Features – Blogging: One Firm's Experience

Karen Lasnick, Librarian in the Santa Monica office of Bryan Cave LLP.

Julie Weber, Special Projects Librarian in the St. Louis office.

Blogging for the Bryan Cave libraries in St. Louis, MO and Santa Monica, CA was created in response to a need for disseminating information to people in other offices (and time zones) as quickly and easily as possible. In this brief article, Karen Lasnick, Librarian in the Santa Monica office and Julie Weber, Librarian in the St. Louis office discuss their blogging experiences at two Bryan Cave offices by looking at the origins, evolution and future of blogging at Bryan Cave.

Blogging at the Beach (Santa Monica)

My adventure into blogging probably began last year when I decided to revamp and relaunch our Santa Monica office library newsletter. Instead of paper copy or a rather bland looking e-mail, I spiced up my monthly missive with .gifs and clip art and added humor as well (all obtained with copyright permission, of course).

Once the newsletter was underway, I decided that since I subscribed to various legal e-mails, others might be interested in what I was learning and in a more timely manner than once a month. I obtained permission from several of my sources to cut and paste the news summaries that would be of interest to the various practice groups in my office. I added links to new cases as well. Soon, I was sending out three to four e-mails a day. Most of my e-mails went to practice groups in my own office, but one of our attorneys asked me to send the information to his practice group firm wide.

One of our partners in our St. Louis office, John Alber, who was a recipient of many of my e-mails and is a member of our client technology department, contacted me and suggested I send out the information as a blog. I had been reading about blogging, was tired of sending out so many e-mails, and I was afraid I was going to start annoying my readers. I was put in contact with Connie Hoffman, a consultant in our client technology department. Connie trained me in the fine art of using our weblog technology: I use a template, and basically cut and paste the information and links. I’ve been blogging since this summer. I have ten blogs that I maintain (nine are for the Santa Monica office, where I’m based and one is firm wide) and I’ve had very positive responses to the blogs from our attorneys.

(Example of Intellectual Properties Current Awareness Blog distributed by Karen Lasnick)

Blogging at the Arch (St. Louis)

In our St. Louis office, the origin of the blog stemmed from our need to share information with librarians in our seven other offices. Although we operate on a “one firm” approach, our firm-wide library director is in St. Louis, so we often circulate information from St. Louis. Our methods of information sharing progressed through the years as technology and our resources got better. Our original attempt was rather humble – email, but from there, we moved to file sharing on our firm’s document management system, to a webpage on our intranet, to our final method, a blog. None of the methods were quite what we were looking for, until we found blogs.

Before 1998, most of the information shared among our libraries was done via email. We found this method of distribution to be lacking because the information was not stored in any central location — it was up to the individual to store the information in a personal file. Further, some of the information we wanted to share was too big to be put in an email. Items such as minutes from firm wide teleconferences, vendor contract information, and National Library Week plans and schedules made email a poor choice for information sharing.

Our next stab at information sharing was with shared folders in our document management system, PCDocs. We created a folder that was accessible to all firm librarians, and within it, stored Word and Excel documents that were relevant to our department. This system had some positive factors, mainly that information was stored in a central location, it could be viewed by librarians at any time, and documents could be added by any librarian in the firm. There were problems with this system though. First, for continuity sake, we required all documents added to the folder be titled in a specific manner, however, more times than not, documents were mislabeled, which made them hard to find. Also, because the documents were all Word or Excel-based, (and old versions at that), they didn’t support hyperlinks. Finally, we found that sharing documents across different servers was unwieldy and slow, which made the documents rarely used. All in all, this was not a great solution for sharing information.

Before long, our firm jumped on the Intranet bandwagon, and created a template driven Intranet that allowed different groups and departments in the firm to create and maintain their own internal web pages. We created a Library page to post library news, links, and information for the firm, and then created a separate Librarian’s Only page to house our shared information. The page was protected so it could be viewed only by members of the library department. We added much of the information that we previously had in our shared folder in the document management system, but because of the new format, we were able to add hyperlinks and graphics. This page was a big improvement over our previous attempt at document sharing, however, it too had some flaws. First, based on the design of the Intranet, our page was buried within the Library page, meaning it took several clicks just to get to the page. Also, for continuity reasons, we only had one editor, meaning all documents that needed to be added to the page had to be added by me. Finally, due to navigation problems and innate flaws, the Intranet wasn’t used to its full potential, meaning people didn’t go to it as a source of information. Therefore the pages weren’t updated often enough, and information became buried.

While all of this was going on, our client technology department, (who was aware of the problems related to our Intranet), began looking at ways to improve information dissemination. They investigated blogs and began using blogging software. Karen then began to use the blogs to distribute her information. Our firm wide library director saw the success Karen was having with the blogs, and suggested we look into expanding our use of blogs firm wide to share our library information currently on our Intranet. Like Karen, I was trained on the blogging software by Connie Hoffman, and before long, we were using the blog to share information among all of our librarians.

There are distinct advantages to using the blog. For one, information on the page can be archived and searched, something that was not easily achieved on our Intranet. Also, we can include a wider variety of information, including, research tips and new links. Finally, we can alert our librarians when new information is added.

(Example of Bryan Cave Librarians Current Awareness Blog distributed by Julie Weber)

Future Blogging?

We interviewed Connie Hoffman, a consultant with Bryan Cave (St. Louis) on the future of blogging in our firm. The blogs we are creating now are generally for current awareness, or for sharing information within a practice group or work teams. The firm is beginning to use blogs in new ways though, for instance, there is currently a team who is studying how to use blogging software to develop an alumni program to network with former attorneys of the firm. The firm is also investigating use of news-readers to help organize blog subscriptions and information, and hopes to have a news-reader up and running by early 2004. This would allow users to subscribe to blogs, both internal and external, and have the information dumped directly into folders in our email system. Users would no longer have to go to the blog, the blog will come to them. The client technology team has found the blog interface to be user friendly, inexpensive, and intuitive, which is leading them to believe that further down the road, Bryan Cave will be looking at blogs as the interface for the firm intranet as a whole.

Posted in: Blogs, Features, Information Management, Internet Filtering, Technology Trends