Collaborationin Libraries

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                                                   Using Wikis
                                                     to Support Online
                                                    Collaboration in Libraries

By Darlene Fichter                                                                                       might involve competitive intelligence offi-
                                                                Using Wikis to Support                   cers in an organization working together or
     If you’re not familiar with wikis, take                                                             a sales force in the field. Team-level inter-
an hour to test-drive one and discover how                             Online Collaboration              actions focus on a project or task.
                                                                             in Libraries
easy it is to create and edit online content.                                                                In 2004, Jenny Ambrozek and Joseph
Once you’re familiar with how wikis work,                                                                Cothrel studied online communities in
it’s easy to spot dozens of opportunities for                                                            business to identify what collaboration
using them in your organization that                                                   2 p.m. ET         tools were currently used and which com-
would help you get jobs done faster and                                                Wednesday,        panies projected they would be using them
easier than before.                                                                                      one year from now and five years from
     In the past month alone, I set up three
                                                                                      January 25         now. Internally, Web conferencing, team
wikis: one to support a pre-conference                                                                   rooms and expertise locator systems, wire-
workshop, another for behind-the-scenes                       Instructor: Darlene Fichter                less/mobile tools, and social networking
conference planning by local organizers,                                                                 tools were identified as the collaboration
and one for conference attendees to use                    Details and registration information are at   tools that would significantly increase
before they arrived and during the ses-                                                                  while e-mail, instant messaging, and dis-
sions. In each of these cases, we chose a                                cussion groups would decline. Weblogs
wiki because it helped accomplish the task                                                               and wikis were identified in the study but
at hand better than other tools in our col-               ing knowledge. Other times we’re creating      showed moderate use and a steady state.
laboration toolbox.                                       new knowledge. We may be writing RFPs,         (See
     A wiki is a Web application invented                 plans, proposal, and reports. Collaboration    cothrel.pdf). Since this study, the use of
by Ward Cunningham in 1994 that allows                    can also happen at various levels: commu-      both Weblogs and wikis has definitely
anyone to add content and anyone to edit                  nity level, network level, and team level.     taken off in the enterprise.
it. WikiWikiWeb describes wikis as “a tool                Collaboration at a community level is char-        Corporations are waking up to
for collaboration, really, we don’t know                  acterized by relatively intense interactions   social software tools such as wikis and
quite what it is by it’s a fun way of com-                over a period of time. Rheingold stated in     Weblogs as collaboration tools that
municating asynchronously across the net-                 The Virtual Community: Homesteading on         they can use. Infoworld declared 2005 as
work” ( WikiWiki                  the Electronic Frontier that a virtual         the Year of the Enterprise Wiki, and
means “quick” in Hawaiian, and this                       community emerges when “enough                 Business Week
application was intended to make it easy                  people carry on public discussions long        zeroed in on the
for anyone without special training in                    enough, with sufficient human feeling,         fact that “They’re
HTML or an authoring language to dive in                  to form webs of personal relationships         Web sites anyone
and add content.                                          in cyberspace.”                                can edit— and
     The reasons for organizational collabo-                  The network-level collaboration is usu-    they could trans-
ration are diverse. Sometimes we’re shar-                 ally based around a topic or subject. This     form Corporate

         Darlene Fichter is the coordinator of data library services at the University of Saskatchewan Library. She
      has managed several digital library, portal, intranet and Web site projects. She is also a columnist for
      Online magazine and a conference speaker about new and emerging information technologies.

30 | information outlook |January 2006 | vol. 10, no. 1

America Headlines” in their article             the software provides version control and              Here are some library wiki sites to
Something Wiki This Way Come.                   rollback functions.                                explore:
    Wikis are ideally suited to certain types       Often the idea of a wiki is met with           • University of Connecticut Libraries’
of lightweight collaboration. They are an       skepticism but the incredible growth and           Staff Wiki.
excellent tool for building knowledge bases     success of Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.     
that are dynamic and fluid, and this has        org), the free encyclopedia, has demon-            • Ohio University Libraries Biz Wiki.
led to their early adoption for IT areas.       strated the power of wikis to foster collab-
Wikis truly excel at tracking emergent          oration is very real.                              bizwiki/index.php/Main_Page
information. I asked workshop attendees                                                            • The MIT Engineering and Science
how well their company intranet was             Uses for Libraries                                 Libraries B-Team.
able to respond to information about                Where would a bit of wiki “power” be 
Hurricane Katrina assuming that their           useful for libraries? There are dozens of          • SJCPL Subject Guide WIKI.
company had a branch or operations in           places where wikis could make library    
the area. Then I asked them to consider         tasks and functions easier.                        subjectguides/index.php/Main_Page
how well a wiki might respond as a                  Wikis could be used internally in              • Unofficial wiki for the 2005 ALA
communication and collaboration vehi-           libraries to create knowledge bases, to sup-       Annual Conference in Chicago.
cle in the same circumstances.                  port work that moves quickly from discus-
    Wikis are also excellent as vehicles for    sion to collaborative writing, to create a         php?title=Main_Page
moving from discussion to publication. On       place for writing, editing and storing meet-       • Canadian Library Association (CLA)
a wiki you can create a place where topics      ing notes and reports, or it could even            Calgary 2005.
can be discussed, such as a “talk” page,        become the platform for the library      
and when some agreement is reached the          intranet. Public wikis could be used to                When it comes to choosing wiki soft-
group can rapidly start composing the con-      support courses, create subject pages, and         ware, there are several choices. There are
tent. This process can involve a dozen or       to facilitate planning and delivering confer-      wiki engines that run on almost any server
more contributors.                              ences and meetings.                                platform. There are several open source
    Have you ever edited a Word docu-               Wikis can also be used to start a con-         wiki packages that you can download and
ment that has passed through a half             versation with our community of users.             install locally at no charge. There are ven-
dozen hands with “track changes” on?            For example, they can be used to engage            dors targeting the enterprise market; for
It’s painful. You know that there has to        the community in library planning process-         example Jotspot, Socialtext, and Atlassian.
be a better tool for collaborative writing      es, to collaborate with members of the             For more wiki software options, peruse the
for groups of three or more people. This        community in recording or documenting              “List of wiki software” on Wikipedia
is a niche where wikis are particularly         local histories and events. Wikis can be           (
useful. They will track changes made my         used to enhance collections by allowing            List_of_wiki_software).
multiple authors on a recent changes            our community to contribute stories and                If you don’t want to install wiki soft-
page and allow you to roll back to any          information about collections of historical        ware locally, don’t worry. There are sev-
previous version.                               photos or places. These are just a few of          eral sites that will host a wiki for you.
    A wiki site looks like any other Web        the ways that libraries can use wikis.             Simply register online, and presto—you
site. Visitors can explore the site with just       Librarians and information profes-             have a ready-made wiki! You can set up
a Web browser. Anyone with a Web                sionals have started to test the wiki              a wiki for your team or library and
browser can edit a wiki site; anyone can        waters and put wikis to use. The infor-            explore the functionality and services
undo any change at any time. Within a           mation architecture community estab-               that different sites have to offer. Some of
corporate environment you may wish to           lished IAWiki ( as a                the free and fee-based hosted wikis are
set up a wiki and limit it to a particular      place to create a collaborative knowl-             XWiki, Seed Wiki, Jotspot, EditMe, and
group. Wikis on the Internet often require      edge base about information architec-              Socialtext Workspace.
visitors to set up an account before posting    ture. This particular wiki is a good place             There are dozens of tools that support
to prevent spammers from flooding the site      to learn about special wiki pages like             online collaboration with co-workers,
with bogus content.                             RoadMaps, StartingPoints and                       suppliers and/or your customers. Many
    Wiki’s are built from a fundamentally       Talk/Discussion pages.                             of these tools are familiar ones: email,
different perspective than most Web sites.          Meredith Farkas created Library                mailing lists, bulletin boards, instant mes-
Wikis change the typical way of publishing      Success: A Best Practices Wiki                     saging, Web conferencing, and team
content to a Web site on its head. Rather       ( in July 2005. This            rooms. Others are new to many of us;
than stringent editorial controls and per-      wiki exemplifies the power of wikis by             this new breed of social software applica-
missions controlling who can publish            the breadth and depth of its content cre-          tions includes wikis, Weblogs, RSS news
what, a wiki assumes that everyone in the       ated in the few months that it has been            feeds and FOAF (Friends of a Friend).
community is trusted to publish anything        operating. The Library Success wiki is             Wikis are one more tool to add to your
right from the start. The wiki is an evolv-     intended to be a one-stop shop for great           collaboration toolbox. Consider pulling a
ing Web site that anyone can add to,            ideas and information for all types of             wiki out of your pocket when you spot a
improve, and reorganize. The editorial con-     librarians to learn about successful ini-          project that could use an online collabo-
trol is the hands of the community, and         tiatives at other libraries.                       rative workspace.

                                                                                                vol. 10, no. 1 | January 2006 | information outlook | 31