Sunday, January 30, 2005

The intranet at work

For the last few months I've been deploying new programs on the intranet at work, trying to find ways to improve imformation flows. I'm to present a 20-minute overview of this work at a meeting of the federal intranet group this week. The things I've been attempting are common enough in the library community and the web world at large, but apparently scarce or non-existent among us feds.

I'm going to explain that we in the Library (capital "L" Library, that's us) are comfortable with technology. We took to computers way back in the 60's and were early-adopters of email communication in the 80's. In the next decade, worrying about the volume of messages arriving daily, we started using usenet newsgroups (a pre-web technology) for making documents available, things like minutes of meetings, monthly and annual reports, and policy statements. The documents might still show up in the email system, but recipients didn't feel pressured to deal with them there and then since they could be accessed when desired in the newsgroup.

In the 90's, We got our intranet site going - staff home page as we call it. This proved popular as a repository for documents (like the newsgroup) and much else. The current version of the page has some useful services: weather info and quick lookups for the staff directory and our catalog. It has lots of forms that can be filled in online.

Here is a screenshot of the staff home page as it is today. Click to enlarge.

The newsgroup became less important once we had the intranet site, but still proved valuable as a collection point for current-awareness sources opening out to the world beyond our campus. Examples include online newsletters and digests of internet discussions relating to our work.

Although the intranet site has evolved, it's original design has held up well; we periodically ask ourselves whether to change its look and so far haven't found any reason to sacrifice the familiarity it has acheived. It gets about 300 hits a day, which suggests it's doing its job well.

Last fall we replaced the newsgroup with a weblog. The blog does just about everything the newsgroup could do plus quite a bit more, including images, text formatting, searchable archives, and ability to group contents into meaningful categories. We haven't got an alert service set up for it yet (a feed reader as they are called), but we have our request in for one.

Here is a screenshot of the weblog as it is today. Click to enlarge.

More recently we've added wikis to the mix of communications technologies we're using. Wikis are just web pages with behind-the-scenes conversion software that permits just about anyone to create and edit basic web pages. This convenience and ease of use makes wikis good for collaborative projects. So far we've set one up for the use of a committee that's working to improve our statistical reporting system, for work group leaders who have responsibility for carrying out objectives in our strategic plan, and for a couple of the cataloging divisions.

The one for the statistical committee contains notes of meetings, an archive of previous efforts in this area, some guidelines for handling statistics in the current system, and the like. Three committee members run the wiki, though the whole committee can add and edit documents if they wish.

Here is a screenshot of the stastics wiki.Click to enlarge.

The strategic planning one has the plan itself with links to the work plans that leaders are preparing for each of its objectives. All the leaders have access to the wiki to create and edit documents.

Here is a screenshot of the wiki that contains the strategic planning documents.

This screenshot shows the strategic planning top page.

The wikis for the divisions have documents, reminders, and news about the divisions as well as calendars and staff directories. The one for my division also has links to other useful sites, a list of phone numbers for obtaining services (such as replacing overhead lights when they burn out), a guide for orienting new employees, and things of that nature. The division wikis are run by office staff (automation specialists, administrative assistants, and managers).

This screenshot shows the wiki for my division.

No comments: