The Odd Couple: SharePoint and Librarians

Overview

The session held at Computers in Libraries 2010 on April 13, 2010 that I presented was called "SharePoint and Info Pros: A Good Fit". I examined how SharePoint was used within the library environment. I discussed the coordination of collaboration, capturing and organizing "corporate" knowledge, and organizing digital content. I reviewed the results from my survey, "SharePoint Usage in the Library" which demonstrated how librarians could program their department's SharePoint site without code.

Before you begin trying to create a SharePoint site, you should be acquainted with the following terms when dealing with SharePoint:

  • Portal: A webpage with information that you want to alert your staff to; Dashboard is embedded to show schedules, reference statistics, etc.

  • Website: Portal with linking workspaces.

  • Workspace: A webpage with links to widgets

  • Widgets: Small programs designed for one task, for example, a calendar, wiki, web parts to display external websites.

  • Templates: Specific layout for your portal and/or workspaces. Your customizations to your website could be saved as a template for your department or organization to follow.

  • Tacit Knowledge: Skills from experience; "know-how"; Not written down

  • Explicit Knowledge: Written in your collection, for example, a document on how to write a Conflict of interest Policy

Information Management Challenge

How many of us go to work with stories to tell our co-workers? You wanted to talk about a recent decision you had to make. A co-worker could want to complain about the poor management of a project. Usually, co-workers gather around the "water cooler" during breaks to "cool-off" and share recent experiences with fellow employees. It could be productive thoughts on assignments and projects that the organization is working on. SharePoint can help "capture" these ideas by becoming a vehicle to allow staff to share what they think about certain projects or actions that the organization or staff has participated in. The Web 2.0 features of Windows Shared Services 3.0 (WSS) and SharePoint 2007 (MOSS) allow your co-workers to feel comfortable with tools that they would use while on the Internet. Wikis, Surveys, Discussion Boards and Dashboards can bring your organization together in discussions that would help each staff member learn from successes, mistakes and challenges which would transfer information and knowledge to and from internal and external stakeholders.

SharePoint was originally created back in 1997 as four platforms: web content management; collaboration; document management; nuggets that display external websites. Through MOSS or WSS, Microsoft has tried to harness what we know of social media sites and mixed it together with our library management practices.

In the beginning, SharePoint was an IT- only application but now it requires input from two groups: the installers and the users. They have to work together to figure out what they want their SharePoint site to do for their organization. I mentioned organization because SharePoint is an enterprise management platform meant to be used by the whole organization. The departments of the organization would gain access to whatever the whole organization agreed on for the functions of SharePoint. SharePoint helps with the accountability of the knowledge collected.

What is SharePoint?

Microsoft SharePoint is being used in Government, private, public and association offices throughout the United States. SharePoint was meant to increase accountability for projects within a team environment. How could SharePoint help increase accountability in information management?

Microsoft SharePoint allows information professionals in an organization to easily create and manage their own Web 2.0 environment. SharePoint is not a specific product but several aspects of Web 2.0 solutions. Two versions you may encounter in the office: Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007. WSS is the basic compilation of applications. Special features to add on to your SharePoint would be called MOSS.

SharePoint can help the individual manage their assignments. It can help a team share thoughts and work on documents. It would also work for several teams in a division and spread out to the whole ENTERPRISE, your organization through your Intranet at headquarters to your Extranet to all offices within the organization nation or world-wide. You can define a website or portal that your patrons, customers or members see through the Internet.

SharePoint helps you to manage the prime real estate on your organization's server or organization's hosted space. Look at SharePoint as a home improver and your organization's server as a house. SharePoint could help you organize the storage space so that you could collect corporate knowledge and manage your library collection. Out of the box SharePoint will help you format your server into various modules or rooms. These rooms would be recognizable Web 2.0 tools, such as, Blogs, Wikis, Document Libraries, and Discussion Boards. SharePoint would also provide you with amenities for your house, for example, Announcements, RSS feed, E-Alerts and Web Parts (similar to widgets or gadgets). SharePoint also houses a database (SQL Server 2005 Express) to help it remember how you want everything to function and to store any documents from your library collection (Microsoft 2010).

Cataloging

On Nova's Season 37, Episode 11 - "Riddles of the Sphinx," a group of archaeologists were gathered together in order to find out who built the Sphinx. Archaeologists figured out that there could be three resource types to use to answer this question: Project Team Profiles, Written Reports and Tool Usage ("know-how" experience).

Resource types would be carefully defined SharePoint content types. A content type would specify its own template, so that all Project Team Profiles would share a common format. A content type is a group of reusable settings that describe the shared traits for a specific type of content. Content types allow organizations to manage this type of information in a consistent way across a site collection. You can view them by describing what types of items that you have in your library/special collection.

In conclusion to the episode, Sphinx project reports from the Project Team Profiles could not be obtained because the project team was long dead. Written Reports (Hieroglyphics) had spoken of a restoration effort of the Sphinx but not the actual building of it. Tool Usage was also lost when the project team died in Ancient Egypt. It was never collected. Perhaps, SharePoint could have captured this missing knowledge of how tools were used to build the Sphinx. This information would still not answer the question of "Who built the Sphinx?"

Through Properties feature within Word and Excel, you can provide keywords and categories (subject areas) that would define the individual items in your collection. The Properties feature would open the record for that particular document that you were cataloging. Microsoft Office 2007 allows more fields to be defined within your document's record.

The taxonomy structure can have levels defined through a specified folder structure. The levels could also be represented through the Category and Sub-category sections within the Properties feature.

SharePoint Usage in the Library Survey

Using SharePoint would be managing the "know-how" and explicit knowledge of the organization. From a survey, based on anecdotal information from open-ended questions, that I administered from 3/8/2010 to 4/7/2010, I found that the usage of SharePoint, was underutilized within library-type environments in Government Agencies (State and Federal government), Educational Institutions (University Libraries), Associations (Non-profit/Profit), Private Organizations (Hospitals, Law Firms, Financial Services, Museums). This report summarizes the data and examines trends for SharePoint usage within these environments.

The response rate was 34% based on the states that had returned the survey, which was sent to all of the United States. Three countries had also participated. Surveys were sent to members of the Special Libraries Association of Maryland and District of Columbia, Society of American Archivists, Association of Independent Information Professionals and American Libraries Association.

This table analyzes the results of the survey under five categories: Type of Organization; Location; Who Set It Up; Usage; Version of SharePoint; Customization; Mandated in organization; Widget Usage

SharePoint was found to be used by the library or special collection in order to:

  • Support the generation and maintenance of library artifacts

  • Facilitate communication and feedback

  • Monitor library activities

  • Control collection changes

  • Analyze and forecast collection's needs, staff performance and patrons' needs

Association Survey Participants manually entered in links to sources like Nexis, Factiva and the association's online catalog. Associations manually scanned periodicals for related subject areas of the library/special collection. RSS Feeds were not used. SharePoint's search engine was used to find news stories, pictures or documents on assorted topics. The majority of the participants did not have Extended Search Services enabled which led to a lot of impatient staff not being able to find documents that they knew were on the server.

Private Institution Survey Participants emphasized a strong need to have a Chief Information Officer onsite who understood what skills librarians possessed. With this knowledge, the Chief Information Officer would be able to translate librarian needs in IT department project management methods and principles. Widgets were created for Grant progress tracking and copyright permission management.

Education Institution Survey Participants were found to need centralized content on procedures and policies for staff to have access to in an intranet-type environment. Through SharePoint, different library departments had created multiple SharePoint Workspaces without any relationship to each of them. Different silos of information multiplied like rabbits on the university server. SharePoint was chosen for the different library departments because it was already used by the university and hosted on the university's server. It also provided accessibility for staff to see the latest announcements, reference statistics, and tasks that needed to be completed.

The survey found that Government Agencies had a struggle between the IT department and the library/special collections in converting project management principles/methods, which SharePoint is teeming with, into information management principles/methods. Survey participants all agreed that the government agencies provide basic SharePoint training but not specific enough to meet the information professionals' needs. Through a dashboard, everyone could see the library's acquisition and cataloging schedules, budgets and overall performance of subject areas covered by reference requests.

Conclusion

Through the survey, the requirements for information professionals to work with and use SharePoint would be technical skills, communication needs of the library and accountability to maintain the library's SharePoint Workspace.

The Technical skill requirement consists of knowledge about: database management and structure; Microsoft Windows; Microsoft Office; Web browsing. In order to communicate needs of the library, the library staff would need to map out the library's needs and correlate them to the features of SharePoint. The result would be a Feature Mapping document that would help you and the IT Department, create a SharePoint workspace that would meet your needs. Once the IT Department assigns user permissions, then you would be able to update content on your site, define account privileges and maintain a document repository.

SharePoint Training for Information Professionals without Coding

If you have more questions on how SharePoint can be used in the library, please come to my online seminar, "Introduction to MS SharePoint without Coding". This online seminar will be presented through WebEx. Registration is now open for the following dates:

Read more about it

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Weldon, L.S.J. "My Virtual Assistant Saves the Day." Computers in the Libraries (Information Today), November 2007: 18-23.