Your Library's Intranet: The Hidden Tool, Not So Sexy, But Oh So Satisfying

Sunday, June 25, 1:30-3:30 pm

The portions are too large. This can be said when your red beans and rice comes with two fried pork chops and a big pile of onion rings. It can also be said of the presentation Your Library’s Intranet: The Hidden Tool, Not So Sexy, But Oh So Satisfying. Everything was good, but there was too much of it. The three speakers covered a lot of the same ground. By the time I left I was thoroughly convinced of the usefulness of Intranets. I was also ready to flee.

To their credit the speakers gave us views of different approaches to building Intranets. Alvaro Meythaler of the Phoenix Public Library showed a model that emphasizes supporting the library staff. Its objectives are 1) that it be easy to use, 2) that it function as a content management system, and 3) that it be account based. He explained how it was fairly easy to design, as 1) the staff is a captive audience that can be polled for usability and 2) the designers know what hardware and software the staff uses. There are fewer variables to consider compared to designing public Internet web sites.

Andy Peters of the Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma presented his organization’s model two ways: 1) as a paperless office and 2) as a digitized office. The two ideas are very similar. Much of the paper that has been produced in the past is replaced with digitized documents that are readily available to all staff through a limited-access Intranet. The reasons for digitizing are 1) saving environmental resources and space, 2) improving workflow efficiency, and 3) securely archiving documents. The difficulties are 1) people resist change and 2) there are aesthetic pleasures tied to using paper documents.

Building the digitized office takes planning, according to Peters. 1) A structure for files has to be designed. 2) The staff has to be surveyed to learned what documents should be digitized. 3) A method for conversion must be adopted. 4) All the documents must be stored in standardized formats. All of this takes much staff training and communication.

Communication is the point of an Intranet, according to Denise Siers of the King County Library System in Washington. King County established its Intranet in 1999. From the year to 2000 to the year 2005, use of the Intranet by staff rose 284 percent. It will be accessed over 600,000 times in 2006. On average every employee in the system uses the Intranet at least twice a day. Siers emphasized that the Intranet has to be updated continually during every day. If it is not timely, it is pointless.

The three presenters identified many documents, databases, and services that can be on a staff Intranet:

administrative information
policy manuals
procedures manuals
staff reports
committee minutes
accounting spreadsheets
staff news
RSS viewers
links to staff email
links to databases
staff developed knowledge bases
links to public Internet sites used by staff
links to training modules
forms used by staff
staff directories
time clocks to count employee hours
links to software for managing the public library website

The list is endless. Meythaler also said that the Phoenix staff get personal pages to use as they like.

Paper persists. Peters said that his organization is held back by the reluctance to accept electronic signatures. Siers reported that King County designs its Intranet pages to be print friendly.

All three speakers came from large organizations. Small institutions without IT departments will have pick and choice from the menu above according to their budgets and needs.