On the 20th November of last year we held a SSNaP on the topic of ‘Assisting Remote Users’, very kindly hosted by the Supreme Courts Library. With eight members in attendance we were looking forward to a session exploring different types of software currently in use for remote working and discussing the pros and cons of each.
Beginning with Microsoft Jabber, the SCTS library team described the benefits they’d found in the software which their institution recently installed. As the Sheriff and Supreme Courts are required to work across a large geographic area the ability to screen share for demonstration has been a incredibly helpful to their training provision, and the quick chat functionality has allowed for coworking with ease from different sites. However a lack of clear guidance during the initial roll out period meant that much of the setting up of meetings relied on the team’s own ability to troubleshoot for their users before the content of courses was begun. Although they felt that these teething problems were frustrating, the SCTS library team acknowledged that the implementation of the software had been a massive step forward for such a traditional workplace.
Colleagues from the Scottish Government gave us a quick rundown of Skype for Business and WebEx, highlighting how compatible online meeting software has been for the hotdesking and flexible working model that SG have been utilising. Although the issue of individual licenses and cost have been raised, generally it is felt that the functionality to open ‘rooms’ and to leave them open, to pop in and out as necessary, and to share screens, documents, polls and chat have been very helpful in managing their workload remotely. It was noted that when using meeting functions it’s often better to have a separate microphone than to rely on the internal ones on laptops or devices, though Skype and WebEx allow for you to use your phone as a microphone which can be helpful.
Our third platform under discussion was Collaborate Ultra, which is the service used by the University of Edinburgh to present and provide training, as well as holding video and voice meetings. When training is conducted in this manner one person presents and another moderates the chat box so that links and responses can be provided in text in addition to the verbal commentary. Recordings are possible using this software meaning that sessions can be recorded and uploaded for reference later, and it is also possible to submit recordings for subtitling using transcription services, increasing accessibility for any recorded material.
After demonstrations of each platform we discussed what we thought to be the main highlights and issues:
- Most seem to have very similar functionality, but can be applied differently depending on the need of the organisation.
- Firms and small organisations will be restricted by finances as to what kind of package they can afford.
- Using these to create short videos or recordings can be beneficial, but hosting and storage space can be restrictive.
- Video conferencing etiquette and moderation can be difficult to get the hang of, but when they are put into practice by everyone they help make the tool more effective.
- Other departments (e.g. training teams) can conflict with the needs and requirements of library & information service teams, which may lead to some internal gatekeeping of resources.
We discussed some other tools which could be used to offer assistance remotely, such as Slack (a team working app), Zoom (videoconferencing software), Slido (a tool for conference audience interaction), and Prezi (a presentation platform that allows the hosting of short videos). While each have their place, it would be unlikely a company or institution would purchase licences for or be able to support every one.
We discussed how to manage without the support of the institution and the difficulties this presented. Examples of database training videos being provided but having to be transcribed manually and hosted internally seemed familiar to most and unsurprising to others. For law firms it’s possible they would call in contractors to deliver training rather than expending resources on developing users internally. While there are benefits such as reduced workload to the library team if contractors are used, it can clip our wings with regards to the added value we can get from these platforms if we’re not allowed to explore their uses.
By the end of the meeting most members were in agreement that it would be very worthwhile getting to know how to use the tools available to us a little better. Of course, at that point none of us could have forseen that six months later the vast majority of the country would be working remotely and using the very technologies we were assessing!
Attending this SSNaP was very helpful in reminding me personally that information professionals are endlessly creative when it comes to utilising new technology to assist them in their work. We’ve seen nothing but adaptability from individuals across the sector in altering their services to suit the needs of their users over recent months. I feel privileged to work in information provision at this critical time, with not only the tools but also the collective experience of my colleagues in SLLG to help shore me up through this uncertainty. I hope that the more we use these technologies the easier and more accessible they will become, and I know that in the mean time our community of legal information professionals will continue to adapt, learn and provide our services as best we can.
I’d like to extend my thanks to the SCTS Library Service for hosting this SSNaP and to Kayleigh McGarry and Jennie Findlay for demonstrating.