Outsourcing, Outrage or Opportunity?

Yesterday I noticed a lot of US law librarians were tweeting about an ARK organised event

called "Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Libraries and Information Centers" You can see all the tweets from this event if you search Twitter search for #ARKLIB

Of real interest to me was the Keynote debate which focused on outsourcing, its implications the opportunities associated with outsourcing and of course the challenges. The Keynote speakers were Ron Friedmann who blogs at Prisim Legal and Jean O'Grady who runs the Dewey B http://www.blogger.com/upload-image.g?blogID=6563356373853416484Strategic blog. Before the event Jean had asked all participants to consider which services or functions they provided they thought were "core" which of course raises the interesting question what are Law Libraries "core" services?

Well you probably wont be surprised to see that shelving books and loose-leaf filing come right up the bottom of the list of core services and management of research services, training and other research comes right at the top. The question is, is this what we're good at or should be focussing on to avoid being outsourced? I've reproduced the results of Jean's poll here, you can also view the survey results on her blog post Outsourcing, Outrage or Opportunity? What is Core?



[Photo - Flickr]

Have you got the skills to pay the bills?

Nicola Franklin of Fabric Recruitment has written an interesting post as part of the Future Ready 365 programme the SLA are running all this year. In her post Nicola asks "What skills will be vital in the future" and challenges all Information workers to be ready to answer the following questions:

  • What’s an information professional for?
  • Why should I ask a librarian instead of just searching Google?
  • I can find what I need myself, why should I use the information centre?
  • Why shouldn’t we just put the sources on everyone’s desktop?
  • Surely it’s cheaper to outsource the research service?

Nicola then suggests doing the following "Once you have thought of good, succinct, answers to questions like these, seek out opportunities to use them – to other stakeholders, not to fellow librarians! That sounds daunting, but in practice it means developing a new skill set, one around writing (blog posts, articles, comments on others’ posts), speaking (at internal meetings, at seminars, at conferences) and marketing your information services"

For some I know this will be quite difficult even I occassionally struggle with my writing and ofte don't feel I'm contributing as much as I should be but in order to survive as a profession we need to be able to answers these questions and to defend ourselves against the many challenges we face.

P.S If you recognise the title of the blog post but cant place it "Skills to pay the bills" is a song from the Beastie boys.

[Photo from here]

Tips for Intranet Employee Profiles

What's one of the most important things to get right on your Intranet? Some people might argue it's the lunch menu but for me ensuring that the people search and individuals profiles including photos are accurate is vital to ensure the success of the Intranet.

So it was great to read "14 Tips for Intranet Employee profiles" in it the author offers some tips on how to manage the profile creation and updating process and perhaps more interestingly some tips on how to encourage users to use or update their own profiles.

I love the following suggestions and may even try them where I work:

  • Run a “Where’s Wally / Waldo?” competition where one employee has a replacement photo. Employees must search to find the right one.
  • A data treasure hunt. Working with a group of employees, add clues across a series of profiles that creates a chain to an answer.

Bigger does not always mean better...

Toby Ward has written a very interesting piece on the Prescient blog called "Bigger Intranets are not always better" from the introduction to the blog post.

"Most intranets are awful; they're chronically underfunded, mired in politics, lack any meaningful governance, and use poorly implemented technology"

A sweeping statement you might be thinking, but I've seen a few Intranets in my time and 90% of them are as described above. So what makes a big Intranet bad? well Toby outlines his top three reasons that big Intranets go bad, they are:

  • Organisational complexity - who owns the Intranet, who is going to pay for it etc
  • Technology complexity - the bigger an Intranet it the more requirements you're likely to have and the more complicated your CMS or WCMS will have to be!
  • Politics - lets not go there!
  • Funding - why invest in something that isn't being used and nobody wants to use?

At this point most Intranet managers look for the nearest window but it isn't all doom and gloom because Toby then briefly looks at how smaller Intranets can make bigger ones sit up take notice and get on with it!

[Photo from FlickR - apparently "Big Boy" is a restaurant chain in the US]

What technology skills should Library staff have?

From the blog of the iLibrarian; "The LibrarianinBlack, Sarah Houghton-Jan writes for the ALA’s Learning Round Table about Technology Skills Library Staff Should Have. She suggests basic technology competencies that librarians should possess"


Sarah divides these skills into the following categories:

  • Terminology
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Security and Privacy
  • Public Computing
  • Ergonomics
  • Library web presence
  • Troubleshooting
  • Personal Skills

Looking at the list I fall down in a couple of categories, how do you do?

Top tips for dealing with an uncertain world

How do you cope with uncertainty in the workplace, keep working and ignore everything that's happening around you? or something else...

This article on the Information Today website looks at how Information Professionals can deal with change in their workplace. From the introduction "Change is indeed good. But when it happens to you, rather than being instigated by, you and you have no say whatsoever, it can feel pretty grim"

Indeed it can be grim so what choices do Information Professionals have when it actually comes to dealing with change.

Well the author actually offers some very practical advice on how we can deal with change, they are:

  • Develop a thick skin - a very thick skin!
  • Improve your vocabulary - for all those application letters you'll be writing...possibly!
  • Attend events - This should apply whatever the situation
  • Offer to deliver a workshop yourself - This is good advice, get out there and sell yourself
  • Read and respond to the blogs of others - Again good advice, especially if there are a lot of people in the same boat
  • Think about your own skills gaps - Look for free training and attend as much as possible
  • Think about your online presence - Yes that means googling yourself

This is an interesting article, with some very practical advice.

Sharing information isn't risk free!

It's easy and potentially costly to fall foul of copyright in the Interet age. We're increasingly presented with more sophisticated ways of sharing information and collaborating with each other yet individuals regularly share and display information that is copyright protected.

So it was great to be reminded of how risky it can be to share information in the LLRX.com article "The Risky Business of Information Sharing"

In the article the author looks at the following:

  • What is copyright and why is it important
  • What's protected by Copyright
  • How employees use Information
  • Who should take responsibility for compliance
  • Creating a compliance policy
  • Managing compliance

This is a really useful (albeit U.S focused) article on complying with copyright law.

In case you're wondering the image on the right, like most of the images I use on my blog is available royalty free from sxu.hu

Top 10 reasons for updating your Intranet...

I love this post from the Socialtext blog which asks "Are you ready to make your Intranet social" and then goes on to list the Top 10 reasons why you need to urgently update your Intranet.

I've reproduced these below *note some American terms are used, but you'll get the gist..


  1. The most common question about (the Intranet) is “What Intranet?”
  2. Today employees just look for the cafeteria lunch menu
  3. The CEO was given upgrade suggestions from their 5th grader
  4. The employee directory still lists job titles from 6 years ago
  5. You want to level the playing field between the introverts and extroverts
  6. Your organization has more silos than on all of the farms in the state of Vermont
  7. There are more servers under employees’ desks running wikis and blogs than in the server room
  8. When you click on the link to open it, you hear “No, I’m sorry, Dave. I cannot do that …”
  9. The CFO thought microblogging was cheaper than blogging
  10. You’re not popular on Facebook but maybe you could be a corporate collaboration hero

Sound familiar? if it does stop worrying and start planning! The blog post also lists some of the main reasons why you might want to think about updating your Intranet.

The end is nigh...maybe

It seems like you cant move these days without reading about another Law Firm outsourcing some aspect of their support function.

Early this year news came that the CMS Cameron McKenna project to outsource its entire business support team in conjunction with Integreon could affect up to half of the support staff currently employed.

That was followed by the news that Morgan Cole has signed a deal with Integron to use their shared back office centre. Then to top it all off nicely Allen & Overy announced that it was opening a Support Services Centre in Belfast with "...elements of IT, HR, finance, business services and library will be delivered from the new office"

There is some "good" news though with the BIALL Blog writing that Richard Susskind is to join a client advisory board at Integreon as the BIALL blog says "What "The End of Lawyers" means for the future of law librarians seems equally thought provoking"

Indeed it is, any guesses on which Law Firm will be next to announce it's outsourcing its support functions?

Taxonomy vs Information Architecture

Okay before I get into the heart of this blog post I want to say one thing. I'm not an Information Architect and if someone was to ask me about Information Architecture I'd really struggle. I do know a little bit about Taxonomies, having worked on a project developing a Taxonomy, albeit a while ago.

So it was quite interesting to a read a blog post called "Taxonomy vs Information Architecture" on the Enterprise Content Management blog this post looks at two terms which are widely used when describing websites developed within organisations.


Having read this post, my understanding of the terms Information Architecture and Taxonomy is now this:
  • Taxonomies are used to describe and organise content so a piece of content might have a taxonomy term added to it.

  • Information Architecture is used to describe the structure of the site, used in conjunction with a Taxonomy to provide easy access to content

Am I close, or miles away still?

Are you a good Intranet KISSer?

Easy of use and simplicity should be the foundation of any good Intranet. But how many Intranets have you seen that fail to do exactly that? In an excellent post on the Intranet Connections blog Rachel Lai says "Keep it simple" when thinking about all aspects of your Intranet, but in particular:

  • Keep your homepage simple - People need to see new information quickly and efficiently
  • Keep your content simple - That means thinking carefully about what you write and how much you write - less is more in this case!
  • Keep your navigation simple - That means using an intuitive structure for your Intranet and where you need to apply labels make sure it's obvious what you mean!

As Rachel says in her summary "Keeping your intranet simple might sound easy, but it takes careful consideration and planning. Simplicity takes time and practice to master but the payoffs for intranet usage can be phenomenal" so what are you waiting for...get to it!

A Better Strategy for Law Firm Librarians?

VMaryAbraham at the Above and Beyond KM blog has written an interesting post in response to Greg Lambert's post on 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. Greg's original post "Testing your law Library strategy" looked at how the "McKinsey tests" could be used to evaluate your Library's strategy.

A lot of Greg's post looks at how we are competing against both Internal (other departments, Paralegals etc) and External (free databases) competitors and how a Law Library's strategy should "deal" with this competition.

To be honest I'd never thought about internal departments and individuals being competitors but reading about it has made me think that to a degree there are internal competitors. These come in other forms as well, for example people may want to move away from using a central place to store know-how because they believe the database or tool they've created is better and more intuitive. Or they may feel that the out-of-the-box DMS search is better then the Enterprise Search. For whatever reason Law Libraries will have natural competitors, how we deal with these competitors is perhaps the most important point of both Greg's and VMaryAbraham's post.

In her post called "A Better Strategy for Law Firm Librarians" VMaryAbraham sees things slightly differently...

"Competition is not the best way to frame this. Focusing on beating and leveraging the competition requires a lot of institutional strength and influence. While some law firm libraries have this, many do not. It may be fun to consider a David and Goliath scenario that pits your law firm library against Google, but do you actually want to try that in real life?"

She follows this up by asking:

"Google is now engrained in our online lives. It is always available and always ready to help. It works outside regular business hours and doesn’t leave me to hanging while it helps someone else. While it doesn’t always guide the us to the right resources, how does it stack up against all the super-busy law firm librarians we know?"

There's no doubt Law Library's cant compete against Google and to do so would be a waste of time. Perhaps what we should be doing and I imagine people are doing is guiding people in the best use of free online resources to supplement some of the high value resources law libraries purchase.

After all if you cant beat your competition, you might as well embrace it!