Thursday, September 26, 2013

More Dispatches from the SLA Virtual Conference (as They Pertain to Genealogy)

This is part 2 of my virtual conference experience. You can read about day 1 here.

Day 2 was similar in format and time to day 1. Three separate sessions with 45 minute breaks in between (most attendees were information professionals likely tuning in from their places of employment). Each session was offered as a GoToMeeting webinar with a distinct, unique log-in url. Session titles are in bold.

Ninja Skills for Librarians
Jennifer Doyle and Jill Strand

This session was received well at the 2013 SLA conference in San Diego, so they included it as part of their virtual conference. I'm glad they did.

The two speakers were friends and black belts in their respective martial arts disciplines. Much of martial arts deal with the mind and how you think and approach a situation. The speakers channeled that train of thought and applied it to information professionals.

They broke their presentation down into levels, similar to the colored belts one attains in martial arts. Here are some of the achievements:

Confidence - the speakers discussed introverts because there are so many in the library world. When you're not feeling confident, act like an extrovert. "Fake it til you make it" is a common saying in the info pro world. At a genealogy conference many years ago, I was approached by an employee at a Very Important Genealogy Entity and asked if I take paid work. "Yes," I said (I hadn't). Then the person asked if I ever go to Slighty Intimidating Special Archives in my area. "Oh yes," I nodded as though I go there every Tuesday (I'd never been there). And that's how I got my first paid genealogy gig.

Balance - this one seems self explanatory, but the speakers made a good point. Obviously we need to work to achieve our own balance, but we also need to be aware of those who don't have balance. Don't let them upset yours. Sadly, this is a big issue in the more cantankerous corners of the genealogy sandbox. Don't let the "unbalanced" ones get to you.

Strategy - this applied to librarians in complex organizations, but I thought it was a good takeaway for the genealogy world, too. The speakers emphasized that you don't always have to win. Sometimes it's best to let competitors go to market first, let them make mistakes, then you can learn from what you see. Think about what you want to accomplish before taking action.

Negotiation - in the information professional world this includes vendor relations, company issues and general life. Here was my favorite takeaway: Is it more important to be right, or to maintain a good relationship so we can achieve our common goal? The professional genealogy field is somewhat divisive right now. Too many trying to be right, no discussion on the common goal.

I really liked this session. I wish I could see (or even design) something similar for genealogy, but I don't think it would be received well. The audience expects a talk on records and a handout. This ninja-style presentation is different and "different" doesn't go over well. Maybe I'll hash it out anyway and try it on a smaller audience. But I digress.....

Contributed Papers: Outgoogling Google and An Ethnographic Approach to the Knowledge Audit
John Coll and William Cook

This session was made of two discussions on contributed papers. The knowledge audit one--though interesting--had nothing I could transfer to genealogy, so I won't discuss it here.

The speaker for the Outgoogling Google paper was from the National Library of Scotland. This was a discussion on the use of Google and Google Scholar over library services. This is a very familiar topic in library circles. There were some statistics presented, including a study of doctoral students who relied mostly on Google for their research (shudder).

There's a continuous movement to illustrate the value-added services of libraries in terms of research. Do your users know you (the librarian) know things they don't? Librarians can provide further guidance on the research subject, filter down to the "good stuff," share their knowledge, save time and get better results. Unfortunately they don't always advertise that fact.

The speaker shared about the National Library of Scotland website and user expectations. Users want a single search box...just like Google. So the speaker showed how they achieved that while still providing the best possible search experience and results. I don't think genealogists realize how much time and energy goes into improving user experiences. Librarians are always thinking about ways to improve their systems. Keep that in mind as you navigate the genealogy information highway.

Practitioner Best Picks: Best CI Techniques in Legal, Science and Finance
Anne Herron, Alex Ilg and John Jackson

This session was about competitive intelligence (CI) but you know I can mine that information and apply it to genealogy.

The session involved three speakers, each speaking on one of the above fields. The first speaker (finance information professional) discussed the importance of knowing your client. He referenced what he called the (Peter) Drucker Three:

What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer value?

In terms of professional genealogy, who is your customer? The answers will probably vary a bit. A few months back, I ruffled feathers by saying that a certain membership-based genealogy group did not provide enough value for me to retain active status, so I left. This is the point I was trying to make. Value is a "thing" and the genealogy field needs to address it. I encourage you to look at all the genealogy things you pay for and figure out their value to you. If you're in the genealogy biz (societies, too), make sure your services or products provide value and that you understand your customer/user/client.

Let's talk about the reference interview. This was brought up in several sessions including this one. When you first contact a librarian, he or she will initiate a reference interview. This is done to determine what you're looking for so they can provide the right materials or answers. Often people will ask for one thing, but it turns out they really want another. A reference interview hashes that out at the beginning, saving time and getting better results for everyone.

When it comes to dealing with genealogy clients, I often go the reference interview route, too. People email me and ask "I need help! How much to you charge?" I reply back with a bunch of questions because I need to define the project before I can put a price tag on it. This can go on for several replies and potential clients get antsy because they want a price. But I can't give you a price until I know what the project will entail. That's just how I roll. One time I contacted a professional genealogist about doing some work for my own family history. She replied back with a price list. That's it. No questions about what I wanted and was hoping to accomplish. Thanks and buh-bye.

Much is written and discussed in library circles about user experience. It is essential because libraries need users to keep going. Do you see how this translates to the genealogy field? needs users. Genealogy societies need users. Your professional genealogy business needs users. Your genealogy blog that you just write for fun needs users. Take a hard look at your corner of the genealogy world and see if you know who your users are and what they value.


I'm really glad I spent the money to attend this SLA virtual conference. I wasn't sure how relevant it would be since I'm straddling the information field right now but I found lots to keep me current in research practices.

I tried my best to cull information relevant to the business of genealogy and discuss it here. I hope it did help a few of you. If not, then better luck next time.


  1. Loved your "fake it til you make it" story!

    1. Thanks. I figured it was funny and it might help some take the plunge to fake it until they make it.

    2. I liked that story too. But it's true. You have to exude confidence in order to gain it.

      What is competitive intelligence?

      I took a class on Information Retrieval Search Strategies while in library school. Best.Class.Ever. I learned a lot about how search engines work and how to make them better.

    3. Ginger, my school offered two info retrieval classes. I took them both and they were the best thing about the program. I still use that knowledge today.

      Competitive intelligence deals with gathering info on competitors, companies, products, people, etc. (all through legal means, of course). The skills and tricks for doing that are handy for finding living people online, so I like to read up and stay current in that area.