Archive for May 2011

When is information not information?

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When it’s under an injunction. Or maybe not, as this week’s superinjunction scandal illustrates. Information is only information when it’s able to inform, which a gagging order should prevent. But in the case of CTB’s superinjunction, it hasn’t. Word of mouth fought the law, and the law didn’t win…

As an information professional, I’m interested in information, and how it’s created, communicated and used. So I’ve been following the recent news stories surrounding the court order the media has termed the ‘superinjunction’ with some interest. A superinjunction is a powerful gagging order which stops the media from reporting the very existence of an injunction, or revealing any details about the information it concerns. Roy Greenslade of the London Evening Standard points out, however, that this original meaning of ‘superinjunction’ is gradually changing to encompass ‘any gagging order that has the effect of making the plaintiff anonymous’.

At its essence, then, the superinjunction is the censorship of information getting out into the public domain. But the kind of information these injunctions protect (which at the moment, seem to generally centre around celebrities and extra-marital affairs) wasn’t protected before. Previously, there was little protection for misbehaving celebrities, who were subject to any number of kiss-and-tell stories in the tabloids.

The number of cases brought before the courts has reportedly seen a sharp rise in the last two years. The reason for this is unclear; some reports link it to the revelation of the Trafigura superinjunction – in October 2009, the injunction banning journalists to report Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping was lifted after it was mentioned in parliamentary debate. Others say that anonymity orders arose out of family law. What is clear is that the Human Rights Act, passed by Parliament in 1998, demands that judges balance each individual’s right to privacy and to freedom of speech. In a reportedly increasing number of cases in the past few years, celebrities’ right to privacy has often been deemed more important (although this argument has not always won the judges over, as the lifting of John Terry’s injunction restricting the communication of his relationship with a team-mates’ girlfriend in January 2011 made evident).

It’s interesting to see how these new kinds of injunctions are changing the flow of information. Where once upon a time, the law might not have had a role to play between the information being created and the dispersal of that information to the general public, the rise of the superinjunction means that those in positions of influence are able to halt this process by obtaining an anonymity order in court. But to quote another law (Newton’s third) – for every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action – it seems that freedom of speech is fighting back.

Let’s take a look at how information was communicated in the case of CTB v News Group Newspapers:

  • The information is created (in this example, the Premier League footballer and Imogen Thomas’ relationship)
  • Participants in the creation of the information have access to it
  • Participants choose to share the information with personal confidantes
  • First participant sees value in making this information public (story about Thomas’ relationship with an unnamed professional footballer appears in The Sun on 14 April)
  • Second participant disagrees, and takes steps to block the information going into the public domain (footballer starts court proceedings to obtain an injunction)
  • Interim injunction is granted, which means information is blocked from going out to the public
  • Twitter user breaks injunction by revealing the information in a Tweet
  • Information is retweeted by thousands of Twitter users
  • A Scottish newspaper, following legal advice that the injunction would not be enforcable in Scotland, publishes a barely veiled version of the information (Sunday Herald publishes a picture of the footballer involved on the front cover of the 22 May edition, with the footballer’s eyes blacked out and emblazoned with the word ‘CENSORED’)
  • Calls for the courts to lift the ban on publishing the information are refused (Injunction is upheld on 23 May by the Queen’s Bench Division)
  • MP reveals information in Parliament (Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming names the footballer under parliamentary privelege on 23 May)
  • Information is in the public domain and is reported openly by English media

A complicated path, but the information got out there. One person’s right to privacy, when it is in direct conflict with the freedom of speech of thousands, doesn’t always hold up. Even with all our modern technology, what goes around comes around, and information is passed from person to person through word of mouth, as it did before ‘the media’ came into existence.

But questions still remain; are parliamentarians abusing their position in revealing restricted information which relates to the privacy of another? Does one person’s privacy outweight the privacy of thousands of Twitter users, whose private information may now be turned over to the courts?

And at this point in time, the injunction is still in place. But if everyone knows the information I’m writing about, doesn’t that subvert the whole point of CTB’s superinjunction?


Written by missrachelsmith

May 26, 2011 at 13:16

Posted in Uncategorized

Small steps

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Today, I’ve had a well-deserved pyjama day (apart from the fact that at about lunchtime, I decided getting showered and dressed might make me feel slightly more productive!). Having the luxury of a few hours to play with, for once, I’ve finally got around to making some small improvements to this blog. When I started the missrachelsmith blog up back in January, I was really keen to get on and post about all the things I was doing. So I picked a theme, added one or two important widgets and got my head around using WordPress (a new platform for me), and started to write.

But now I’m a few months and a few posts into blogging, I thought it was about time I at least got the presentation of my blog up to a good basic standard, rather than just the bare bones. The marketer in me would love to play around with the style and format of these webpages, and I think at some point this would be a brilliant development activity in terms of web design. However, the librarian in me knows that the information I’m trying to convey, and making this information more accessible and visible, is the most important thing. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do today.

One liners #2:  Improvements I have made to my blog today

Photo: Having named my blog after myself, I thought it might be nice for you to put a face to the name.

Menu: Under my photo, there is now a menu in the sidebar for you to navigate through some of my…

… Pages: I’ve created two new pages, to provide a bit more information about who I am and what I do.

About page: A short bio, a statement about the views expressed in my blog.

Publications page: A page which I’ll regularly update, about my writing for publication.

Categories: I’ve started using categories, to give you another way to find posts on particular subjects.

CILIP Blogger?: As my blog mainly describes my Chartership activities, I’ve asked to become a CILIP Blogger.

What do you think of the new and improved missrachelsmith blog? What other features or information would be useful? I’d love to know your thoughts and comments.

Written by missrachelsmith

May 14, 2011 at 19:05

Posted in Chartership

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Doon tha Toon [(lib)TeachMeet]

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Last week, I visited Newcastle University for the afternoon to attend the inaugural Toon (lib)TeachMeet. A TeachMeet, for those who haven’t come across them, is a kind of ‘unconference’, where teachers meet to discuss ideas and share experiences. A library TeachMeet is a meeting of people who teach within the context of library and information services. The first (lib)TeachMeet was held last year in Cambridge, and since that point they’ve spread – as well as the Toon (lib)TeachMeet, there have been meetings arranged in Brighton, Liverpool, London and Huddersfield. Library TeachMeets involve a mixture of 2 and 7 minute presentations and anyone can present. The structure and agenda for the meeting are decided at the event and TeachMeets offer a great opportunity for discussion and networking with peers.

The Toon (lib)TeachMeet started off with the organisers, Helen Blanchett and Kirsty Thomson, explaining the concept of a (lib)TeachMeet, before a game of library bingo as an icebreaker(!). I didn’t volunteer to present at the meeting, but several others had prepared short presentations…

Anne Marie Laws told us about a project that was looking to bridge the gap between information skills teaching in schools and universities. The project aimed to explore the teaching skills of library staff and the embedding of information literacy within the curriculum, with the aim of creating an online skills toolkit.

Lucy Keating of Newcastle University described how she was trying to ‘zing’ up her teaching by making her information skills sessions more interactive, moving away from a standard presentation format. Lucy told us about the sessions she had recently conducted for new History undergraduate students: instead of giving students step-by-step instructions, she had suggested a range of resources for the students to explore. She challenged the class to work in pairs to find specific information using these sources, such as ‘the exact result of the Parliamentary by-election in Newcastle in 1908’ and ‘an example of 18th century advertising for a cough remedy’. The session became more hands-on and opened the eyes of the students to the range of resources Newcastle University subscribe to. The usage of key history databases had also increased by 60% in the months following the sessions.

Presentations by Julia Robinson and Kirsty Thomson discussed keyword searching; Julia used big post-it notes to get the class to think of synonyms within essay questions, which demonstrated the number of keywords that they could use to find information. Kirsty used keywords that her students came up with to discuss truncation and Boolean operators.

Lucy Carroll talked about working with students from her institution’s arts and media department to create library induction videos, whilst Helen Blanchett told us about the Librarians as Teachers Network, an online community for librarians involved in teaching.

Tracy Totty and Claire Donlan from Middlesbrough College presented a session on teaching academic staff about what the LRC had to offer. They created a Prezi to give their presentations to departmental meetings the ‘wow’ factor and promoted all of the different services the LRC could offer to academics. Following these meetings, the LRC has seen a surge in requests for follow-up sessions to train academic staff in using e-books and digital technologies, as well as increased usage of these resources.

So why didn’t I present? Well, teaching’s not exactly a large part of my role at present, and there was nothing that sprang to mind when I was booking my place. But now that I’ve attended and seen what a (lib)TeachMeet is all about, I may well store up some ideas that might form the basis of a short presentation in the future…

This was a really enjoyable event, and I got a lot out of it in terms of learning about other librarians’ teaching experiences, and ideas to use in my own training. I’d really recommend this as a worthwhile event to attend and hopefully this will be the first of a number of (lib)TeachMeets in the North East!

Written by missrachelsmith

May 10, 2011 at 17:20

Works well under pressure

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Last week, I submitted a job application at the very last of all last minutes, having misread the deadline. One of the criteria on the person specification was ‘works well under pressure’, or words to that effect. This made me laugh in a slightly hysterical manner when rattling off a covering letter at 11.30pm on the closing date.

But in actual fact, working well under pressure is something I’ve been managing admirably for some weeks. Whilst I work well when presented with short timescales and unexpected challenges, this is something I generally try to avoid. I’m not a ‘last minuter’ when I have any say in the matter – but life, and work, is not something I have much control over, and over the past month a few unexpected things have been thrown into the mix.

The library has a dedicated communications and marketing officer, who like me, is based within the academic liaison team, and part of my role is supporting my colleague in this area. Unfortunately, the communications and marketing officer has now been off work for around 4 weeks due to illness.  Obviously, you really can’t choose when you need to take sick leave, but it’s been pretty unfortunate timing, to say the least. I’ve only been in the library for two of the last four weeks myself, having arranged to go on holiday and see my family. But when I have been at work, I’ve needed to deal with a week of catalogue and system crashes, as well as a myriad of opening hours changes, moving from Easter vacation opening hours to Easter weekend opening hours, to term opening hours, to bank holiday weekend opening hours. I’ve chaired a communications and marketing group meeting for the first time. And then finally add into the mix the fact that two of our library sites went into 24 hour opening on Easter Monday…

So it’s been a bit of a crazy-whirlwind few weeks. But now it’s sort of over (is it ever over?!) I thought it might be interesting to take a look at my own personal performance during April in the area of communications and marketing, and how that has affected the library’s service performance (the first of the CILIP Chartership assessment criteria, for those interested!):

Personal performance: Firstly, I probably need to give myself some credit for stepping up to the mark in a pressurised environment. I wasn’t expecting a week of system crashes, I wasn’t expecting my colleague to be off work for such a prolonged period of time, and I wasn’t expecting to have much involvement in this year’s Library 24/7 campaign.

But I’ve managed to roll with it as the circumstances around me have changed. When the system crashed, I put out news stories, posted social media updates and organised posters and notices around the library to make sure that as many people as possible knew why they couldn’t search the catalogue or renew their items.

When it became apparent that my colleague wasn’t going to be able to attend the library’s communications and marketing group meeting, I sought the input of the other group members, who agreed that the meeting should go ahead. I put myself forward to chair the meeting, even though it’s something I’ve never done before, because I was aware that with the communications and marketing officer absent, I was the person who knew the most about what was going on and the person best placed to act as chair. This was a challenge for me, as I had to sort out the confusion surrounding whether the meeting was to take place, as well as prepare for the meeting, in a matter of hours. The meeting itself though went well; we kept to the agenda and to time, the group came up with a list of actions assigned to different members, and I was thanked for chairing the meeting by the group (which was nice!).

And the Easter vacation and Library 24/7 marketing? Well, it hasn’t been perfect, and with so much going on and only one of me I made some mistakes – I forgot to distribute the Easter weekend opening hours posters around to the other library sites until a couple of days before the Easter weekend, for example. Similarly, although I managed to get permissions to make changes to the complicated PHP database behind the library’s opening hours web pages, with nobody to show me how to work it, our opening hours pages were completely wrong at the start of Good Friday and customers were waiting at the Main Library doors an hour or so before we opened. But despite these blips, I got the information out there and the remaining copy and design work was completed to a high standard to form a coherent campaign. The publicity materials were organised and scheduled so that the campaign could be rolled out in my absence online, around the five library sites and the rest of the university at the beginning of the 24/7 period, and I was able to delegate tasks out to colleagues as appropriate.

Service performance: It goes without saying that no matter what is happening behind the scenes, you want your customers to have a positive experience of your service. It really doesn’t matter that taking on responsibility for communications and marketing tasks isn’t necessarily my job, or that I prefer things to be slightly less rushed. My job, as a Library Assistant, is to assist with the overall performance of the library as a service; getting the message out about the disruption to the library catalogue and about Library 24/7, which has massive cost implications, was a service priority. And although it might not have been quite as smooth as last year, I would say that these messages were communicated effectively.

Works well under pressure? I think so.

Written by missrachelsmith

May 2, 2011 at 17:47