across this hospitable space they continued to return each spring and summer to have their pups. Today the colony can swell to well over 1 million bats, roosting under the bridge by day and emerging at dusk like clockwork to spend the night on the prowl.  It was truly awe-inspiring to watch them, and of course it made me think about . . . collaboration.

Specifically, I was back to thinking about the role of intent. Here this structure was built to link two land masses. Serendipitously, it created a wholly unexpected result. The bat colony seems to serve Austin quite well. It's a tourist attraction, generating its share of revenue (boat tours, t-shirts, bat-related kitsch, etc.). The bats serve to keep insect populations manageable. And the bat spectacle even supports Austin's motto, "Keep Austin Weird." In another city, the bats may not have fared so well. Guano oppositionists may have rallied city hall, pushing for the eviction of the beady-eyed squatters. But Austin seems to have embraced the opportunity, turning the proverbial sow's ear into a silk purse. As organizations committed to collaboration we would be wise to take a lesson. Sometimes (dare I say often?) disruption is a springboard to potential.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are the tools of collaboration working for us?

In a post this week on ReadWriteBiz John Titlow writes about the benefits of online collaboration tools. The title of the post is Despite Hype, Companies Doubt the Benefits of Collaboration Tools, yet the content of the post doesn't support that thesis. I would reach a different conclusion from the data drawn from a cited Forrester report, which was the basis for Titlow's posting. According to that report "64% said they saw anywhere from zero to four benefits after implementing collaboration software." But a single benefit could be significant enough to warrant continued support of and investment in collaboration solutions. It's not the number of benefits, but the value of those benefits that matters. Only 3% said they had seen no improvement since adopting collaboration tools. This means 97% saw some benefit! Perhaps the Forrester Report provides more evidence for the doubt this post suggests. But without more to go on I think the title of the post should be Collaboration Tools Are Changing the Way We Work!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Embracing curation

On Sat. I was listening to WAMC in the car and on the short drive between home and Cafe 333, where my husband and I were having dinner, I heard a story broadcasting from SXSW about the important role of the content creator as curator. Because I was multi-tasking (i.e. carrying on a conversation with Bill, adjusting the heat, checking my purse to make sure I had my cell phone, etc.) and because the restaurant is only a three-minute drive from our house, I didn't get to really lock in on the story. But the main theme was that those who are creating content should embrace the opportunity to serve as curators of content; to become trusted sources of information. I'm pretty sure it was Steven Rosenbaum talking about his book, Curation Nation.

In that short ride I was struck with the realization that I haven't heard librarians talking much about curation. Librarians and other information professionals are in the midst of a sort of identity crisis, and I've listened to lots of conversations about how we market our skills and the value we add in the new information economy. I think curation is an apt term for much of the work we do.The goal of branding ourselves and our libraries as trusted sources is exactly our goal. I'm curious to see if Rosenbaum thought about libraries. I've ordered the book and I'll let you know.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Can we question the impact of technologies without fear of marginalization?

I admit I've been stewing about this for some time. So here's my rant. Having evolved right along with technology, embracing and exploiting it at every opportunity, I consider myself a 'digital settler,' to steal John Palfrey's term from his book, Born Digital. I was not born into a digital world, like digital natives. And I don't identify with the term digital immigrant, which suggests someone out of their element. Rather, I feel that I and many of my generation have been the engines of change. We've been involved in designing the technological landscape where we now dwell. I have the utmost awe for our current information age and the technology available to us.

And yet I nonetheless have an intellectual curiosity about the true, enduring impact of technology on our culture. Where is all of this exciting, empowering and wonderful stuff leading us? How is it affecting our ability to develop interpersonal relationships? Is it changing the way we process information and create new knowledge?  How is it changing our concepts of time? Place? Is multi-tasking a valuable skill or a character flaw? Can we, from an evolutionary standpoint, continue on this trajectory or will there be a regression? Will we hit the wall?

Too often I feel that this kind of inquiry is readily dismissed as ludditism or change resistance or fear mongering. Two recent posts have me thinking about this again.

In a post by Simon Fodden on Slaw I was fascinated to learn that there continue to be competing theories about what the original Luddites were really protesting. Were they simply opposing the mechanization and modernization of fabric making or was there something deeper behind their actions? Another post last week by Kent Anderson over at the Scholarly Kitchen argued that concerns about the possible effects of the internet are really just power struggles between those who seek to retain control of the message and the medium.

I think engaging in continued and open dialogue about the impact of technology is necessary and desirable. We put ourselves at great risk when we chill discourse in blind devotion to the wonders of technology. End of rant.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tracking your consortial relationships

A post today over at Stephen's Lighthouse really caught my attention. Stephen Abram suggests using a venn diagram to map out your library's consortial relationships. Genius! This could be a great tool to add to your collection development policy and to your selection and acquisitions work flow. A quick visual like this could save you time and money by reminding you to leverage those relationships whenever possible!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Consortium of Consortia

The next few weeks are busy ones for me. Next week the NELLCO Board of Directors meets in New Haven. I always look forward to these meetings and the opportunity they provide for engagement and reflection. We have a jam packed agenda, and I apologize in advance to the members of my Board. I know it's exhausting. But isn't it fun?

After that I'm off to Austin for the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) meeting next Sun. ICOLC is one of my favorite meetings. I've been attending for 10 years now; I started with NELLCO in 2001. ICOLC is a smallish group (100-150ish) of library consortium professionals from around the world who gather to exchange ideas, share information, and talk to and about information vendors. ICOLC has no formal organizational structure. No officers. No standing committees (just coalitions of the willing). No dues. No members. Yet it's one of my most high-value affiliations. My ICOLC colleagues understand my world. They know about libraries, consortia, running a business, working with boards, negotiating deals, engaging members, implementing new technologies. They are a treasure trove of ideas and strategies that help me do my job better. I'm so glad to be able to tap into this group and I know I'll always return to the office with some new ideas and a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Social Media and Collaboration

I just came across this very useful site produced by the Research Information Network, "a policy unit funded by the UK higher education funding councils, the seven research councils and the three national libraries." Of particular interest is this pdf: "Social Media: A Guide for Researchers." Described by the authors as a 'warts and all' overview of social media use, this seems like an excellent tool for librarians to have in their toolkit when working with faculty members. So often I hear of faculty who are reluctant to enter the social media fray. This quick read could be a very helpful introduction and open new avenues of collaboration for scholars, researchers and faculty in their work.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Disruptive Technologies to Watch!

If you're not familiar with Charlene Li's work, she's the co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, with Josh Bernoff, sole author of Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead and founder of the Altimeter Group, a consultancy based in San Mateo, CA.

I've posted this presentation on disruptive technologies. It's worth paying attention to. I have always loved the concept of technologies being disruptive. The word makes you stop and take notice. People generally don't like to be disrupted. It's jarring, wrenching. It means to break apart, to throw into disorder. Warning: if you're change averse, this is not comfortable territory! 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big ideas and how to quash them!

For the last few years NELLCO has been in a period of significant organizational change. We've relocated our offices and are back to being physically co-located with one of our member institutions, Albany Law School. In 80s and 90s NELLCO was seated, first physically and later only administratively, at Harvard. For most of the first decade of the 21st century we were administratively tied to Yale, but physically housed in commercial office space remote from any of our member institutions. Today, we are administratively independent and building a physical presence for NELLCO that is closely identified with Albany, NY.

Working with Organizational Design & Development Associates, the NELLCO Board of Directors developed an ambitious strategic plan for 2010-2014. As I review the plan today I feel confident that we're on track with the goals the Board defined for us. We are now moving in some really exciting directions that result directly from the hard work of the Board.

One goal from our current plan is the focus of this post; Program Goal A: To maximize the benefits of membership and efficient use of consortium resources in an organization dedicated to a leadership position in the law library field. This is where we have potential to realize some 'big ideas.'

Big ideas are always (necessarily) departures from status quo. A recent posting by Jeff Arnold on his blog, Zen Leadership, points to our amazing ability to talk ourselves right out of any 'big ideas' with a litany of 'what ifs.' Throwing up obstacles left and right in the very first instance is a sure way kill off any big ideas.

Another blogger, Ann Michael over at the Scholarly Kitchen, talks about the same issue in her post, Pizzas and Publishing. Our innate need to overcomplicate things paralyzes us. She quotes Ryan Jacoby from his  Seven Deadly Sins That Choke Out Innovation:
Innovation is all about discussing new ideas that currently have no place in the real world. If you’re only comfortable talking about things that don’t strike you as alien, chances are you’re not talking about real innovation.
So my take away as I reflect on NELLCO's evolution and these posts about big idea thinking is to encourage all of us to work harder at imagining what could be, what might work. While I don't agree with Jeff Arnold's characterization of S.W.O.T. analysis as a Stupid Waste Of Time, I do agree that prematurely calling out potential obstacles is a sure way to stifle innovation!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rachel Botsman on Collaborative Consumption

I just finished watching this video from TEDxSydney in 2010.

What a compelling theory! There is so much hope for our long-term cultural survival in the idea of a wholesale revolution from an era of hyper-consumerism to one of collaborative consumption. Ms. Botsman's theory turns several ideas about technology on their heads. In using technology to facilitate consumption, communities are being built in spaces where people traditionally operated in isolation. A marketplace based on trust, rather than credit scores, is emerging. These concepts, trust relationships and community building, are often seen as casualties of the digital age. Botsman challenges that thinking and offers an exciting alternative vision of the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Collaboration and Conflict

Recently I read a blog post that posited that in order for entities to truly work as partners, they needed to be devoid of any conflicts of interest. To that notion I say hooey! If that were the case no one would ever collaborate. In fact, it's crucial to the process that areas of conflict (perceived, potential or actual) are clearly identified and attended to if collaborative efforts are to succeed. If conflict areas are denied or neglected they are much more likely to sabotage the group's or institution's efforts.

I was reminded of this idea of conflict among collaborators again today in a conversation about how organizations develop an identity, and how they carry out their missions in accordance with that identity. The real challenge for any group of collaborators lies in finding that sweet spot where conflicts of interest can take a back seat to the greater good of the whole. As groups begin working within that safe zone, and trust builds among the parties, some conflicts may evaporate and new opportunities for joint action may open. It's through the practice and habit of collaboration that a culture of collaboration emerges, in spite of any areas of conflict.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Workflows, library staffing and collaboration

Today I was thinking about a tweet from Connie Crosby where she was asking about workflow and looking for a good definition. I immediately thought of R2 Consulting (Rick Lugg and Ruth Fischer) and all of the great work they've done on the topic of workflow. Years ago they did a workshop for the NELLCO Acquisitions and Collection Development Special Interest Group that was very well-received, so I went to their website to see if they might have a good definition. Of course, that rabbit hole was deep and I stumbled across some great recent resources by R2 about collaboration and consortia that led me to penning this post.

Two underlying themes run through both brief articles; the future for libraries is sharing and sharing is hard. So, drawing on philosophy 101, the future for libraries is hard. Are we surprised? No. Are we resistant? Yes. Reading the R2 pieces will likely strike fear into the hearts of many. When workflows move from redundant environments to centralized ones, someone(s) is likely to be out of a job. If the work you do is in the categories of work identified by R2 as suitable for either the cloud or the collaborative, you probably have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But I believe we can accomplish this shift in an evolutionary, rather than revoluntionary, transition.

I was recently (in the last few months) reading a post or an article about the flagging numbers of incoming students in MLS programs. I looked every where for that post and couldn't find it. If anyone recalls this please let me know! Anyway, the premise was that the low enrollment (I think the author had the figures in the post) would in fact result in librarian shortages, and measures should be taken to avoid that eventuality. I think that's a mistake. If in fact enrollments are down we should exploit that reality to facilitate real change. If we can see that the work of libraries needs to be redistributed as part of the sustainability of libraries, let's move in that direction. It's a huge task, but it can be done. Library staffs that are visionary will reorganize in ways that will protect current employees so that they can be engaged in the shift, rather than in opposition. As workflows are distributed up and out there will be new demands on library staff, new skills needed and new jobs created. New disciplines will emerge that will complement the work of libraries. Just today Social Media in Organizations tweeted that they are working on a curriculum for a Master's Degree in Social Media! There will (dare I say always?) be plenty of work that needs to be done around the creation, curation, access and preservation of information in all formats. We can achieve it through thoughtful collaborations!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Collaborating on documents, working papers, manuscripts, etc.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a product representative for a new collaboration tool called Hylighter. If you visit their page you can see very brief video that gives you the basics of the thing. This simple tool enables groups to share and comment on documents in a very straightforward way while maintaining the integrity of the original document. Unlike MS Word's track changes feature, Hylighter doesn't require users to distribute multiple copies of a document, nor does it enable collaborators to edit the document. All commentators work on a single iteration of the original document, which reflects all ideas and comments in a clean, color-coded format. A real dialogue can emerge on the page, through threaded comments, which then leads the editing or review process forward. It seems to me that this application harnesses the best features of Word (comment capabilities) and Google Docs (single document centrally accessed) while maintaining editorial (version) control of the work.

I'm considering negotiating a NELLCO offer on Hylighter. Is this something you can see having application in your environment? Do you think journal and law review staff would find this useful in their work? How about faculty using this in the peer review process? Could you see uses for it in your own work? Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Library collaboration in non-academic settings

In the last few months NELLCO has been looking carefully at our governance and membership structures, our services and benefits, and our long-term sustainability. As we've thought about whom we are serving and whom we might be missing, we turned toward the non-academic law library arena. This includes state, court and county and law firm libraries, and could include corporate or special law libraries as well. Do we have something to offer in these segments? Are we missing opportunities? We'd love to hear any thoughts or ideas about how we can serve these currently underserved (by us) libraries.
I've also linked here to two recent articles I wrote, one for the SCCLL Newsletter entitled SCCLLs and Consortium Activity: Advancing Justice Through Access, and one for Law Techology News entitled Follow Our Lead? Collaborating With Competitors May be Fruitful. Check them out and let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The role of intent in collaboration

OK, so I didn't get to this post in the pre-holiday week as I had hoped, but it turns out that's a good thing, because in the meantime I received the book I mentioned in my previous post, 42 Rules for Successful Collaboration, by David Coleman.* His book gave me more to think about when it comes to intent. Here's how he defines collaboration: ". . .a human behavior, not a technology or a process but an act or series of acts that you choose to perform with one or more people . . .to accomplish a specific purpose or goal." There are a few markers in that definition that clearly implicate intent as a necessary component of collaboration. The collaborator 'chooses' to participate (intent). The collaborators have a 'specific goal' (intent).Throughout the book several contributors make the point that in order for collaboration to be successful you have to have a clearly defined purpose. Until recently I might have agreed. But I'm starting to identify a more amorphous kind of collaboration in which intent is more squishy, less outcome driven. It's the collaboration that is a natural byproduct of social media and web 2.0/3.0 technologies, and it's collaboration as a state of mind and a modus operandi.

In  NELLCO's work with ODDA over the last few years I've had the pleasure of getting to know Laura Freebairn-Smith. Laura's dissertation is entitled Abundance and Scarcity Mental Models in Leaders. Now I haven't read her entire dissertation but Laura shared some of the concepts with me and it has sparked my thinking about the basic models and how they foster or hinder collaboration. As you might expect, abundance is good, scarcity is bad. If your weltanschauung is one in which resources are limited and you have to scrimp and scrape for your fair share, you're less likely to feel inclined to share what you have once you have it. On the other hand, if you see the glass as half full you're more likely to be the stone soup type, willing to share what you have to make it into something more.

Social media and the concept of 'the cloud' have made me rethink my definition of collaboration. If you have a spirit of collaboration (abundance) perhaps you need not have a specific goal for your collaborative efforts. In fact, you may never even know the impact of your collaborative actions. You just sort of set them free, via a tweet, a blog posting, a wiki, list or even e-mail (still) and hope they land somewhere they can be useful. I'm now less certain about the clear distinction I've maintained between cooperation and collaboration, which hinged on intent.  What do you think? How do intent and collaboration relate?

* My micro review: content is useful; editing is poor.