6 advantages of a virtual meeting over a face to face one!

I work from home, so that means that I take part in quite a few virtual meetings. Whether you prefer Skype, Google Hangouts or full video conferencing, there are some advantages to virtual online meetings, as opposed to in person or even teleconferencing. Here is my list of six things that I gain from virtual meetings:

  1. No travel time: you can attend from where you are already
  2. No travel costs (although you might want to invest in some tools)
  3. It’s easy to share your desktop with folks, to show what you mean
  4. You can see faces, so it makes you feel more connected than by teleconferencing
  5. You can video record a meeting for others to watch if they could not attend
  6. Nobody will catch your cold, and you will catch no-one else’s!

Of course, if you turn the video off, or teleconference instead then you can attend a meeting in your PJs and no-one will know. And of course, I have found that there are disadvantages too:

  1. Technology needed requires a little time to install & get familiar/comfortable with (and might cost). For freelancers: different clients may prefer to use different technology!
  2. Internet connections & free tools can sometimes let you down: it’s better to be plugged in than rely on wifi if you’re using VoIP.
  3. In virtual meetings, only one of you can talk at a time: this might be an advantage, of course! But you lose the many “mini” interactions that take place around a larger, in-person meeting, eg pairs of attendees around a table chatting whilst waiting for a meeting to start or the person at the end who asks an extra question in private. So the virtual meeting is less personal and less social than meeting in person.
  4. It doesn’t signal your commitment/interest/availability to your client, so you may have to work extra hard with other forms of communication, to compensate. If you really want to impress someone, then it is better to go and see them in the real world!
  5. There is no travel time but you do need to prepare: plug your camera/speaker/microphone in, sign in to the software, put a smart jacket on, tidy your shelves behind you, silence your mobile phone and turn that washing machine off! You may also need to organise a back-up plan, in case your internet connection fails you.

Sometimes a real meeting is what you need but often, a virtual chat is more efficient and if you live miles away from your client or team then it might be your only realistic option.

What tools do you like to use for meetings, and what advantages do they bring you?

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Is this research article any good? Clues when crossing disciplines and asking new contacts.

As a reader, you know whether a journal article is good or not by any number of signs. Within your own field of expertise, you know quality research when you see it: you know, because you have done research yourself and you have read & learnt lots about others’ research. But what about when it’s not in your field of expertise?

Perhaps the most reliable marker of quality is, if the article has been recommended to you by an expert in the field. But if you find something intriguing for yourself that is outside of your usual discipline, how do you know if its any good? It’s a good idea to ask someone for advice, and if you know someone already then great, but if not then there’s a lot you can do for yourself, before you reach out for help, to ensure that you strike a good impression on a new contact.

Librarians teach information skills and we might suggest that you look for such clues as:

  1. relevance: skim the article: is it something that meets your need? – WHAT
  2. the author(s): do you know the name: is it someone whose work you value? If not, what can you quickly find out about them, eg other publications in their name or who funds their work: is there a likely bias to watch out for? – WHO & WHY 
  3. the journal title/publisher: do you already know that they usually publish high quality work? Is it peer reviewed and if so, how rigorously? What about the editorial board: any known names here? Does the journal have an impact factor? Where is it indexed: is it in the place(s) that you perform searches yourself? – WHERE 
  4. date of publication: is it something timely to your need? – WHEN
  5. references/citations: follow some: are they accurate and appropriate? When you skim read the item, is work from others properly attributed & referenced? – WHAT
  6. quality of presentation: is it well written/illustrated? Of course, absolute rubbish can be eloquently presented, and quality research badly written up. But if the creators deemed the output of high enough value for a polished effort, then maybe that’s a clue. – HOW
  7. metrics: has it been cited by an expert? Or by many people? Are many reading & downloading it? Have many tweeted or written about it (altmetrics tools can tell you this)? But you don’t always follow the crowd, do you? If you do, then you might miss a real gem, and isn’t your research a unique contribution?! – WHO

I usually quote Rudyard Kipling at this point:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

So far, so Library school 101. But how do you know if the research within is truly of high quality? If most published research findings are false, as John Ioannides describes, then how do you separate the good from the bad research?

An understanding of the discipline would undoubtedly help, and speed up your evaluation. But you can help yourself further, partly in the way you read the paper. There are some great pieces out there about how to read a scientific paper, eg from Natalia Rodriguez.

As I read something for the first time, I look at whether the article sets itself in the context of existing literature and research: Can you track and understand the connections? The second thing I would look at is the methodology/methods: have the right ones been used? Now this may be especially hard to tell if you’re not an expert in the field, so you have to get familiar with the methodology used in the study, and to think about how it applies to the problem being researched. Maybe coming from outside of the discipline will give you a fresh perspective. You could also consider the other methodologies that might have applied (a part of peer review, for many journals). I like the recommendation from Phil Davis in the Scholarly Kitchen that the methodology chosen for the study should be appropriate or persuasive.

If the chosen methodology just doesn’t make sense to you, then this is a good time to seek out someone with expertise in the discipline, for a further explanation. By now you will have an intelligent question to ask such a contact, and you will be able to demonstrate the depth of your own interest. How do you find a new contact in another discipline? I’ll plug Piirus here, whose blog I manage: it is designed to quickly help researchers find collaborators, so you could seek contacts & reading recommendations through Piirus. And just maybe, one day your fresh perspective and their expertise could lead to a really fruitful collaboration!

Slidedeck introducing information ethics

If you’ve ever wondered what a Masters level module on information ethics might cover, well here’s a taster of some adapted slides from our module, which is part of the Masters degree in Digital Curation from Kings College London and Humboldt University. I think it’s a great way to introduce some of the themes that information professionals come across in their working lives, and students can really explore important issues.

 

Who was at the Frankfurt book fair?

Many international publishersI recently wrote about three particularly German things that I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, but there was so much there so here is another blogpost full of pictures… Here is a quick run-through of who I spotted at the book fair, with photos!

Of course, the Frankfurt book fair is huge: the exhibition space is much bigger than Online Information, or the UKSG conference, which is the closest thing to it that I’ve attended in the past. And it is more properly called the International Frankfurt Book Fair! Some international publishers were to be found in the halls for their country, where you could hear their language being spoken all around, whilst others were scattered in other halls matching their content rather than their nation, like this one in the academic publishing hall.

Specialist book publishers
Specialist book publishers

There was a great deal of variety of types of book represented at the fair, and all things book related. Those seeking something special could find beautiful facsimiles, or antique works, but the section of the fair dedicated to antiquities was guarded by extra security: you had to leave coats and bags behind to go in, so I didn’t: after all, I’m not in a position to invest in or be guardian of such treasures, and there was so much else to see.

Another area of the fair that had extra security was a hall that was apparently new for this year, where literary agents gathered for pre-booked meetings only. I wonder what was going on behind those screens? Agents selling books to publishers and negotiating terms, I imagine. The whole fair has the atmosphere of high-stakes deals, and people going about important business, not just in the exhibition halls but all around the site. There were publishers doing deals with libraries and bookshops, and technology providers with services for the publishers or with products for readers directly. There were education tool providers, and also companies who sell all the extras that you can find in bookshops like stationery and gifts: many of these stalls were making individual item sales at the book fair, too, so you could pick up a present for your loved ones.

Not just books: gift providers, too
Not just books: gift providers, too

I spent most of my time in the hall for scientific and academic publishing, but I did walk through other halls, and spotted many art publishers and stalls for children’s books and comic books which had some highly creative and attractive displays: these were really inspiring and made me feel proud to be a part of this information world, with just a little pang of regret that the academic world is so much less aesthetic and so much more serious looking! Ah well, the academic information world is full of really interesting challenges, and I was really pleased to see that a German Library school was amongst the stalls in the education area, recruiting students to degree programmes in librarianship and information science.

Publishers of children's books
Publishers of children’s books

There was so much to see, across so many different enormous conference halls that it was quite possible to be lost in the indoors world of the exhibition centre, and to forget the world outside… sometimes it seemed as though the whole world was at the Frankfurt book fair!

 

A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.
A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.

 

 

Three especially German things at the Frankfurt book fair.

The Gutenberg Press Museum
The Gutenberg Press Museum

October is always the busiest month of the year, somehow… and, as usual, I am catching up now that it’s November. This year I am full of things to write about, most especially from the Frankfurt book fair, where I was lucky enough to be a panellist on a Hot Spot stage. This post is about all things I spotted at the book fair, which I found to be connected to Germany. 1. The Gutenberg press was represented by its museum, and you could see items being printed at the fair itself.

2. Porsche museum. Another museum proudly signposted the best of Germany, in this case its strength in car manufacturing.

Porsche museum
Porsche museum

Porsche not only make cars, but are also publishers and indeed a fashion company, as I found out at the Frankfurt airport shopping mall!

Helpful students who speak good English!
Helpful students who speak good English!

3. BID, the professional society for German Libraries & Libriarians. They are a kind of equivalent to the UK’s CILIP, properly called “BID – Bibliothek & Information Deutschland”. They were represented by two stalls at the fair: one for the main organisation, and one for a group called LIS. At both of these stalls I spoke to students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences: they had also attended the morning panel discussion, being students of my fellow panellist, Dr. Petra Düren. They also spoke excellent English and were good advocates for their professional association!

Familiar faces!
Familiar brands!

I know that there was a lot more of Germany there for those who sought it: there was German apple wine to sample at one of the stalls, and plenty of German beer around, but I didn’t quite make it… I was busy being distracted by all the other people who were at the Frankfurt book fair. People like Open Athens, who I had a nice chat to about how students at the universities I worked at in the UK would often rave about all the information they found “on Athens”. What the students really meant, of course, was the resources that the library subscribed to for them, and which they authenticated to, using OpenAthens!

More soon about all the other people I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, in my next blogpost…