Monday, April 29, 2013

Library Intranets in Academia: chicken nipples and fish boots? Part 1 - Introduction and Where We Are


Welcome to a rambling series of posts that will be equal parts catharsis, brain dump, diary and progress report of the Intranet Review/Redevelopment Project JCU Library is embarking on.

I will try and maintain backwards and forwards links in this series.

I've been thinking a lot about what an Intranet should/could be in an academic library setting.  I posted a request on Twitter for any intranet practitioners out there working in that space - I even got a retweet from the lovely James Robertson, of StepTwo Designs, doyen of Intranets in Australia who I learnt a lot from back when he helped form Intranet Peers In Government in Canberra in the early 2000s.  But not one response.

LinkedIn has an Intranet group, but not any discussion about tertiary education or libraries. Literature searches show bubbles of interest, around 2006 and 2012, coinciding with the 'Gartner hype cycle' rise in interest in Web 2.0 and social media/gamification, sadly I don't have immediate access to the Journal of Web Librarianship which appeared to have some interesting recent work in academic library intranets.

A query to QULOC-ICT members about their intranets solicited no comments.

So just maybe I've found a niche no-one else cares to occupy, in Australia anyway.

More generally recent hot topics on Intranets surround social media integration (tools like Yammer), gamification, collaboration, and whether the intranet and knowledge management are dead or just transformed.

So welcome to the first in a series of posts about my evolving thoughts on Intranets in Academic Libraries - focusing particularly on JCU Library and where we're headed.

Intranets/Extranets - the wikipedia explanation

First up the boring status description:

What We Have

Our intranet is a Dreamweaver managed site that uses Apache server side includes to give consistent header/footer/navigation/CSS presentation.  The includes have a little bit of built in js trickiness in that the Heading 1 at the top of each page is pulled from the title tags.  It's a clone of how the entire University's web site used to look and work (even the colour scheme).

It isn't managed centrally (if at all) bits are added as people see fit.

When I first arrived at JCU Library an irregular internal newsletter formed the home page, and the left nav got you into the meatier stuff.  The structure is fundamentally based on the team silos that existed at the time it was built. With manually maintained A-Z, policy and form indexes. There's a photo gallery (actually several disconnected galleries), a corporate area (with plans, strategies, committee minutes, monthly team reports etc). Overtime other functions have been added to the main nav, eg:
  • Work Health and Safety
  • Web management (about half our staff are directly involved in the management of our web presence using the corporate CMS and some related tools like Accenture reports) 
  •  Marketing
  • Innovation and Creativity (basically a suggestion board and video and related information from our internal knowledge sharing sessions)
  • Integrated Desk project files
The files are also viewable as a network share (using SAMBA)  and while some use it this way to store working files the majority preferring using their own team share drives (yet more siloing).

There is no user customisation. Everything is served up as static html (apart from PHP directory listing scripts I've used in folders containing periodic statistics and to facilitate the sharing of IL documents by treating a subsection as a file share browsable by the web.

There are only a small group even moderately comfortable with Dreamweaver as an HTML editor, and as far as I know I'm the only one using any of its site management functions.

With around 50 EFTSU we are not big, but we generate as much data, policy and procedure as any Library I've worked with.

There is no formal regime of reviewing or removing aging content - during my site audit and I found some internal newsletters from 1994 - somewhat surprising for two reasons:
  1. that's the year Netscape was born - and about half our students.
  2. Some of the commentary on organisational change was still relevant
In this form it's about 10 years old and was a clone of the technology that used to present the public web site for the university before it was replaced by the current CMS (Oracle's Universal Content Management UCM system).

It has never had a search engine (aaaaaagh!). Usage averaged just over 2000 hits a month in 2012 - and most of those are for a few key documents like rosters with the occasional spike for documents linked to from emails to all library staff.

Last year the 'newsletter' home page was replaced by RSS feeds from the Library's 'Community' on the JCU installation of Blackboard. This was a trial to see if it would work as replacement for the old model of an irregular compilation of items converted into HTML by a single editor.  Over time the gaps between issues were getting longer and it was thought that enabling self-publishing would encourage more involvement, lessening the burden on the editor.

It was also hoped that it's 'blog-like' nature would mean a constant stream of relevant up to date content. There has been no formal evaluation but it seems to have had no impact on currency or engagement. Items are added rarely and only by a small group of people - apparently Blackboard's wiki-ish interface is just as off-putting as Dreamweaver - or staff don't have any interest or time to contribute.

The newsletter had no clarity of purpose, it mixes the Director's messages about big picture issues for the Library with conference reports, procedural changes, newly introduced services, library hosted events, and much more social news (news from ex-staff, recipes, trivia, holiday photos etc). Some of the newsletter's implied purposes are:
  • Top down communication
  • Intercampus bonding (getting to know you and what you're doing)
  • Knowledge sharing (conference report backs)
A 2011 survey of staff opinions of the newsletter format and content didn't really condone or refute this approach.
The whole Intranet has never been reviewed and as far as I can tell has no articulated purpose or raison d'etre but I deduce the tacit point was/is
  • Well, you have to have an intranet don't you?
  • Storage bin for:
    • Corporate documents like operational plans, organisational charts, reviews etc
    • Low level adminstrative functions (desk rosters)
    • Operational documents (minutes of roughly 10 active committees, managers monthly reports, documents from our biannual planning conferences)
    • General policy and procedure documents (collection management, donations, discards, publications, course accreditation, staff orientation)
    • Dumping ground for old images from events
    • Somewhere to store recipes
    • Local copies of system manuals
    • Some procedures ... maybe lots of procedures but it is pretty clear the Intranet copy does not take primacy over the team files hare copy.
    • Library systems documentation
    • Decade old documents (forms, procedures, images, signs, posters, promotional materials) that have never been given information or record management lifecycle consideration
    • Information literacy training materials
    • Web-based projects that had to be tested somewhere and were later published on other hosts (like Blackboard) or simply died on the vine
    • Passwords for systems used at service points 
    • Statistical time series for various services

Every new staff member I've talked to about it is 'unenthusiastic' about its utility.  My own observation is that it is largely a web browsable file share, and that it is just one of many uncoordinated file shares that generally sit in team silos.

Part 2 Our Imaginary Scorecard  I look at what an intranet is in the big world and rate ours in comparison with an ideal intranet.

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