“Data, data everywhere” – review of sessions at the 45th annual BIALL conference, Harrogate

In June I headed up to Harrogate to the annual conference of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL), the theme of which was ‘Data, data everywhere’.

The first speaker of the day was Simon Lord from the Financial Times who presented the results of a research report entitled ‘The evolving value of information management: and the five essential attributes of the modern information professional’. I won’t spoil the enjoyment of reading the report by revealing all 5 essential attributes here(!), but unsurprisingly the top attribute is the ability to communicate your value as an information professional.  Networking and building relationships is crucial, and we also need to be proactive in finding ways to demonstrate our value.

‘Big data’ was the subject of the second talk, delivered by Dr Andy Williamson of Future Digital.  He said that there is a lot of confusion as to what big data means, but that basically we should think of it as things that you can do with data on a large scale; extracting new insights from data.  The concept of big data gained more clarity in my mind when Dr Williams demonstrated how it can be used e.g. the Citymapper app and the BBC’s Democracy Live project.  They really show how you can bring data together in new and different ways, and thereby add value to that data.

I also attended a presentation by Deena Maggs of The King’s Fund on ‘How Far do you Reach? Using Social Media Tools for Measuring Impact’.  Social media is of great importance at The King’s Fund, since it is a think tank that wants to disseminate its research and information as widely as possible.  It is a regular user of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Vimeo.  Deena explained the different tools they use for measuring ‘impact’ or ‘reach’, e.g. TweetDeck and Hootsuite, and rounded off the session with a demonstration of Storify.  She showed us how she can use Storify to benchmark impact, and to analyse spikes in social media activity.

After lunch (and a bit of practice of my networking skills!), there was a session on ‘Project management: practical know how’ by Gill Watt of Isential.  She quickly explained that although she was experienced in Prince2, she was not going to go through that particular methodology in a one hour time-slot!  Rather, she gave us hints and tips for running a successful project, which don’t involve fancy tools.  So whilst MS Project might be great, actually it’s fine to use Excel and/or to make use of basic office stationery and create a Kanban Board.  She also ran through with us the basic documents you will need for your project, and how to manage difficult situations (e.g. working on a project that involves dealing with offices overseas, and how to deal tricky project team members!)

The final session of the day was ‘Reading by Numbers? Students, E-resources and the Library’. In this session, Linda Jones of the University of Portsmouth told us about a project she had been involved with for the law faculty.  Due to past feedback indicating that students were unsure as to what they should be reading and were disheartened by long reading lists, the law faculty – with Linda’s considerable input as Law & Criminology Librarian – decided that for one particular law module, they would teach from a core text in electronic format.  That e-textbook was put up on Moodle, and the students were able to access it on a variety of different devices, e.g. iPad, mobile phone, etc.  The e-textbook had the usual added value tools, such as bookmarking and highlighting.

Whilst that particular example of teaching to an e-textbook seemed to work well, it did bring its own set of challenges (and of course not many modules would be suited to being taught from a single book!) For example, library staff should be prepared for running special training sessions for students to help them get the best out of the e-book.  This has the upside of getting the students to have more exposure to the library and library services! Also, one should be prepared for the fact that students will probably want to have access to a print copy of a core e-text as well, as print still seems to be popular.

All in all the conference was really interesting, and it was a good balance of professional legal information vs. academic legal information/ law and non-law related matters.

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