Image [cc] Preston Rhea

We live in an extremely interconnected world. A very fragile interconnected world. We are so reliant upon that connection that when it stops working, we stop working. That’s why when I saw Mike Elgan’s article this weekend called “How an Under-Appreciated iOS7 Feature Will Change the World,” I suddenly realized that we may be on the edge of a interconnected world that is no longer vunerable to the ISP server going down, or a tractor cutting a network cable in Nebraska and causing Internet connectivity going down in Texas. The feature in iOS7 is called Multipeer Connectivity Framework (MCF), and it is based upon Wireless Mesh Networking (WMN).

The idea is pretty simple, but the results can (eventually) be something spectacular. Right now, the only app that I found that has utilized the Multipeer Connectivity Framework is the one that Elgan features in his article, called Firechat. At this time, the app is pretty a basic chat app that allows you to see “Everyone” that is chatting on the app, using the normal chat server. But the advanced (and eventually cool) feature is the “Nearby” function that picks up those using local bluetooth or WiFi connections. It’s not just point-to-point connections, but point-to-point-to-point…. One connection tethering to another, and then another as long as the chain of connections remain linked. It might not be much right now, but given time, and the massive amounts of WiFi and cell connections currently available, it could become a new version of what we concider the Internet.

Here are some “practical” examples of what advantages a MCF network could do:

  • Emergency connections during power outages or natural disasters
  • Local communications set up for festivals, conferences, or community events (where cell towers tend to get overwhelmed)
  • Network and Communications networks that exist even when governments block ISP or Internet services for political reasons
  • Networks in poor or rural areas that are not served (or well-served) by Internet Providers

There is a lot of potential in this new feature found in the iOS7 upgrade. As Wired magazine noted back in January, It’s Time to Take Mesh Networks Seriously, And Not Just For The Reasons You Think. We have stepped into a new world… we just don’t know it yet.

Image [cc] spanaut

While attending the AALL Futures Summit last week, I got to talk with a number of young members (those within the first five years of the law library profession) and found the discussion to be absolutely wonderful and enlightening. I have a number of topics that I’ll probably blog upon over the next few days, but the first one I wanted to cover was the dichotomy in the social personalities of those younger members who have hundreds of online friends, but find it very difficult to interact in social settings at the annual conventions. One friend said it more frankly, and describe it as a schizophrenic-like situation when it came to social interaction. Perhaps, on the surface, it looks like there is a conflict with the idea that someone can have hundreds of Facebook friends, and not be able to connect with real people (even those that are in that Facebook friends list), but I think that there is a solid reason for this dichotomy, and potentially a way to work out a solution to help bridge this gap.

Right now, the common “social setting” at an AALL conference (and I’d go out on a limb and say this is probably common at most other conferences as well) is that of the Member Reception. It can be an opening reception, or a member luncheon, or even a happy hour for smaller groups during the conference. When you think about it, receptions are really old-school social settings. These are the social settings that represent how we have networked for the past 50 years or so… maybe longer. The idea is to put similar people in a room, pump in a little music over the speaker system (live band if times are good), provide a few snacks, add a little alcohol (a lot of alcohol if times are bad), and voilà… instant networking. The whole thing’s a bit unstructured, but has been the traditional method of networking and has worked fairly well. However, I don’t think that this is working all that well with the newer members, and I think I know why.

I had a number of newer members tell me that they were uncomfortable in large social setting, that they hated the reception environment at conferences, and that in all honesty, they were introverts and struggle with how to work a social setting. Many of us agreed that, while it may be an overly stated stereotype of librarians, we do tend to attract introverts to the library profession (obviously, not all are, but many in the room admitted that they fit that introvert category.) However, most of same people that admitted they were introverts were very comfortable on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn, etc. In fact, right after the conference, many of the newer members that I talked to quickly friended me on Facebook. So why the dichotomy? Yes, shyness plays a part in this, but how can we create a better environment for networking? I think the solution is setting up social gatherings that have structure, rules, and guidelines.

What was interesting, was the common suggestion that was made to fix the social networking challenge for newer members was to set up an environment that mimicked Speed-Dating settings. Yes, this got a chuckle at first… and made many of the married members of the crowd whisper, “I don’t think my husband/wife/partner would approve of me going to a speed-dating session.” However, as the idea started making the rounds around the room, it started getting more and more traction, and I started understanding why this type of setting would appeal to new members. I think the primary reason that this type of session would work is because it has structure, and newer members don’t have to wonder “What am I supposed to do in here? What do I do next? How do I follow up from here?”

The Speed-Dating (you know what… let’s change dating to networking for the rest of this post) Networking structure helps the network-challenged members in the following ways:

  • There are rules to follow 
  • It is easy (show up, follow instructions)
  • It can be effective (meet far more people in the time that you would in a reception environment)
  • If you like someone then you have a reason to get back in touch with them (“Friend” them)
  • If you don’t like someone, then at least you only have to spend a couple of minutes with them (“un-Friend them)
In a way, it is like taking the structure of online social interaction and transferring it to a real-life setting. 
Even the older members would benefit from something like this. Many of us have a core set of friends that we hang out with at meetings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after a few years of keeping your social circles stagnant, it can get a bit stale… or can be seen by others as being a bit cliquish. Therefore, the Speed-Networking reception can help expand even the most seasoned member’s social circles in an easy and fun way. 
I’m not sure if we can have a Speed-Networking session set up as a stand-alone session at next year’s AALL meeting in Boston, but we did have a great idea for how an informal one could be set up. One of the newer members suggested that an area in the back of the room be roped off with chairs set up for a speed-networking session for those that wanted to participate. We’ll have to see if the idea gets off the ground, but I think it would be a great way to help newer members network in a way that better fits how they currently interact, and provides the structure they need to network a room.

I’ve never been afraid to tell you things that I should have know, but didn’t. Here’s just one more example of something that I should have been doing, but wasn’t. While at the AALL conference in Denver, I walked into the exhibit hall one morning, made that automatic left-hand turn to the BNA coffee and donut section (thank you, thank you, BNA!!), and sat down with a couple of academic law librarians that I’d never met before. Turns out that one of them was from Wake Forest and (after I had a couple sips of coffee) that triggered a memory. I had a Summer Associate from that school currently at my firm. Aha!! This was at least a conversation starter, so I mentioned it to the librarian and she immediately knew the name of the Summer Associate I was talking about.

I had never thought about this opportunity before, but I think I’m going to start doing something a little differently when preparing for these law library conferences. I’m going to start contacting the law librarians at the schools that my firm’s Summer Associates are attending to see who will be attending the conference that year. Perhaps we could meet up and discuss what we could both do to help the student succeed when he or she is ready to come back as an Associate next year. Simple things like identifying journals that we commonly route to the practice group could help keep the law student up to date on issues that others within their potential practice group are reading. Not only could it help the student, but it may also help the librarians by exposing each of them to materials they may not have currently in their own collections.

We law firm librarians tend to complain that law schools don’t prepare students for the realities of law firm life. Maybe here is an opportunity to give pointed suggestions to the law school’s librarians on how to assist specific students to be better prepared for the transition. At the very least, it gives us one more opportunity to network with others in our field.