Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Article Note: On wikis for library instruction, plus a bit more.

Citation for the article:

Allan, Charles, "Using a Wiki to Manage a Library Instruction Program." C&RL News April 2007: 242-244.

Read via WilsonWeb (Library Lit. and Information Science)

This is a very short piece that is basically a "call for action" article. It was written in 2007, which in Internet time can be an eternity. For example, it mentions Jotspot as one of the options for a free wiki, and since then Google acquired Jotspot, then proceeding to shut it down; if you look for Jotspot online, here is what you find, which goes to point you to Google Sites. You tend to notice little things like that when you read the library science literature. When it comes to online resources, the traditional journal literature simply is not swift enough. But I have other things in mind at this point.

One of the things I would like to develop at my library, or rather an idea I am toying with, is making a reference wiki. One of the uses for that wiki would be to keep track of rare and unique reference questions (you know the ones) as well as some of the assignments that students bring in. While I could later on expand on the idea and use the wiki to keep reference procedures and policies as well, the reference service angle, i.e. tracking questions and sources, is what really interests me. As precedent, when I was instruction librarian at former MPOW, I had a small reference/instruction blog. Basically, I used it to keep track of classes I taught, provided resources and research tips for students, and used it as a tool for me as well as the students. Shortly after I changed jobs, since I was not updating it (not to mention that my duties have changed, and I do very little instruction), and it was an experiment, I shut that blog down. I did back it up, so the content still exists on a disk. I was using Vox for that, the same platform I use for my scratch pad blog, Alchemical Thoughts. I did learn a few things from that experience including the value of having a tool to keep track of resources and specific reference and instruction questions. Using the tags, I was able to label posts for later reference. Only feature I dislike about Vox, and I do so even with the blog I do keep there now, is that it requires commenters to register. There is no way out of it. Sure, they can e-mail me, and some people have done that, but no outside comments. It's a remnant of the walled garden approach basically, and one not conducive to good online conversations.

The article made me think about some of these things. Some notes, with my remarks:

  • "Contributors to a library instruction wiki can edit and store insightful comments into class needs, work together in the creation of subject resource guides, and update outdated material" (242).
We could edit and store comments on specific reference transactions in a reference wiki, which would then be searchable. Subject guides we do not have to worry as much since we bought and implemented LibGuides (see our LibGuides here). Although there are certain library and reference handouts that could more efficiently go into a wiki. Something to think about. In terms of instruction, that is the domain of our instruction librarian, who keeps the necessary handouts updated as needed. When we teach in our subject areas, she gives us the basic handout package we hand to every class regardless of subject or level. It's just the way things are done here; she handles the freshman classes; any advanced (by that I mean subject area) is handled by the subject liaisons with minimal input from the instruction librarian. That is a bit of a complicated tale for another time. Could we put some of the information from specific subject classes on some kind of instruction wiki in order to compare notes, for example? Probably, but given other more urgent needs, not as likely to happen. Reference service is the area I have some control over, thus I find myself bouncing around the wiki idea.

  • "Wikis are used by librarians to manage public services information, collaborate on and keep track of reference questions, and assess databases" (242-243).
I have to admit that the part about databases did not occur to me, but given that we do get database trials once in a while, keeping notes on assessments of those trials in a central and accessible location would be helpful. The rest of the stuff outlined in the quote above is what I had in mind. As the article points out, there is a lot of uncoordinated information out there, and in my case, I would like to bring that uncoordinated information closer to home. In the longer term, such a wiki could serve as a tool in case we get around to doing an information audit. That is another idea I am bouncing around for reference to see if I can get a bigger picture of how things operate. It could provide some solid evidence instead of having to go with just anecdotes and gut reactions. But that is another post for another time.

Anyhow, if you need a quick article to learn about what a wiki can do for your library instruction program, this is pretty good.

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