Below, Ian explains his perspective on this and we have both outlined roughly what we think this could look like. We hope this kicks off some discussion and we’d certainly love to hear people’s thoughts on whether this is an idea worth pursuing and, if so, how we go about pursuing it.
Anonymity does not allow ad hominem attacks
So, between Thursday 13th June and Saturday 15th June, I attended the annual BIALL conference in Glasgow, thanks to the help of a generous bursary from BIALL. Now, due to funding restrictions with my previous employer, I’d not been able to attend this event since 2008. As this is the main professional event for the UK legal information sector, I always felt frustrated that I was missing out on being somewhere where important developments were being discussed, and that I wasn’t getting to make the connections with people that I should.
However, since 2008, lots of things have changed, especially in the way people who are effectively strangers to each other can communicate. Basically: Twitter happened.
Now, through Twitter, I feel like I have an excellent network of contacts both within my sector and outside it, and as I restrict the amount of people I follow/allow to follow me, I feel I really know them quite well. So when I need help with anything, I can ask my contacts, and get a good range of trustworthy responses. This has also meant that, when I got to the conference this year, I already “knew” (from Twitter interactions) a large number of people. Of course, meeting in person is great to allow the cementing and further development of these online relationships, but the ice was already broken on these relationships by initial online contact.
So, what was the conference useful for, beyond the development of professional relationships? It was a chance to attend talks and sessions on areas of legal activity that were of interest to me. The only problem with this was, although the talks were often good in content, the format of a conference means that you just don’t get the time to discuss topics in details. You have a speaker, who speaks, and then answers a few questions from the audience. It’s a discussion, but it’s only with one person. There’s a certain amount you can learn, but it’s only from one person, and anything that others in the audience may have to contribute is filtered out by time and format restrictions. Also, it’s a discussion being held solely with legal information professionals: a subset of a profession only talking to itself about itself isn’t particularly healthy!
Therefore, after discussions with some other attendees, I had an idea, and made a suggestion to some of the Committee members of the Scottish Law Librarians Group. I suggested that we try and create a Scots Law Unconference, to enable professionals working in Scots law to interact with each other, across all sectors, not just those working as information professionals, but academics, government staff, and legal practitioners. It’s just the beginnings of an idea at the moment, but I think that there’s a real lack of a space for people working in Scots law to have contact with people in other areas of the law, which means you can become very blinkered about what factors are impacting on not only your own work, but that of others working in law too. There’s also the problem with the standard conference format, in that it’s set up to enable one person to teach a group about their topic/experiences, rather than allow a group to discuss and learn from each other around a theme. I know there was some frustration at BIALL at the lack of an opportunity to do just that (although in one case, discussing Open Access in academia, a lunchtime discussion meeting was set up informally), so an Unconference format, with a body/group guiding the discussions themes would be more conducive to this type of sharing. As the main body for legal information professionals in Scotland, with members in various workplaces and sectors, the SLLG would be well placed to investigate the possibilities of an event like this and host it, welcoming any participants with an interest in Scots law.
It might take a bit of effort to get it off the ground, and the format might not suit everybody, but if it doesn’t work out…well, at least we tried, right? And if nobody ever tries, nothing every changes.
Now….anyone out there want to volunteer a lovely venue to the SLLG, and perhaps some nice sponsorship 😉
Last week was a very trying week for me, website wise. One of those weeks when you just want to scream, because you can’t believe people would do such frustrating things.
I monitor a lot of web sources for news that’s relevant to my employers business, and to do that, I rely heavily on RSS feeds. They allow me to see the output of sites quickly, and mean that I don’t have to visit those sites repeatedly each day to be able to track their content. So, RSS feeds are VERY important to me. And in the context of Government sites, they’re important for the general public too, helping to enable them to see what’s happening in various departments, e.g. if consultations have been published that they might want to respond to, or if new regulations have been issued that may affect their business.
Meanwhile…the Government has stated that it’s consolidating websites into the http://www.gov.uk address, and 24 departments will be moving to that address over the next 18 months. The first two moved last week, and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was one of them. Of course, this move to a new web address broke all the RSS feeds. Since I’m monitoring hundreds of sites at once, it was only a few days later, when I saw a Cabinet Office press release about the move, that I realised that the RSS feeds were dead.
Not a great start for a new site – the feeds had been killed, with no warning, and no message to say “As of X date, these RSS feeds will no longer be active. Please go to X address to find the new feeds.” Not even a temporary redirect to the new site – just dead, and gone, without notice. Thanks for that – I missed 2/3 days of press releases due to that.
So, off I go to the new .gov.uk version of the site, to try and find where the RSS feeds are now. The DCLG page looks nice: it has a “Latest” section, “Our Publications”, and “Our Announcements” sections, all relevant to me.
However…the Latest section is just that -3 stories, no archive of them is accessible that way. The Policies and Announcements sections do allow you to “see all of our publications” or “see all of our announcements”, but clicking through to these, it’s obvious that this is merely the results of a search being run on the site when you click through, not an actual archive. And there’s no RSS feed from it. There’s no RSS feed anywhere to be found.
Now, I have raised this issue via the feedback form, and have (quickly – top marks for a fast response at least) been told:
There is a feed for publications at http://www.gov.uk/government/publications
There are also feeds for each topic at http://www.gov.uk/government/topics
Feeds for orgs and announcements are coming soon.
This is ok (ish) as a temporary fix, but it still has issues: the feeds are for ALL Government publications, and ALL Topics. You can go into topics, and take the RSS feeds for each of the various Topics, but it’s not topics I want, it’s specific departments. I may want to know about how a roads development may impact on certain areas, but I want the planning elements of it, so taking the feed for Transport means I’d be getting (and have been getting) large amounts of irrelevant information (Channel Tunnel safety, bus statistics, Concessionary Travel notes…).
So, until there’s a specific Departmental feed, I just have to wade through everything coming in on those feeds. Joy!
To add to the fun, The Scottish Court Service also redesigned its website last week.To continue the popular theme of “not telling users in advance”, it too broke its RSS feeds, without any notification. So the feeds that I subscribed to, to keep an eye on cases being issued from the Court of Session and Sheriff Court are no longer work. And there isn’t even the slightest hint of an RSS feed on the new Judgments pages. So that’s another site redesign successfully removing a way of monitoring the output of the site, and multiple cases that were issued that I’ve missed, because I didn’t know the feed was dead.
Also, to see the cases involves going to the Search Judgments page, and clicking a radio button. This then causes the page to reload. Once it’s reloaded (in the case of the “50 most recent cases”), there is now another button to click…which causes the page to reload again. Surely there must be a simpler way of displaying content that to have to go through all these clicks and reloads?
And the Infuriating Dropdown Menus (as demonstrated painfully for quite some time now by The Scotsman website) have made an unwelcome appearance. These dropdowns frantically appear if you accidentally stray too close with the cursor, and overlay the actual text you want to read: “The Courts” page in particular sits and overlays the page text for quite some time, and does not pop back up out of the way if the mouse is moved off it.
I don’t understand how these things happen – yes, there has obviously been massive amounts of work done to redesign these sites, and move them. For example, all the old DCLG links to documents I have in our Current Awareness service still work, as there’s a redirect in place for them (unlike when DTI/DBERR/BIS changed themselves every few years – that in itself almost gave me a nervous breakdown, hundred of dead links!). But at no point does anybody think “I know, lets ask the users of the site about how they use it, and what the most important elements of it are for them, so we can make sure we retain them.” They could have asked for input via, oh, I dunno, a release sent out on the RSS feed? I’m no web designer, but this move towards removing methods that allow users to monitor Government output is frustrating, to say the least!
And do you know the best bit? Only 2 of the 24 migrating sites have moved so far, DCLG being one of the first. Even contemplating the chaos that could result from this move is making me whimper….