Guest Blog Post
The guest blog slot provides an opportunity to include some different voices and views on the UK Web Focus, which can provide a fresh insight in the various topics covered in this blog.
I’m therefore pleased to welcome this guest blog post from Jo Alcock, Academic Information Assistant for the Harrison Learning Centre at the University of Wolverhampton – although perhaps better known in some circles as Joeyanne Libraryanne for her Joeyanne Libraryanne blog. In her post Jo describes a variety of ways in which Web 2.0 services are being used and goes on to highlight some of the challenges which this approach entails. I should also add that Jo is a contributor to the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I’ll be presenting at the Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference.
Setting the Scene
I work at the University of Wolverhampton which has a large proportion of part-time students (some schools are up to 70% part-time). The University is also geographically spread across the region with five campuses in total. This means students do not always come into Learning Centres and often use the closest geographical centre rather than their subject specific centre. We have recently adopted a University-wide Blended Learning strategy to support the changing nature of our students, and the Learning and Information Services department are developing ways to support students from wherever they choose to study. This includes obvious things like e-journals and e-books, as well as virtual reference support and Web 2.0/Library 2.0 initiatives to support students online.
We currently have five subject blogs (the School of Computing and IT Blog, School of Applied Sciences Blog, School of Engineering and the Built Environment Blog, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages Blog and the Wolverhampton Business School Blog to support students and staff of particular academic schools, along with an University of Wolverhampton Electronic Resources Blog for updates to services. We also have a number of project related blogs and internal communication blogs.
The Learning Centres have a Facebook Page which was established at the end of last year. The page includes links to relevant parts of our Web site, our aggregated RSS feeds (from our blogs) and search applications. One of the most useful features of the page are sending updates to “fans” – another way of letting users know about our services and reaching them where they already are (a quick scan of any communal PCs show numerous Facebook users!).
We have started exploring wikis and although we do not currently have a departmental wiki we have a number of small scale wikis for sharing information.
I’ve included this as although it’s not usually included in general “Library 2.0” initiatives, it’s something that we’ve found really useful. We have been using Google Calendar (see the University of Wolverhampton InfoBites Calendar) to manage our events for a few months now and it’s so much easier than updating numerous places when the timetable changes or a new event is added. Now we just update the calendar on Google and the changes are reflected wherever the calendar is embedded. Users can also subscribe to the calendar or add single events to their own calendar. We’ve also recently used it as a shared calendar for scheduling purposes for our busy induction weeks.
There have been a number of barriers to the Library 2.0 developments, some which may have been exclusive to us but many that I imagine are shared with other libraries.
External Hosting and Software
Many of the Web 2.0 products we use are external products, often hosted externally. This has immediate issues when it comes to reliability and stability. Services change over time, which is often a positive thing but may mean that your service no longer functions in the same way you wanted it to. You may find that it suffers “downtime” whilst the software is being upgraded or simply because the servers are not reliable. You may even find that the service ends completely without warning.
This can be a big issue for institutions, and understandably so. An alternative option whilst still utilising the technologies is to use open source software but host it internally therefore passing control back to the institution. Examples of this are using the WordPress.org blogging software (rather than their hosted service at WordPress.com) and the MediaWiki software for wikis. This way, the institution can update when it wants to (and also therefore not when it doesn’t want to!) and also has greater flexibility with the functionality and style of the software.
Another issue has been lack of awareness and uncertainty about the technologies utilised. Quite often, I have found that people are pleasantly surprised when they realise how easy it actually is to use. I understand that some of the software is bewildering at first experience though, and getting over that stage if you are uncertain about the fundamentals of the technology (for example, what on earth is a wiki or a blog?!) can be a big hurdle. Something that I think is now being recognised by the profession is that more time needs to be allocated for keeping staff up-to-date and providing training or even just time during work to explore the technologies.
This is something I am particularly aware of, probably because I am part of the so-called “net generation”. I like to share experiences and work collaboratively, but I know this can be quite a culture change to many who are used to working in isolation and keeping their work to themselves. When you have a shared calendar for example, or a shared blog, it can take some getting used to. Clear definition of roles and expectations from the beginning can help alleviate this.
User Needs and Experience
This is one of the main issues for me – although I am a keen user of many new technologies and use a lot in my own life, I only want to adopt them at work if they make sense from a user point of view – whether this is other staff when we are thinking about a shared resource like a wiki, or our community when it is a development for users.
Over the summer we have thought a lot about the future of the blogs; whether to merge the subject blogs or keep them separate, and what the actual purpose of each blog is. There are many issues around merging the blogs – such as whether to include all subjects (not all currently have a blog) and the logistics of subscribing to your subject only. The main issue for me was to look at it from a user point of view. With many subjects all on one blog, you can use categories to create separate RSS feeds for each subject. This initially seemed like a feasible way of merging the blogs whilst still allowing users to subscribe to only their subject. However, from examining our blog stats, most of our users subscribe by e-mail, suggesting that many of them do not currently use RSS feeds. I considered having a guide on the blog and holding training sessions, but in the end decided it was too much to expect of our users and would likely put them off subscribing if it was too confusing.
Ultimately, we are here for our users and if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t of use to them, there is little point us investing time in it. For example, if Facebook fell dramatically in popularity, it would make no sense to continue to develop our Facebook page and we should instead concentrate our efforts on whatever else our users are familiar with.
This is a fundamental part of the Web 2.0 philosophy for me; have a go – if it works, great, if it doesn’t, there’s no big loss. I like to invest a small amount of time trying something and assess whether or not it is worth pursuing after you’ve given it a chance. If it isn’t or the barriers are too great, just scrap it or try something else.
How about you? What barriers have you experienced with Library 2.0 Initiatives and how do you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Jo Alcock, University of Wolverhampton