or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Andrea Mercado on Blogs and Wikis

   March 22nd, 2007

Andrea MercadoI spent the morning with a small group of Massachusetts librarians learning about how to use a blog or wiki to communicate better amongst library staff. We were graciously hosted by Andrea Mercado, of the Reading Public Library, who is currently developing both a wiki for her library's intranet and a blog for her reference desk's internal use (to replace the spiral notebook).

(and although Andrea is the Reference and Techie Librarian at Reading, this is also the same Andrea that maintains the PLA's blog, blogs at LlibraryTechtonics.info, and has good taste in clothing.)

After a tour of the library, which I really liked (see photos on their flickr account), we got down to business. And again, note that we're talking about tools for staff-only use - using wikis and blogs for patron tools is a topic for another time.

Reference Desk Blog
Andrea first talked about the hows and whys of using a blog as the start page for reference desk computers (it is searchable, everyone can contribute, easy way to organize information, keep other shifts up to day on projects and questions, etc.). She also talked about what blog software to use - she favors WordPress (which also powers my blog as well as my library's), but warned that it may be too powerful (too complex/confusing) for some new users. Others, such as blogger or livejournal are also possible, free, and easier in that you don't have to worry about installation or hosting, but really just won't offer the kind of features and customization that a hosted blog like WordPress can provide.

Wiki As Intranet
We then moved on to wikis, which spent most of our time talking about. Andrea is running an installation of MediaWiki, and she loves it. The goal of this is to make it easier for staff to find (and contribute to) library policies, desk procedures, original files of handouts and presentations, library logos to put on new documents, staff and emergency phone numbers, etc. All of the things that might be laying around in binders or uncategorized on network servers, she wants to centralize and make findable through the wiki.

This seems like a great application for a wiki - the only catch is setting it up so that it does function as an intranet, rather being open to the entire world. Also, again she cautioned us to match the tool to the audience - MediaWiki is very powerful, but another program like pbwiki or Wetpaint might be simpler and more suitable for less technical users.

The meeting was also attened by two libriaians from the Memorial Hall Library in Andover. They've already begun using a wiki for local information, which they called Andover Answers. It is open for patrons to view, but it not currently editable by anyone but MHL librarians. However, they are cleverly using the "discussions" tab at the top of the screen to allow patrons (or anyone) to suggest changes for pages. These suggestions are viewable by everyone, and open for discussion, and then a librarian can research the suggestion and decide whether or not to make the change.

I thought this was a great idea, as so many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting non-librarians edit the information. We're going through something similar with our community information database, and it might be a happy medium.

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