Law Library 2.0

How can librarians working in law-firm libraries use web/library 2.0?

I recently attended Phil Bradley’s course on New Technologies and Library Services at the British Library, which gave me much to think about regarding Web/Library 2.0 and the law-firm library. Here is the result of my musings:

Law firm libraries don’t face the same challenges as public or academic libraries. Posting pictures of the latest/most popular books onto the library webpage is not as relevant to a law firm library as it is to a public library, for example. However, there are so many different aspects to the whole 2.0 ‘thing’ that there is something for everyone.

Keeping up-to-date:

Keeping up to date is something which is important for everyone within the library community. In fact, for the law-firm librarian, there is so much to keep up with, in so many different areas (libraries generally, law libraries specifically, search-engines, library technology, laws, etc etc) that the ability to have the news sent directly to you, without having to go to x number of web pages each day, is a godsend.
A number of government departments now have rss feeds (and more are being added all the time), enabling you to receive the latest news from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and get an update from OPSI every time there is a new Act or SI added to the site.
There are a huge number of useful and relevant feeds available – from librarian bloggers, CILIP, Google have their own blog, there are blogs on new search engines, and various news sources (BBC, Times, Guardian etc) have a number of different feeds available. You can search on Google for relevant blogs, or you can steal them from other people’s “Blogrolls” (a list of the blogs they subscribe to in Bloglines – and that they will publicly admit to). For a huge list of possibly useful ones, see Phil Bradley’s Blogroll (he admitted at his course on New Technologies and Library Services that he has over 200).
It is ridiculously easy to add these feeds to a reader such as Bloglines, or Google Reader. (There is a comparison of different readers available on CNet) These have the advantage of not only being very simple to use, but they are a central resource for all your news, you can tell at a glance what is new, and, with Bloglines (which is the one I use), you can have a little notifier which will tell you when there is something new, you can tag an item to keep it new, to come back to later, and you can ‘clip’ an item, to keep it indefinitely in a folder, which is really really useful.
Alternatively, you can add the rss feeds directly to your own webpages. There are various resources that let you add RSS to your page – take a look at RSS to Javascript which lets you to enter a feed’s URL and then creates a short piece of Javascript for you to copy and paste into your page. For the more techy/adventurous folk, take a look at this article on XML.com Never Mind the Namespaces: An XSLT RSS Client – and for the javascript/xml/xslt-savvy out there, it is so easy to write your own xslt to transform the rss feeds (which are basically xml), using Javascript to enter it neatly into your webpage. Adding feeds to your own pages means you can keep your colleagues and lawyers as up-to-date as you are.

Blogging:
Of course, if you want to personalise the way you keep your colleagues up-to-date you can always start your own blog! It is quite simple to set up a blog, there are numerous free (including Blogger) or paid for services (eg Typepad) you can use, and they generally let you create an RSS feed so you can add it to your home page, and other people can see your news and views.

Searching:
Searching is something that librarians tend to be pretty good at. We get a lot of practice. We know (or at least I hope we do) that Google is not the only answer. We know how to use advanced searching to really home in on what we are after. We know about Ask, and Exalead, etc etc. But now, with Web 2.0 we can make our own search engines! There are a number of these available – Rollyo (Roll Your Own – reminds me of Pick Your Own, so always makes me think of strawberries!), Eurekster (Swikis), Resultr, and Google, all let you create your own search engine – specify sites to search, assign weighting to different sites, etc. They are worth playing around with. You could set up a search to search for US case law, for example, and provide it with various sites (Findlaw, LII, US Courts sites etc), so that you (and your colleagues/lawyers) can search for a case, and know that the results will be from relevant sources.

Wikis:

I’ve not been too convinced by Wikis so far – particularly Wikipedia – the idea that anyone can add or alter any information is ok, as long as you can trust everyone’s knowledge and motives – which you obviously can’t. But within a library community, a Wiki could be a valuable tool. For example, you could have a Wiki on your intranet, to which all the library staff could have access, and you could use it for adding useful websites found during research, information on procedures, etc. It would be easy to update, and would mean no waiting for the web/intranet librarian (or in some cases the IT department) to get around to adding things. Again, worth exploring. Have a look at WikiMatrix to compare Wiki software, and see what fits your needs.

Bookmarking/History:
How many times have you been annoyed with yourself for not saving as a favourite that really useful site you came across the other day? The one that would just answer this enquiry you have now? There are loads of ways you can bookmark or save a page, and it is well worth doing so. Of course, you can add things to your Favourites/Bookmarks folder. It is quick and easy. But if you have loads of links then it can be difficult to find the one you are after – either you have a great long list, or you have put things into myriad folders, and then (if you’re like me anyway) forget which folder.
If you know you did a search on Google (and you have a personalised Google account), then you can look in the Search History, which remembers the searches you did, and when you did them, and what results you clicked into from the search. Obviously, this is more useful than just running the searches again – but you have to remember which day you ran the search, and in some cases, if you clicked into lots of results before finding anything useful, there may be lots to wade through before finding that useful page again.
Bookmark sites, such as Del.ici.ous (which I dislike only due to the way they write their name) let you save a bookmark as you would to your favourites, but it lets you then ‘tag’ the bookmark, share it with others. Another bookmarking site – Furl is a great way to bookmark things, because not only does it let you bookmark a page, it saves a copy of that page (you get 5 gigabytes of space). You can then search your ‘archive’ using any word or phrase from that site you remember. You can see other people’s archives (if they’ve made them public), and see what they think are useful sites.

Other 2.0 things
Flickr – try as I might I cannot quite see how pictures will be useful in a law-firm environment (other than just searching for pretty ones to go on the website/intranet!). Shame. If anyone else thinks of anything, please let me know!
Podcasting – again, not too sure. We could provide legal research training via podcasts, but it is much better to do it in person (old fashioned, I know), as you can never tell what questions someone might have, or what problems there may be with the system. We could also do library tours this way, but again, person to person is better.
Google Gadgets – these are great! I love them. I’ve personalised my Google page, and have two tabs so far (one worky-looking one, with intellectual looking things (quotes, news, weather etc), and a fun one, with games (or at least, the few that will work through our pesky firewall), and cartoons and things)! You can add Google Gadgets to your webpage. Some of them could be useful for work – but the best ones I’ve found tend to be more frivolous.
Library Thing – This isn’t really very useful for work – you could add your library catalogue to it, but it doesn’t seem to have the cover pictures for very many legal books, so it wouldn’t be particularly exciting. It is fun for your personal library of course.

There are more 2.0 ideas coming all the time, lots of mashups etc, and it is worth keeping up to date with what is out there, and taking a minute or two to consider if it is potentially useful to you/your colleagues/customers etc. Plus, a lot of it is fun.

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