Saturday, July 23, 2011

PLL Summit - Larry Guthrie and Doug Malerba on Developing Collaborative Communities

One of three sessions in the PLL Summit Administration concurrent sessions track. These are notes are from talk by Larry Guthrie of Covington & Burling LLP and Doug Malerba of McKenna Long and Aldridge on developing collaborative communities.  Note: these are my notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own.

Larry Guthrie on Collaboration in Libraries

Larry Guthrie says that libraries are all about collaboration; collaboration has a positive tone today. There is an emphasis on building a team culture. 

6 types of collaboration by libraries

  • historical perspective - libraries were originally a collaboration e.g. most monasteries created one place to hold all their books.
  • through inter-library loan - "the more we share, the more we have" - libraries by nature are collaborative, helping each other as well as those inside our own firms. 
  • in various locations - telecommuting, embedding librarians in branches, face-to-face meetings are preferred
  • using various communication techniques - social media (wikis, blogs, Twitter, etc.), Harvard's 5 Tips for Better Virtual Meetings (purchase required), communication across generations.
  • over various disciplines - with other fields and specific areas of interest - the public library can be the hub for a number of communities, can facilitate this with social networks. New book coming out: Collaborative Governance by John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser.
  • for activism on behalf of librarianship - library associations are partnering with other organizations to advocate on various issues. Librarians need to work with other information professionals to lobby on behalf of libraries.
Doug Malerba on Virtual Teamwork: The Life of a Teleworking Law Librarian

He now teleworks exclusively from his home in Connecticut. Teleworking is common; most knowledge workers work from home one day a week. However, it is still fairly rare in law firms.

In his case, his wife was given a job opportunity in Connecticut so they decided to move. He thought he would have to find a new job. 

Advantages - worker
  • cost savings
  • decreased interruptions in work day
  • improved work/life balance
  • geographic freedom
Advantages - employer
  • cost savings (real estate, utilities)
  • employee retention
  • increased productivity
  • decreased absenteeism - people can still often perform their duties even if they might not have been able to go into to work (sick, family member sick)
  • business continuity 
Advantages - society
  • cost savings (roads, infrastructure)
  • decreased traffic
  • lowered air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  • energy security
He had to determine which duties were tied to his physical location and could no longer be performed:
  • shelving
  • periodical binding
However, is primary functions could be performed virtually
  • reference desk
  • working with government affairs group
  • subject alerts
  • ILL
  • document delivery
  • e-resources management
He was able to do most of the work. 

His proposal to work virtually came at an opportune time: his firm was looking to reduce operating costs. Also management believed in telecommuting. He started by working 25 hours per week by telecommuting.

The started using "unified reference", that allows expanded reference services provided by the librarians across the firm's offices. He noticed that communication between librarians in different offices improved; there was increased awareness of librarians in other offices. 

During "snow-mageddon" requests from the attorneys continued to come in; he 
was one of only a few librarians who was able to work meet the need.

He has now regained his full-time status.

Telework challenges:

  • It is essential the virtual employee create and retain a robust identity to be seen by other employees. It is essential to use all forms of communication in addition to email: voice, teleconferencing, etc. People need to see a living, breathing human being and a colleague.
  • Professional isolation is when an employee loses connection to the organization's employees and culture. This can lead to feeling less motivated.
  • Social isolation - working alone can be harder for some people.
  • Employee burn out is a risk - absence of distractions can be a double-edged sword if employees don't take breaks or establish boundaries. It is important that the employee "turn off." 
  • When you work remotely, there is an expectation that you can handle basic computer trouble-shooting issues. Also need to maintain connection with those who can keep you running remotely.
  • Need support from management - need solid support, need to feel connected.
He is now collaborating with Joelle Coachman on uses of social media. They are also looking at other new tools, such as reference monitoring.

Many of us are already serving clients remotely; we can now take advantage of telecommunications.

Jack Niles - coined the phrase "telecommuting" - predicts this term will disappear as it becomes more common.

A great compliment: one of his lawyers did not realize they no longer worked in the same office after a year of his telecommuting.

People have to get over the psychological barriers - there is an idea that everyone working from home are in their pyjamas watching TV.  Comment from a manager in the audience: if you have a diligent employee, there is no need to expect their attitude to change when they start to telecommute.

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