Library Research Guides wiki
Originally uploaded by librarianmer
A while back, I wrote about the challenges I had in finding the right platform for our subject guides. Well, I’m pleased to say that I just linked to our subject guides from the front page of the library website, so they are live! I ended up using MediaWiki for the guides and tweaked the skin, Cologne Blue to meet our needs. It’s not the sexiest thing in the world and we don’t have every subject covered by a long shot, but we decided that we’d rather put it out where it can be useful than wait until we get to some “totally done” state (which will never really happen). It’s perpetual beta, baby! We still need to make some last minute tweaks before the students come back on Monday, but I think we’re in good shape to start and will be adding many more in the future.
My hope is that this doesn’t look like a wiki to the end user. I made sure that the editing options and other stuff like that were only visible to those who are logged in (and the only people with accounts right now are the librarians). So while you see a ton of editing options on the left-hand sidebar when you’re logged in, all you should see when you’re not logged in is a search box. I love that the guides are searchable and that we can assign categories to each page to allow students to browse as well. While we don’t have a ton of categories now, we may in the future. I also like that we have the option in the future of opening this up to further collaboration. I’d love to work with an interested faculty member on a collaboratively-developed course guide or subject guide at some point.
While there were many issues factoring into my decision, the main reason I chose a wiki is because everyone can create their own guides and edit them. I’ll be taking over the liaison duties for the Social Sciences in February and will also be in charge of doing LibQual for Fall 2008 (eeek!), so I’m going to be a lot busier than I was before. If we’d been in a position where I had to put up everyone’s guides and update them when they needed me to, it probably wouldn’t have gotten done. And it doesn’t just benefit me. My colleagues are really happy to have that control over their pages. When you have to ask someone else to do something for you, you’re going to be much less likely to make minor improvements on what you already have up there (I was like that too back when I didn’t have the ability to change our library pages in WebCT). My colleague, Josh, and I did a training yesterday on how to edit the wiki and I was happy to see how open to learning this everyone was. While I think they were a little freaked out at first, as soon as they actually started using the wiki, the anxiety level went way down. Prior to the training, Josh and I had been putting up everyone’s content, and we were a little worried that people wouldn’t feel comfortable taking it on themselves. Since the training, my Director has already put up one guide and is working on another. Woo hoo! Talk about leading by example!
Probably my favorite part of the subject guides is the focus on how-to’s. More general subject guides are great, but usually students are trying to accomplish something more specific. They’re not doing “architecture research” — they’re looking for information on a specific building or architect or design style. They’re not doing “English research” — they’re looking for literary criticisms, book reviews, etc. That’s why I think a task-based orientation works so much better than a subject-oriented one. The majority of the questions we get at the desk are from students trying to do the same few things and now we have guides that address those specific things that students are trying to accomplish.
We’ve been doing course guides since last year, but before, I always had to take people’s Word docs, turn them into HTML and put them on our site. It was time-consuming for me and annoying for the liaisons who created them because they couldn’t just make small changes on their own. Now, we’ll be doing all of these on the wiki, which I think will lead to more guides being created for classes.
I know this isn’t super high-tech or super innovative these days, but it’s a big deal for my library and I’m so excited to see it go live after so many months of evaluating, testing, planning, tweaking, and content development. We built a resource that’s (hopefully) useful for students where content is easily searchable and browseable. We streamlined the workflow for getting guides up and for maintaining them, which should lead to more up-to-date guides. We empowered staff to create and edit their own guides. We created something that could allow for future collaboration with faculty and (gasp!) even students. While it may not be sexy in terms of the technology it’s sexy in the sense that it’s replicable. This is a technology project that any library can replicate. You don’t even need to have a server since there are free hosted wiki options. As long as you have staff with a willingness to learn, you can make this happen.
Congratulations! They look great.
It’s interesting to me to see what it takes to make people interested in using a new technology. I put together a wiki as a sort of intranet for the county over a year ago, but it never got used until I thought to put the menu plan for our holiday potluck on the wiki. Then suddenly many people jumped in and put their name down next to a dish. Now a few are doing the same on the suggestions for the next all-county staff meeting.
So true. With wikis, it’s really about finding that “hook” that works for your population. That’s why it’s often difficult for me to offer concrete advice on an exact thing people can do to attract their colleagues to wikis; it’s all very dependent on the group.
Congrats on getting your population to use your wiki, even if the response isn’t what you’d hoped. It rarely is with wikis.
It will be interesting to know as time moves forward how often the guides get updated and if librarians are really more likely to make the minor changes because of the self-service and ease-of-use of the Wiki software. I think you did a good job covering up that it was a Wiki. Really, the only give a way that I noticed was on the search results page (The “Search in namespaces: …” box). And that may only be because I’m familiar with the software.
Good luck with the guides!
I have a hard time believing her colleagues were “freaked out”.
How much more professional would it have been for her to just simply express her gratitude that everyone was on board.
Most people are freaked out when they first see wiki markup. I know I was years ago when I first got started with them. It usually isn’t until you start using it that you realize that it’s really quite simple. But the way it looks at first blush can be overwhelming. Many people trying to “sell” the idea of wikis to their colleagues get discouraged if their colleagues initially react negatively to a wiki. It’s important to recognize that it’s quite normal and that it often just takes understanding, sensitivity, persistence and hands-on activities to get people more comfortable with wikis (or any unfamiliar technology for that matter). It’s important for people to realize that at first blush, many people are freaked out by wiki markup, but that it is easy for most people to learn.
First, let me say how much I enjoy and learn from your blog.
I am in the process of created a wiki for this very same purpose here in our Court Library – subject guides. Creating the content is not the problem! I am struggling with tweaking the skin.
Can you recommend an online guide (for dummies!)that will help me understand how to remove, as you did, unecessary links in the monotype or cologne blue skin, add the table design and even the color change to cologne blue? So far all I’ve been able to figure out is how to add our logo to the skin.(I’d provide a link to our wiki so you can see but it is not on the web for security reasons and is only housed on our in-house court server.)
Do I really need to take a course in .php to do this? Your advice is greatly appreciated.
Hi Michelle. I wish I could recommend something to you, but I didn’t find anything like that myself when I was doing it (that’s not to say that there isn’t something like that… the documentation for MediaWiki is really disorganized). I don’t think you need a course in PHP to tweak the skin. My technique for doing it was basically trial and error. I looked really closely at the PHP to get some sense of how it was structured and then I’d try changing something and seeing if it worked. Sometimes I’d get an error message, sometimes it would work as I’d wanted it to. It would certainly be easier for someone who knows PHP, but it’s doable.
If you want, I’d be happy to share my altered PHP file for cologne blue with you so you can compare it to the default file and see what you might want to change. Just send me an e-mail letting me know you’d like it and I’ll send you a copy of the PHP file.
My library also just initiated a wiki for our subject guides. We did it for a few reasons. First, it allowed the librarians to make immediate changes as the full site does through a webmaster for approval of content. It also appeared that it would be easier to convince other librarians to participate as it was easier syntax than the CM. We also liked that now we could push discussions for course guides.