Before you email me, take a look at the FAQ to make sure your question isn’t already answered here:

Wikis
1. Can you give me advice on wiki software?
2. I have a specific question about a specific kind of wiki software. Can you help?
3. How can I get people to use my wiki once I’ve installed the software?

Screencasting
4. Can you help me with some aspect of Camtasia or Captivate?
5. I’m looking for a screencasting product. Which one should I get?
6. I need advice on a specific kind of technology. Can you help?

Consulting and Advertising
7. Can you help or offer advice on a product I’m trying to launch?
8. Will you write about our product on your blog? Can we send you our book/product?

Career Advice
9. I want to be a distance learning librarian. What skills do I need for that?
10. I’m considering becoming a librarian. What should I consider before going ahead with it?

1. Can you give me advice on wiki software?

Yes and no. I only have experience with a small number of wiki software options, so you’d be benefiting only from my limited experience. Fortunately, there’s the WikiMatrix, a site that allows you to compare the features of different wiki software options side-by-side. The WikiMatrix even has a tool called the Choice Wizard that asks you questions about your requirements and then offers you a list of recommendations of software that meets your needs.

2. I have a specific question about a specific kind of wiki software. Can you help?

If it’s about MediaWiki, maybe, but my MediaWiki bible is the MediaWiki manual. If you can’t find the answer in there, it’s not something I’d know. Here are links to sources of help that will get you the advice of people who really are experts in MediaWiki.

If it’s another type of wiki software, I probably would not know the answer. You’re better off reading the manual or asking the question on the user forums for that software.

3. How can I get people to use my wiki once I’ve installed the software?

The success or failure of any wiki project is dependent on so many factors, the biggest one being the population you’re trying to get to use it.

The first thing you need to do is seed the wiki a bit. No one wants to add to a wiki that has no content on it, because why waste your time with a project that no one else thought was worth contributing to? Create a basic structure, create some pages, and add at least a little bit of content to each page.

While it’s good to seed the wiki, you need to avoid the temptation of doing it all yourself. When people see a wiki that has only been edited by one person, it starts to look like that person’s personal wiki. That is another barrier to people adding to it. So sometimes you need to hold back for the good of the wiki.

Documentation is critical. You will need to tell your community what a wiki is, what the purpose of this wiki is, and how they can edit the wiki. You will need to provide very implicit instructions and FAQs. In addition to all that, it’s a very good idea to offer trainings. Not everyone can learn from reading an FAQ; some people need to sit in a room with a knowledgeable facilitator to feel comfortable enough to edit a wiki.

Even then, you may encounter some resistance that has nothing to do with your colleagues or patrons being luddites. When people are used to a specific way of sharing information, it can be difficult to change. If you’re dealing with your colleagues, they are probably used to sharing knowledge via email. You need to acknowledge that and find ways to make it as easy as possible for them to add content to the wiki. For a while, maybe you want to add content to the wiki for them. Turn their emails into wiki entries. Put a shortcut to the wiki on the reference computer. Create a browser toolbar with a link to the wiki. Continually remind people and offer support. It can take a lot of gentle persistence to get people to change the way they do things. Most of all, though, the need to see some compelling reason to change.

Don’t try to exert too much control on the wiki. The best wikis have a grassroots feel. A recent study of wikis in corporate settings have shown that the best wikis came from the staff, not from above. So staff wikis need to have that “bottom-up” feel.

I highly recommend taking a look at Wikipatterns. This is an interesting site in which you can see a lot of the behaviors of people who contribute to wikis. There are definite “types” with wiki contributors and I’ve seen it myself. This will give you a good idea what to expect if you get involved with a wiki that lots of people are contributing to.

Here are some blog posts and blogs I recommend on the topic:

Suarez, L. (2007). “When Wikis Won’t Work: 10 questions to ask before full adoption.” elusa.

Albrycht, E. (2007). “Thinking About Wikis.” New Communications Review.

Edwards, P. (2007). “How does your wiki grow?” Think Much.

Edwards, P. (2007). “The Spiral of Wiki Adoption.” Think Much.

Edwards, P. (2007). “Recommendations for Managing Wikis in Business.” Think Much.

Cashel, J. (2007). “When to Use a Wiki.” Online Community Report.

Farkas, M. (2006). “On Uses for Wikis and Gardening.” TechEssence.

Great blog: Blog on Wiki Patterns

4. Can you help me with some aspect of Camtasia or Captivate?

No. I’m not an expert in either of these software packages. Adobe offers forums for Captivate where you can ask questions and TechSmith also has thriving user-to-user advice forums for Camtasia. These would be the most appropriate places to get help with these tools.

5. I’m looking for a screencasting product. Which one should I get?

I can’t really recommend any one product, because it’s such a personal thing. Everyone I know seems to like a different product and for different reasons. All of the screencasting products I know of have a free trial, so your best bet is just to try them out for a few weeks and figure out which one best meets your needs.

Take a look at these two posts (Screencasting Software Guide and Comparison of Screencasting Tools) that go into a lot of detail about different free and for-pay screencasting options, though I can’t vouch for any of them. I use Adobe Captivate 5, which I have become increasingly less in love with over the years. These days there are a lot of free options out there, so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to expensive pieces of software.

6. I need advice on a specific kind of technology. Can you help?

Maybe. First, is this something I’ve actually done and/or know a lot about? If not, there are probably better people to advise you on this. Second, is this a question better answered on a forum or listserv? With forums and listservs, you can benefit from the advice of lots of people with varied experience with these tools rather than one person with limited experience. If you’re a librarian, a great place to ask questions is Web4Lib. Another great place is on WebJunction’s Discussion Boards (especially if you work in a public library). Third, is this something you could find the answer to by doing a quick search of the Web? If so, you’ll the answer more quickly that way than waiting for my response. If you still think I’m the best person to ask, please do and I am happy to try and help. How quickly I get back to you will really depend on my other commitments at the time.

If the advice you need is more involved, I do consulting on a limited basis. Please contact me about hourly consulting fees and packages.

7. Can you help or offer advice on a product I’m trying to launch?

Yes. I’m happy to work with organizations and individuals in a consulting capacity. Please contact me about hourly consulting fees and packages.

8. Will you write about our product on your blog? Can we send you our book/product?

Maybe, but only if it’s highly relevant to what I write about and I think it would be useful for my readers. If you explicitly ask me to write about your product, I won’t. You can send me your product or book, but there is no guarantee I will write about it.

9. I want to be a distance learning librarian. What skills do I need for that?

I think the position of distance learning librarian is different at every library. While tech skills are definitely important, there are few specific technologies that I would recommend that every distance librarian use.

You definitely need good web design skills. HTML and CSS are critical. If you have web programming skills, that’s great, but it’s not critical for every job (some may require it though). It’s also important to learn about the different kinds of courseware out there, especially the one at the University you’re applying to. Find out how other libraries have embedded library services into that platform. Learn about the opportunities and limitations of the platform. You should definitely be aware of all the technologies out there for providing services to students online (not just the ones specifically made for distance learning, but all the other social tools that could be used). I think the main reason I got my job is because I’d experimented with screencasting software, co-browsing software, and other software that could be used in distance learning on my own and had a lot of ideas for how those technologies could be implemented. Don’t just read about new technologies. Try them out. Even screencasting software, which can be expensive, has a free trial that you can download and play with. I think a good distance learning librarian needs to be curious about what’s out there and has the vision to see the educational/outreach possibilities of tools that weren’t necessarily designed for that.

There really aren’t any specific technologies that I think are critical for serving distance learners. It depends a great deal on the library. I use screencasting software, blogs, and wikis with my patrons, but not web conferencing software since they have no synchronous components to their classes. At another university, a whole different toolset would be needed. The key is to keep up with what’s available and then implement only the things that make sense given your students’ needs and limitations.

I actually wrote a post when I first got my job on the skills I thought back then that one needed to be a distance learning librarian. I wasn’t far off. I think in addition to tech skills, general public services and liaison skills are critical. I have to work very closely with the graduate program faculty/administrators as well as academic computing. It’s critical to build good relationships with these people and to gain their trust, because they will largely determine whether your efforts to provide outreach are integrated into what already exists or not. It’s critical that library services are truly embedded into students’ academic experience, so libraries need to be careful not to re-invent the wheel and build their own separate systems. Project management skills are also very important. Being a distance learning librarian really is 50% tech and 50% people.

10. I’m considering becoming a librarian. What should I consider before going ahead with it?

To start with, I’ll tell you that I love being a librarian. But you should know that library work can definitely be stressful and its a lot more than books, research and quiet contemplation these days, so you’ll probably want to make sure it’s a career you’d really want to invest yourself in.
I spend a lot of time teaching, working with new technologies and marketing library services to faculty and I had no idea before library school that any of that stuff was part of what librarians do. I’d strongly suggest getting some experience working in a library first — maybe get a part-time job or volunteer. I’m an academic librarian now, but worked part-time in a busy public
library while in library school. It definitely helped to confirm my interest in librarianship as a career. Also, if you graduate from library school with no experience working in libraries, your chances of getting a professional position are quite slim.

You may want to look at books about librarianship as a career. A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science is a good one as it shows you the variety of experiences librarians can have on the job. There are lots of books on librarianship as a career, and that would be a good place to start. Also, talk to librarians in areas of practice you’d be interested in. Do you want to be an academic librarian? Public? Corporate? School? Contact librarians in the areas you’re interested in and ask them about the sort of work they do.

Given the state of the job market you definitely want to make sure that this is a career you feel passionately before investing your time and money in attending library school. And no matter how much research you do, you won’t know for sure until you actually work in a library.

I’ve written quite a few posts related to becoming a librarian and can suggest several others. Take a look at these and if you need any specific advice beyond this, contact me.

My own posts:
Tips for library job applicants in a tight market
Letters to a not-so-young wanna-be Librarian
Skills for the 21st Century Librarian and The 21st Century Librarian: Further Thoughts and Your Comments
Didn’t know I needed to be a salesperson

Posts from other folks:
So You Want to be a Librarian? A Guide For Those Considering an MLS, Current Students & Job Seekers – great collection of posts from various librarians on the topic.

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