11 November 2007

#16 Making Wikis Work

I have used blogs and wikis for some while now and have marvelled at how effective they have become in just about every aspect of life from sharing best recipes on Epicurious, capturing the contemporary world's knowledge in Wikipedia, sharing travel tips at Intelligent Travel and of course sharing information with other librarians and information brokers at FreePint. "Sharing" is the operative word! Many started as online magazines or newsletters. They built mailing lists of their subscribers and then started to open up forums for those members to interact - presto! a wiki is born.

What is it that makes wikis thrive or wither away? The work involved in making a wiki work, from what I have observed, is not unlike a major advertising campaign. You have to carefully target your wiki to those who are most likely to use it, provide an environment that will encourage them to spend time there and contribute to it, give reasons to return (often), and because time is finite, compete successfully against (or with) other competitor wikis and blogs. In a brief survey of "making wikis work" via Google, the results I found focused mainly on business, organisations, and education applications. Focusing results on library wikis was not as successful as I had expected. I suspect the time needed to effectively monitor entries hasn't been factored into many library work roles as yet. And many of us are too busy working on the "next best thing" to evaluate what has gone before. This might be a useful assignment for library students looking for a thesis subject. It would certainly be an aid to librarians in the field.

Libraries have done many of these things for their patrons - booklists, discussion groups, library newsletters. In the latest issue of Library Journal an article by Neal Wyatt: 2.0 for Readers shows ways of distributing the tasks of readers advising among readers as well as librarians through the use of wikis. This is happening on on many book-focused websites, not the least being on LibraryThing.

Princeton PL's Book Lovers Summer Reading wiki FAQ page made for some very useful reading with policy and procedure details and raffle ideas for attracting reviewers. It's a very attractive and legible site, too. I noticed that the use of wikis has ceased since they now encourage readers to post their reviews directly on the library catalogue. I wonder how effective that has been. It's not possible to see how much reviewing is done on the catalogue as there isn't an index to books with attached reviews. One of the things I like about both blogs and wikis is that you can readily see what other contributors are writing. Speaking for myself, some people may find adding to a "conversation" more comfortable than putting up a stand-alone review.

Internal wikis for library staff look like being a great way to share information, collaborate on projects, even do the work of meetings that are so difficult to organise. Much is made of the idea that they can reduce the use of email, but that remains to be seen! (Wasn't the same thing said about the "paperless office"?)

I was very excited by Meredith Farkas' (previously mentioned on this blog) Library Success wiki when I first visited it about a year ago. The Readers Advisory section of it has really blossomed since then. I will continue to watch developments with great interest.

The LibraryOutreach wiki has a "sandbox" to give people offline practice in posting to the wiki. What a great idea! And the Library Instruction wiki, with its subtitle "...stop recreating the wheel...", is definitely a bookmarkable resource.

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