Full disclosure: I haven’t managed to shake my first reaction to the Antioch University New England Library Staff Training and Support Wiki, which was one of wild enthusiasm. I love this wiki with a passion usually reserved for pets and cult leaders. Why doesn’t my library have one? Maybe I should send them to this TechEssence article on the use of wikis in libraries.
The university library also has a blog, ‘Read Free or Die’, which is prominently featured on the library’s home page (though, oddly, the word ‘blog’ is never used). It looks good as well. This library must have a very committed staff; according to their wiki, all employees contributed to the wiki pages. Keeping a handle on developing technologies is a big job, as David Lee King’s list of ‘Basic Competencies of a 2.0 Librarian’ makes clear. Ten years ago, how many people would have known what these skills were, never mind having any proficiency in them? Antioch is obviously making this a priority.
Th Antioch University New England wiki, which is well-organized and accessible without logging in, helps everyone involved in the library: the patron, who gets better and more consistent service; the experienced staff member, who doesn’t have to spend hours explaining the small details of library service to trainees, knowing that most will be forgotten before the first shift; and the new employee, who is saved the embarrassment of having to call a supervisor on a Sunday to find out how to fax a document for the patron who is waiting patiently at the desk. Employee training sessions can only offer so much; their usefulness is limited by the time available and by a new employee’s ability to absorb information. Some situations are not going to be covered. Tools like this wiki help plug this gap.
The bulk of the wiki consists of the ‘Front Desk Training and Policy Pages’, which are very easy to navigate. They are organized directory-style, with each listing linked to its own page. Topics range from the general – ‘Information Privacy’ – to the very specific: ‘Compressing Powerpoint or Word Files’. In all cases the pages are clear and informative, with step-by-step directions accompanied by diagrams and images where appropriate or entertaining.
However, the structure of the wiki gets a little cluttered once you leave the main pages. There’s some repetition of content, and the little-used sections of the wiki are less well organized; let your attention wander for a moment and suddenly you’ve lost a page. At one point I found myself on a page titled ‘Library Paint Colors’; I wasn’t quite sure how I had gotten there, and it took me ten minutes to figure out how to get there again from the home page.
In addition, it’s not easy to get to the wiki from the library website; you’d think it would be included in ‘Staff Resources’, but it isn’t. Searching the site for ‘wiki’ doesn’t bring it up either, and I’m sorry to confess that I had to resort to Google to find it again. I consider this an excusable fault, though. I imagine employees are given the link during training; the wiki isn’t really meant for public use.
One final flaw in the wiki: a few links are dead or repeated. Cleaning up these glitches would improve the usability of the site.
On the whole, though, I stand by my original assessment. Basic policies and procedures are explained clearly and succinctly. The wiki is kept updated, and site managers have cultivated a real sense of community by getting many staff members to contribute. This wiki is a fantastic resource for employees. Even though it is not designed for direct use by library patrons, I think it is an excellent example of how a Web 2.0 tool can be used to improve library service.