David Whelan

Explorations with information and technology.

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Latest from David Whelan

Passwords and password management are evergreen topics. It’s one of those things that, while everyone uses passwords, they arrive at password management in different ways and at different times. Password management can be confusing because there are so many different ways to do it. I’ve touched on password management before. How storing them in a web browser can lead to them being exposed if someone else accesses the browser. How I prefer offline password managers over online ones. This was top of mind recently when an online password manager was backdoored. Any password management tool you use requires…
I needed to find a government document. I had seen a link to the document on a site that was not controlled by the US government, so it was not the content I was looking for so much as an authoritative copy. It was unlikely that many other people were looking for it. After emailing a variety of government departments, I got a copy but the document was not publicly accessible anywhere. But it made me try to imagine the cost of the long tail of legal information. What do law libraries expend in resources to support it and do…
I was invited to speak at the Northern California Association of Law Libraries’ Spring Institute. It was a bit of a stretch for me. I’m not accustomed to talking about myself and it was also my first virtual conference presentation. I’ve posted previously about what people should do and so I tried to follow my own advice/admonitions. This is a post mortem of what worked, what didn’t, and what things I need to figure out how to do better. First, let me provide a bit of context. The NOCALL Spring Institute was a 4 day event, spread over 2…
We upgraded to broadband about 2 months ago. The difference makes me understand better the unaligned expectations of information providers. It was also a good opportunity to revisit how our home network is set up and leverage other opportunities that are available. I have always preferred DSL for internet. In theory, the direct line to your internet service provider should provide you with a constant bandwidth. Cable connections are shared among nearby consumers and so, a bit like everyone turning on the AC in a heatwave, bandwidth access might fluctuate. But I was aware that our household connection was probably…
Law libraries are continually challenged to shift the perspective that a library is a library is a library. This perspective can lead a governance board or funder to see a public library trend and assume that the same concepts apply to a law library. One of the ways I’ve seen this occur is in how people view collection access. While serendipity is a normal finding tool in public libraries, legal researchers may be more focused on content in a way that makes shelf browsing less valuable. Unfortunately, our role as intermediaries makes delivery of content chunks difficult. When you approach…
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to amplify and reuse reference interactions. Fundamentally, a reference librarian is available until they engage in an interaction. At that point, the librarian-as-resource is unavailable. Any ability to capture that interaction, then, can potentially allow the reference librarian to remain available and allow the interaction to occur. We attempt this all the time by capturing interactions as video and text resources. But what is the best place to position the law library amidst all that content? Reference capture tends to be rudimentary, which I find continually surprising. We create pathfinders using tools like…
I’m going to touch on audience segmentation. I’ve had a couple of discussions since the start of the year about law libraries, usage, and audiences. In most cases, one audience is “the lawyers.” In courthouse law library contexts, we also have “the public” and “the judges.” If you stop there, though, I think you can miss nuance that may help you think about how to improve your service delivery. Just as important, I think there is the possibility of identifying new revenue streams if you spend time identifying your audience segments. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on about…
We are bound by our margins. I was thinking about information presentation when I was working on a personnel issue this week. Our corporate organization chart is a set of linked PDFs. My team – library, corporate records, and archives – lives on one page. An 8.5″ x 11″ (or almost A4) page. I was struck by how we continue to present digital information constrained by its physical analog. So many questions. I don’t really think about digital format much because it is usually in the background. We are so accustomed to responsive web sites, that resize in your browser.…
One thing I particularly enjoy about running my own blog, on my own platform, is seeing people use it. Posts on law libraries, on data visualization, and other business topics are visited during the week. Late at night, it’s posts on games, fixing devices, crafts. They come from all over the world and I hope they find what they’re looking for. But as I’ve noted before, there are other visitors I’m not so glad to see. I learned about autonomous system numbers (ASNs) recently and decided to add them to my site’s approach to security and resource preservation. I’m…
The reference question came from the C-suite. Normally, we run our reference inquiries through a traditional process but sometimes they travel down the hierarchy. Did we have access to this article in this journal? The answer: no. We spend literal millions of dollars to have access to legal information and don’t have a journal article. The why: it’s complicated. Your response to a request from a senior executive (managing partner, dean, senior judge) may differ depending on your circumstances. In most cases, if it’s a clear cut legal research request, I tell them that I’ll pass it on to…
I try to avoid red meat posts. When I see people making bad decisions about libraries, it’s easy to rile people up. Libraries are an easy thing to support because they often have a positive connotation: smells, experiences reading, free-to-access learning. Which may be why organizations cut the staff instead of the things that are used, without realizing that a library exists only with its staff, not because of its information. This whole post was set off by the recent decision by the province of Alberta to close its government library. And this isn’t a post about how staff are…
It has been almost a year of working from home in the pandemic. This time last year, I worked at an organization with a dedicated IT team, and took a 2 hour commute to and from our physical space. Now? I work at an organization with a dedicated IT team but on my own internet, my own computer, my own software licenses, and reliant on my own know how. The regular interruptions caused by keeping our household connected to work and school directly impact my ability to be a knowledge worker. Pick your poison. I expect we all have found…
Let’s cooperate. I do a thing. You do a thing. Win-win. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Over the years, I’ve had people pitch ideas for law library collaboration or cooperation. It came up again recently and I asked my now standard question: how do we pool the money to get this done? In other words, what resources that aren’t “in-kind” are you putting in to the collaboration? A partnership requires more than, as we say in the pandemic, acting separate but together in order to have coordination and accountability. It’s a little mercenary…
A couple years back, there was some really interesting law library survey research done. I was talking to someone about it recently and I commented that I thought it had been underutilized, that it contained some real opportunities to learn. But it became clear that the research is not being used because there is a misunderstanding about response rates and statistical validity. This has been common in my law library and legal professional experience. A group does a survey. The response rate comes back in the <10% range. The lawyers then discount the validity of the information based on that…
This post follows on from an earlier one that highlighted the gap around law libraries that unrepresented parties may not cross. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether law libraries should be focusing on reducing their footprint – especially space and staff – to shift the interaction points closer to the point of need. It’s not a value judgment nor a recommendation to reduce a library’s activities. It’s one of logistics. Is the need to access a law library a barrier to getting law library resources? There may be opportunities to change your services or your staff or your space.…
Multi-factor authentication has slowly crept forward but it’s remarkable how difficult some organizations find it. Or that hobble it by using weak security questions as a backup or recovery method. Our organization is rolling out multi-factor authentication and I’ve been surprised that we’re using multiple methods, a suite of xFA. Each element creates friction which challenges adoption. We started with the weakest multi-factor option, text messages. SMS or text are the weakest because there is the ability for the phone to be cloned, virtually, by swapping SIMs. Something is better than nothing, though. I emailed the IT manager responsible…