As I’ve been spending more time than I would like in waiting rooms over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to catch up on some reading; namely Library Technology Reports.
Michelle Boule wrote a terrific LTR called Changing the Way We Work, in which she covers tools for online collaboration. Michelle is really not a fan of physical meetings, which is obvious from her writing, but she also makes a solid case for doing online collaboration in tandem with physical meetings. She offers interesting case studies of major projects that required online collaboration and features interviews with key people involved in each. She also goes over some of the interesting tools out there for online collaboration, and there were a few on there that I’d never even heard of. Finally, and most importantly, Michelle highlights best practices for working in a virtual team environment. She makes the very good point that it is critical for virtual teams to have a leader, which I couldn’t agree with more. I hate to say it, but I’m a big fan of leader-driven teams; I feel like someone has to have the authority to keep people on track and to make the ultimate decision in case consensus can’t be reached.
For those who are looking to make a case for more online collaboration at their library or who are looking for ideas about how to collaborate effectively online with people at a distance, this is a great tool. As I have worked with Michelle virtually on two big projects — Five Weeks to a Social Library and HigherEd BlogCon — I know that she really knows her stuff in this area. Those experiences are both great examples of how social technologies can be used to successfully plan a conference with a geographically distributed team.
The other day, I had a potential student in my class tell me that he wanted to take my class except he’s had too many bad experiences with group projects. I can empathize. My experiences with group projects in my distance learning program were horrendous as well. Given that, you’re probably wondering why would I assign a group project to my own students. Well, while it was awful and annoying, I also learned a heck of a lot from it. I learned how to deal with difficult personalities and how to diplomatically find a happy medium among a group of people with widely varying interests. I learned a lot about the perils of collaborating online and how to do it well. Everything I learned from those projects has benefited me significantly in my career; in many cases, more so than the classes themselves. So, while it might be frustrating at times, knowing how to work in a team environment and how to to collaborate online are incredibly valuable skills in the workplace.
Marshall Breeding’s Library Technology Report, Next-Generation Library Catalogs was also excellent, especially for someone looking to bone up on what’s new in the ILS market. It’s a great introduction to the next generation catalogs that have come out in the past few years, including Endeca, Aquabrowser, Primo, Encore, Evergreen and Koha. It’s clear from this that the trend is definitely toward putting a search and discovery platform on top of an already existing ILS and, fortunately, it seems like most of the ones he highlights can go on top of any ILS. Marshall really goes into depth on the features of each system so, by the end, you have a pretty good idea about which ones might be a good fit for your library.
I think Library Technology Reports fill a real niche in the profession. They go into much more depth than an article would, but they’re short enough that I don’t have to invest days in reading them. With my limited attention span (damn you VH1 reality shows!), they seem to be a perfect fit for me.
Thanks for the kinds words, Meredith. I have an obvious bias towards incorporating online work into almost any team; it is true.
Like you, I think having a leader is essential. Maybe your reluctant student could be encouraged to be the team leader or at least the team cheerleader. Most teams need both.