Seth Godin and Sue Hill for breakfast

How do you facilitate a really successful round-table conversation that flows seamlessly for 90 minutes and generates ideas and stories from everyone present? Easy – you seat 11 information professionals around a table and limit them to two words each!

If that sounds rather non-sensical, let me explain. At the latest Sue Hill Recruitment breakfast networking meeting, after the serious business of introductions and breakfast ordering had been taken care of, Sue Hill asked all those present to summarise in just two words, what is making the biggest impact on their work. The responses demonstrate the astonishing breadth and depth of our profession – taking in politics (with and without a capital P), digitisation, bureaucracy, budget restrictions, change programmes, paywalls, firewalls and personal information management.

This week the marketing guru Seth Godin has blogged about what can best be described as legacy models of [public] libraries. Over breakfast we too discussed a ‘legacy model’ – the one in which a universe of infinite knowledge was available to all for free. We are still waiting for the B2B information market to settle down in terms of paywalls, paypoints, quality vs quantity, universal access or closed communities, professional and formal vs informal and community created. New, disruptive models are emerging all the time.

And if the external information provider market isn’t challenging enough there are the conflicting demands of our own organisations to contend with. They need our advice to stay compliant and legal but we can also help them be creative and navigate change programmes.  While our organisations may want to manage information, data and knowledge effectively, some individuals or teams may actually scupper all our efforts through protectionism, inertia and policies that stifle information use and flow.  Information is a great servant, but is only as good as the master it serves!

Seth Godin may have challenged existing library models but he concluded his blog by saying “we need librarians more than we ever did”).  Our role is to bring insight, to support decision making and add real value to our organisations.

You can read more about Sue’s breakfast events, and more, on her blog.   Now in their fourth year, Sue’s breakfast networking meetings have raised more than £6000 for a number of charities.

Making the most of SharePoint – 8 lessons from NetIKX

The latest meeting of NetIKX, focusing on making the most of SharePoint, was a full-house.   Delegates were keen to learn from others who have experienced (and even been responsible for) SharePoint roll-out and survived.  The session proved that as a tool, SharePoint is flexible enough to ‘take on the personality’ of the organisation.

Mark Field set the agenda for the afternoon, outlining the ways in which the UK’s Department for Education is using SharePoint to help deliver real behavioural change.  Additional case studies were provided by the British Red Cross and Jones Lang LeSalle.

Although being showcased in three very different corporate settings, some key lessons and themes reflect how to deliver a successful SharePoint project.

  • Recognise the value of IM as well as IT skills in taking implementation forward.  Sound information architectures and information standards as well as customer skills are essential
    • Over engineered approaches are high risk  
  •  Do not use SharePoint/Microsoft terminology if that will be a barrier in your organisation
    • For one organisation, the tool simply provided ‘workplaces’ for its users
  • Obtain high level ‘business’ support (that’s a given) but also identify pilot groups/individuals who will challenge you
    • The naysayers will test and push you but will become valuable advocates if you deliver what they need
  • Get ‘intimately’ close with your internal clients to understand their work processes/pain points.  Focus on the ways real people really work
    • Focus on constant improvement and iterations not on one ‘big delivery/rollout’ of a standard implementation.  Really understand internal work processes
  • One size does not fit all but recognise the dangers of letting a thousand flowers bloom   
    • Provide the necessary support and training to ensure success
  • Be pragmatic, not dictatorial
    • Not all documents will require rich metadata
  • Be open to learning from other organisations/rollouts but recognise that you will have to adapt for your own circumstances
    •  For one organisation, extensive customisation is required to ensure access in low bandwidth situations
  • User pull is vital
    • Under deliver on functionality and then respond to user demands for more ‘stuff’

All of the case study organisations had identified the contribution that collaborative software, interfaces with a good look and feel and well structured document libraries make to team and organisational effectiveness – and to improved compliance with records management policies.

Big data is big news

There are some mind-boggling figures in the latest report from the McKinsey Global Institute, Big Data: the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity.  Did you know that more than 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month and that it is possible to store all the world’s music on a $600 disk drive?

Big data creates value in a number of ways, not least in the way it facilitates the segmentation of audiences and the customisation of products and services to support them.  The report analyses the potential financial value of big data to a number of sectors and identifies those that are positioned for the greatest gains.  Unsuprisingly it is the computer and information sectors that seem set to gain most substantially while the administration of the European public sector could gain an annual value of 250 billion euros per year.

The biggest barrier to achieving this value is a shortage of relevant skills, particularly the skills that enable the deep analysis of datasets.  Other factors that need to addressed include privacy issues and the movement of personal data.

The future of the Eurozone

A group of bankers and financiers gathered at a conference in Italy to discuss the Eurozone.  The event, co-sponsored by Wharton University, discussed a number of scenarios for the future of the Eurozone and the likeliehood of bailout defaults.

Many of the experts remained unconvinced by the optimistic picture being put forward by EU officials and suggested that defaults on bailout agreements were increasingly likely.  The Gold Standard was used as an historical exemplar.  When countries using the Gold Standard found themselves in financial trouble, they would simply leave the Standard and sort out their financial troubles before re-entering. Similarly, some of the attendees suggested that if countries found themselves unable to meet the repayment schedules, an exodus from the Eurozone might follow.

Many attendees felt that there was an unwillingness to even acknowledge such scenarios might happen. 

“European officials refuse to entertain the thought of any of the 17 eurozone members leaving the currency union, despite the drag on the long-term competitiveness of individual members and the growing unhappiness of their citizens living under the constraints of the euro”.

A full summary of the event is available on the Knowledge Wharton blog.

What is a library?

Letters of Note is rapidly becoming my favourite website.  The latest entry publishes letters sent by famous childrens’ authors on the opening of a new library in the US in 1971.  Here’s what Isaac Asimov told the children of Troy, Michigan.  A library is:

… a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you—and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.

Meanwhile, EB White told them:

A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

Rather wryly, the article goes on to say that this library is now ‘dodging closure’.

What’s the narrative?

Rubicon, currently being broadcast by the BBC in the UK and in France via Orange Cine Max, is a complex conspiracy drama, set in the world of intelligence analysis.  It’s the type of programme you have to sit and watch with full attention – the plot twists are rather challenging to say the least.   

The intelligence agents’ job is to take diverse, seemingly unconnected, elements of data and information (or mis-information) and to recognise patterns and recommend action – some of it literally life and death decision-making.   It’s the information professional’s perfect TV programme!

In this week’s episode, one character summarises the challenge of the job…

…[we must]… find the dots, connect the dots then understand the dots…  The dots are in the world or in the bits and pieces of information, thousands of signs and symbols we can pull out of raw data.  What’s the connection?  What’s the narrative? 

More uses for Twitter

Jason Miller, writing on Social Media Today,gives some insights into using Twitter as a tool for crowdsourcing market research.

Although not a replacement for more formal market research, Twitter does enable you to gather insight into your customers’ genuine thoughts and desires.  You can interact directly with respondents without intermediaries and use your followers to help you by retweeting. 

Don’t forget the value of incentives either!

Tablet news apps

What do the features and functionality of the leading news/magazine apps tell us about trends in the development of mobile content.?  Content Matters reviews the three current market leaders (Flipboard, Zite and Pulse) and summarises the lessons content developers should take from their success.  These can best be summarised as:

  • Less text, more visual
  • Social sharing
  • Content personalisation
  • Swipe-centric user interfaces

For the author, a key differentiator for these services will be how they gain market share with publishers and the models they choose in order to do this.  There is still much more to come.

Personal archiving for literary greats

How will the literary researchers of the future be able to understand the thought processes of great authors?  With handwritten manuscripts, the authors notations, edits and revisions are captured on the page, which can themselves be captured digitally.  A page of Jane Austen’s mansucript for Persuasion for example, shows how she worked to refine the language and tone of her work.

The sale to the British Library of the archive the poet Wendy Cope included personal items such as school reports and 40,000 emails.  The poet had ‘displayed an archival consciousness’ and her wide ranging and rich archive will be catalogued and made available to researchers.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4 this week broadcast Tales from the Digital Archive, featuring an interview with the British Library’s first Curator of Digital Mansuscripts.  The programme explores how technology, far from cutting researchers off from the creative process, can actually become part of the archive itself.  At Emory University in the US, the computers on which Salman Rushdie wrote his bestsellers are held in an archive where they are as valued as highly as any leather-bound hand-written manuscript. 

Perhaps there are career opportunities for information and archive specialists to work alongside great authors and help them to maintain their creative archives!

And as a postscript, the marvellous website Letters of Note publishes a covering letter from 14-year old Stephen King who sent one of his stories for consideration by Spaceman Magazine in 1961.  The story was rejected…

Internet Oscar nominees announced

The 15th Annual Webby Awards nominees have been announced and you can take part in the voting until 28th April. 

Catogories include:

  • Best home/welcome page
  • Best navigation/structure
  • Science
  • Social media

Notable nominees include Wired.com (best copywriting); TED.com (best use of video); and Mashable (best business blog) and the BBC’s History of the World in 100 objects (best podcast).  Groupon has received a nomination in the Retail category, while Lego.com gets a nomination for best home page. 

The full list of nominations is well worth a scan.