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Kristel Petrou of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP was the CLIG bursary winner for 2014 and writes about her experience at the BIALL Conference held in Harrogate, 12th - 15th June 2014.

Pre-Conference
My journey to BIALL commenced on the Wednesday evening.  A fellow BIALL conference delegate and I caused mild chaos by rearranging the entire Coach C on the packed 18.00 from King’s Cross so we could sit together and catch up on the journey to Harrogate!  Upon arrival in Harrogate we swiftly navigated our way to our respective hotels (the aptly named Majestic Hotel for me). 

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the pre-conference seminar as I did not arrive in Harrogate until late Wednesday evening.  Instead, I took advantage of the late summer daylight and went exploring the delightful city to do a quick reconnaissance on the location of the conference centre, dinner venues, and all important Betty's Tea Rooms where my BIALL buddy and I also enjoyed Afternoon Tea on the Saturday.  With my incredibly average sense of direction, I must say Harrogate was a wonderfully easy city to navigate and definitely a perfect conference city with the close proximity of hotels to conference centre, dinner venues and shops.

Conference
Thursday morning I headed off for the very short walk from my hotel to the Harrogate International Conference Centre to register and pick up my satchel of conference goodies. It isn’t said often enough, but the BIALL conference brochure is always outstanding.  Coupled with some of the great trade exhibit supplier stationery, it excelled at bringing out the librarian in me as I spent a quality ten minutes post-registration tagging the brochure with colour-coded post-it notes to identify important information; my registered sessions’ note pages; and the trade exhibition pages so I could note-up whom I had met and what was discussed for easy reference during any post-conference correspondence.

The formal conference programme began with the excellent conference-theme-titled keynote address “Data, Data Everywhere” from Phil Bradley. Despite the opening Star Trek joke reference being completely lost on me, it was a highlight of the conference. The ‘60 seconds of data’ analysis always fascinates and frightens me in equal measure, but the analysis set the scene for a fascinating insight into whether we can trust the information we source and how mainstream social media and search engines profile users under the guise of providing more relevant customised results, when it generally serves to provide sites with important marketing and consumer information for commercial benefit.  The session covered search engines that don’t track users (DuckDuckGo), searching for info graphics results to find information displayed in an alternate format, and efficient monitoring by letting other specialists do the aggregating and signing up to their blogs and RSS feeds instead of monitoring everything yourself. The session ended with the realisation that it is almost impossible to ‘go off the grid’ - confronting, but completely true in practice for most of the population.  Although the first session of the conference, it is actually the one that stayed with me the most post-conference.

The highlight parallel session for me was the presentation by Erin Gow from Middle Temple Library on "Research and the Professional: Navigating a Spectrum of Legal Resources". Coming from both an Education and Library background, Erin's session was a refreshing presentation on how to motivate legal professionals when doing research.  The session outlined key discoveries from her research on the subject, that I have already seen evidence of from library users at my firm (ie lawyers like to keep things simple and don't appreciate multi-volume texts or supplements).  I am inspired to return to basics with my training sessions now (training on keyword searching, synonyms), and commit to more targeted training to increase information literacy.

Simon Lord, Head of B2B Marketing, Financial Times, summarised a recent FT and SLA research study on “A profession in transformation: Including the 5 habits of highly effective information professionals” that provided interesting insight into the differing challenges and information needs of knowledge providers (budget, demonstrating value) and Executives (information overload, currency and value of information) and the methods information professionals can use to communicate and deliver information to Executives to effectively meet their needs while demonstrating value to the organisation. The presentation discussed using techniques that are not new to knowledge providers (but always worth a reminder) such as knowing the strategy and focus for the business, and keeping up with technology, coupled with new approaches such as ‘brevity as opposed to data dumps’ and filtering information to executive summaries, to provide Executives with timely and efficient information they can then use more effectively.

Another highlight presentation I attended was Andy Williamson’s “Big Data: what it means for Government and Society”. This session discussed the fact that big data occurs due to cheap storage and processing (ie. linking datasets to give them meaning and context); the “Dark web”; and the trade-off between privacy and big data discussed, with a view that having access to big data should help empower not constrain users. It also covered who is looking after our data, whether data is ‘open’ or democratic and Government’s role in this. It was a quality presentation ending with the reiteration of a concept close to information professionals – the need to teach our users information literacy to deal with big data.

The dinners on both evenings were a great opportunity to network with delegates, vendors and presenters and enjoy a glass of wine and some lovely food. The setting of the Royal Hall was lovely, and the first night's dinner was at my hotel which was very convenient. The vegetarian options for both dinners were quite good too.

The Saturday Kitchen was an enjoyable and informative end to the conference, as a selection of the vendors were given the opportunity to give a short presentation on the future and focus of their respective products.  Some suppliers really embraced the ‘kitchen’ theme with recipes (BvD) and food prizes (British Library), which was quite fun.

A massive “Thank you” to CLIG for giving me the opportunity to attend BIALL 2014 in the lovely town of Harrogate It was a great city and a quality conference.

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