Monday, 23 July 2012

Law Society response to an email about the #Mendham collection

My last post reported on the forced dispersal of the most valuable books and manuscripts from the Mendham collection held by the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral on behalf of the Law Society.  Last Wednesday this I emailed the Law Society. My message had too main points:
  • to express my dismay about the break-up of the collection 
  • and to comment that this seemed particularly egregious if--as has been stated--there was an agreement at the time of the donation of the collection to the society that it would be held intact.
On Friday I received a response from a member of the Society's library staff.  The gist of the message is that:
  • The society is grateful to the University and Cathedral for looking after the collection
  • The society recognises that the collection is valuable to 'religious historians'
  • The society exists to serve solicitors in England and Wales and a collection of 'historic religious documents' doesn't help with this purpose
  • The decision to sell wasn't taken lightly and
  • The society has made it cleat that they would be happy to sell the collection to the University and Cathedral.
I didn't write to the society expecting them suddenly, through the power of my words, to change their decision, but simply to register my opinion. So this response--which seems both to misunderstand the contents of the collection ('historic religious documents'?) and their scholarly value (the collection is of interest in fields beyond just religious history)--isn't a shock, or a great disappointment, but it is rather sad.

ETA (24/7/2012): In case you haven't already seen it, there's a petition against the dispersal of the collection (further information about the petition).

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Yet another historic collection faces dispersal

Just a very quick note to draw attention to this press release from the University of Kent at Canterbury. The university writes:
The Mendham Collection, which is owned by the Law Society of England and Wales, contains about 5,000 invaluable items including medieval manuscripts, rare books and unique copies of some of the earliest books to have ever been printed. It has been held under the custodianship of the University and Cathedral for nearly thirty years.
Despite an agreement that Cathedral and the University will retain the custodianship of the Collection until the 31 December 2013, the Law Society has given notice of its instruction to Sotheby's to remove the most valuable items on 18 July 2012 as part of a fundraising drive.
ETA (20/7/2012): The University of Kent have set up a petition to protest against the Law Society's actions.  Further information here, and petition here.

ETA (24/7/2012): I've summarised the reply I received from the Law Society to my email about the Mendham collection.

There was 'an understanding' at the time of the donation that the collection would not be broken up.  Dr Alixe Bovey, Director of the University's Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies tweeted throughout the day as the collection was boxed up for transportation to Sotheby's:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Business of Social Media: #likeideas 2012

I was chuffed to bits to receive one of the Sue Hill Recruitment bursaries to attend Like Ideas 2012--the summer conference of LIKE, the London Information & Knowledge Exchange--last Friday, 29 June.
Exploring an idea by JJay, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  JJay 

I've been aware of LIKE for a while, but this was the first event I'd been to.  I can report that it was good as the reputation suggested: friendly, well-organised, with a varied mix of speakers and attendees and good refreshments.  The theme of the conference, 'The Business of Social Media', looked at some aspects of using social media inside and outside organisations, both at a personal and institutional level.  Many of the speakers came from corporate library, law library and knowledge management backgrounds, very different to my own library background in HE and special collections.  This different perspective really helped me to think about the bigger picture of social media, as well as some of the specifics.


Using social media for external engagement
Bertie Bosr├ędon was a very engaging speaker, and his case study of using social media to promote the charity Breast Cancer Care (pdf link) helped me to think about a number issues to do with how you can embed and support social media promotion throughout an organisation.
  • The formalisation of social media use by the charity began with a staff survey, to see was already using which tool (personally or professionally) and to recruit people with experience, or wanting to gain experience, to be 'social media champions'.  This applied across all departments, not only in the digital department of the organisation, which presumably helps social media not be ghettoised as 'something IT do'.
  • A weekly email is sent out to the 'social media champions' highlighting what's going on in the charity, recent successes, and current campaigns.  This reinforces the value of what they're doing, and provides material for them to discuss online, without being too prescriptive about what everyone should say.
  • They keep a record of both basic statistics--such as followers, retweets, comments, 'likes' on Facebookc--for quantitative analysis, but also record and share anecdotes and success stories to use as 'elevator pitches' and to show the practical and personal value of social media use.
My 'lightbulb moment' during this session was (the very obvious) point that the whole point of using social media for organisational promotion and marketing is to share stuff: so as much as having policies about how to use social media, we need to have policies about how we're going to keep producing high quality stuff (images, videos, etc.) that people will want to share.


Using social media to support research
Noeleen Schenk's talk (pdf) left me with more questions than answers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the things I've been pondering since are:
  •  To what extent can we usefully generalise about 'research', especially if we're considering research work done by information professionals for their users and academic research?  In particular, can we generalise that all research has at least some social aspects that map onto the characteristics of social media?
  • How, if we feel that social media have benefits for researchers (e.g. widening and extending scholarly networks), can we better help them to embed these tools into their working lives?
  • Is the perception that engagement with social media isn't valued, or is actively disliked, by senior academics a barrier to less senior academics using it?  If so, what can we do? If not, what are the barriers to adoption?

Social media technology
James Mullan discussed various social media tools that are, or could be, used within law firms to support engagement between staff (pdf).  These tools include Sharepoint, Confluence, Jive, Yammer and others, none of which I've seen in action.

The issue of how to market these tools to staff was a big feature of the talk, and many of the issues chimed with what I was thinking about academics using social media.  James identified several reasons why fee-earners (as they're known) might not want to use social media: they're time conscious, cost conscious, analytical, risk averse, they don't want to share everything they do because they're focussed on moving their careers forward not indiscriminately helping their colleagues, and happy to use email.  It's therefore very important to put yourself in their shoes and identify what will be useful to them, and to pick tools that have a low entry point: if people need training to use something they probably just won't use it.  :Lastly, sponsors within the organisation (at a more senior level) need to be seen to be actively using the tool, not just to be supporting it passively.


Panel discussion: building global teams
Virginia Henry, Hank Malik and Richard Hare discussed various issues connected to social media and knowledge management in large organisations.  Making social media relevant and useful was once again at the forefront.  Some pieces of advice that I found particularly useful:
  • Social media isn't a thing in itself, it's a means to an end.
  • Don't just give people what they ask for - find out what they really need it for, and supply something that does that.  Keep it simple - don't take a vendor solution with all the bells and whistles.
  • You need pervasive content on social tools - make sure the content is very obvious, and that it's not only frivolous chatter that can be seen.  Although bear in mind that if you ban all the chatter, people probably won't use the tool at all.
  • Start small - pick one tool in one area, make that work and then celebrate that success.  Don't make a big splash and set expectations too high.  You'll need to work hard to nurture a new tool early on, to make sure that it catches on.
  • If something isn't working either turn it off or work hard to rejuvenate it. Don't let it die a slow death. Use failure as an opportunity to get feedback, not an excuse to blame people.
  • Collect 5-minute case studies to show it works, even if you can't out a monetary figure on how much it's worth.  Then use these case studies to impress senior management. 

Risk and reputation using social media 
Andrew Solomon and Simon Halberstam from Kingsley Napley spoke really engagingly about a range of issues--defamation, social media policies, recruitment, and advertising.  It would be unwise of me to try and summarise their points, as I'm not a lawyer and the law is complicated and nuanced.  But I will say that the explanations of libel law were very useful, and some of the information about what vetting employers may do when recruiting was surprising.  The whole presentation (pdf) is here, and I recommend a read.


The future of the business of social media
Stephen Dale took us on a whistle stop tour of current and new tools.  I was particularly interested in (not that I've got round to looking at them yet) the section on curation/discovery/aggregation tools such as bottlenose, strawberryj.am, twylah, news.me.


Overall, the things I'm going to take away from the afternoon are:
  • No tool is an end in itself. Always start by thinking about what you want to achieve, what you want to share, who you're trying to reach, and then act accordingly.
  • Take into account institutional and personal dynamics when thinking about how to implement new tools.
  • No tool is completely free and easy to use or to get your colleagues using. (Hat tip to @Schopflin for this thought.)