Wednesday 26 March 2014

Twenty Years as a Law Librarian - Communications

Early librarian communication
This is the second in my series of 'Twenty Years as a Law Librarian' blogposts. Although the first was about technology, whilst writing it I found myself constantly thinking about communications. I decided to split the two so I could expand on other areas so that, for example, in the technology piece I could explore the development of  search engines, electronic services, and library catalogues. In this I want to explore different aspects of communications, not just in the obviously technologically reliant areas, but the many other ways we communicate day-to-day.

Language is Constant

Sir Tim Berners-Lee said yesterday that the web is people connected by technology. He continued, though technology has changed, language (written and spoken communication) is constant. When I started writing this last week, I noted that communications is one area over the past two decades which has remained a crucial and unchanging constant, which nicely anticipated his comment during the Lawtech Futures keynote speech. This is demonstrated by thread which runs through my Professional Development Report. In it I state, ‘effective communication skills are one of the most important personal competencies’ and this is still true - although apologies for the clumsy grammar.

My report makes reference to user surveys, overly-vocal lawyers, user inductions, committee meetings, user education, written instructions, consultations, staff management, and these aren’t even in the section headed ‘Communication Skills’. In hindsight, I clearly struggled with this chapter. I should have simply written, 'without communications, there is no point to us being at work' but CILP may not have approved.

Communicating with Team Members

I opened it with 'Communicating with Team Members' stating the reason for team communication is to coordinate work and avoid duplication of effort. At this stage I'd only worked in teams of two or three, so it had been relatively easy to feedback information on work done, progress on projects, or record queries the simple paper query file. However, now I've experiencing larger teams, I appreciate a more sophisticated, formalised process is required. For instance, a central database to manage queries, managed enquiry desk rotas, morning staff meetings, and regular catch ups to co-ordinate project work. All of these can be carried out either face to face or using electronic methods.

I did get one thing right when I wrote, 'the sharing of information can go a long way in promoting trust and building respect and confidence within the team'. I suggest that this can be said in connection with any organisation or business. Some places of work become very uncomfortable when the internal communications fail between management and staff.

Communication with Users

The section on 'Communication with Users' opens with 'this is something that takes place every day in one form or another. Advances in technology such as voice mail or electronic mail has meant that different types pf communication have to be adopted, for example, what is appropriate for e-mail, would not be appropriate for a formal memo. Therefore depending on what sort of information is required affects the type or method of communication'. I have probably lost the skill of writing a formal memo – if you still write them, please feel free to enlighten me but I would suggest that appropriate language is more important than ever. In my view, a business email should be polite, grammatically correct, and present an appropriate image of you and your firm to the outside world.

I also talked about users being careless in their use of e-mail when asking queries. 'For example where they have given incomplete information, it can be a lengthy business extracting the right information. A phone call prevents lengthy, frustrating exchanges but email is useful when a request is complicated and full of legal phraseology'. I think this is as valid now as it was then - especially as we have become so lazy in the office. If in doubt as to meaning or tone in an email, either telephone or speak with the person directly. It prevents so much wasted time. I conclude this section with, ‘listening to and extracting information from users is an important and valuable skill’. This is as essential now as it was then.

Publicity and Promotion of Library Services

Publicity and promotion of library services is included in the 'Communication Skills' section, but to my mind now, it actually deserves its own chapter. All I included in this was library training for lawyers and the daily and weekly bulletins I wrote. This was inadequate but at that time it reflected my limited experience. Now I realise that everything work-related should publicise and promote my library service within the firm. Never has the ability to promote your library and yourself been so important. Developments in social media has meant that users can communicate with information people and providers in different ways; whether law firms would appreciate Facebook pages for their libraries is another matter but we can make use of intranets, blogs, LinkedIn and twitter accounts. And that is an another blogpost.

I like to think of library services being an 'information centre'; we are at the centre of the firm and information revolves around us, whilst we ensure it gets to the right place. We can only do this well if we have the ability to write well, present clearly and coherently, explain ideas to all (and any) member of the firm. Yesterday one our great modern minds stated that communication is constant. Everything that I do, you do, and they do, revolves around communications. And this isn't going to change any time soon.


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