Info Tech Tips and Trends

Winter 2007

The Instructional Technologies Committee would like to introduce you to a new technology that you might find useful, or a familiar technology you may not have used in library instruction.

This edition of the Instructional Technologies " Tips and Trends" explores Wikis.

Wikis: catching on quick-quick?
By Carole Svensson

Just as students struggle to keep up with information technology, so do librarians. In an effort to wrangle some of the instructional info that we have spread across multiple formats in multiple locations, the library at University of Washington, Tacoma created a UW Tacoma Library Reference and Instruction wiki.

What is a wiki?

A wiki is both a technology and a social construct. The definition usually depends on the perspective of the user, but here are a couple of examples:

"A wiki is a server-based collaboration tool that allows any authorized user to edit Web pages and create new ones using nothing more than a web browser and a text entry form on a web page" (Chawner & Lewis, 2006, p. 33).

Wikis are " information spaces, places where people can share ideas, knowledge and information simply and quickly regardless of their geographical location (Klobas, 2006, p. 14).

Why use a wiki?

In a nutshell, wikis:

  • Are easy!
  • Can create Knowledge Bases
  • Provide a space for discussion & information sharing
  • Are a one-stop shop, gathering related information in one convenient location
  • Increase access—anyone can read, add or edit the wiki
  • Are easily searchable & browsable
  • Are collaborative spaces

What do we use our wiki for?

Different from most of the library examples that are listed later in this piece, our UW Tacoma Library Reference and Instruction wiki is not about instruction in theory, but instruction sessions in actuality. It is a tool designed to help reference staff assist students by providing a one-stop-shop for class syllabi, assignments, library instruction session information, handouts, web links & guides, and comments from reference staff who are helping the students currently working on the assignments. Originally proposed by the Head of Reference, Suzanne Klinger, and Reference Assistant Terri May, the wiki addressed the need we had been experiencing for more information sharing about our reference experiences. We have a very small reference staff relative to our student body, and rarely get the opportunity to share information as often or thoroughly as we’d like. The wiki has proven itself to be a useful tool for bringing all the disparate pieces together in one place.

UW Tacoma Library Reference Assistant Terri May & I set about installing and tweaking the wiki to meet our needs. Part of this process was the technical setup, but a much larger part was meeting with the involved parties, which included not only reference staff, but also circulation staff who can use the wiki to assist them when a librarian or reference staff person isn’t available. Our current process, constantly evolving, is as follows:

  1. Syllabi are collected electronically for all classes being taught that quarter
  2. A wiki entry is created for each class, using the following naming convention: Class Number, Class Name, Faculty Name, Quarter (e.g. TBUS300 Managing in Organizations Purdy Fall 06)
  3. Comments are added by reference staff using the discussion feature whenever they have an interaction with a student that they feel would be useful for others
  4. When the librarian teaches an instruction session, they can either add the class information to the wiki page, or fill out a web form that is sent to someone who will post it for them. In addition to class syllabi, standard information for each class includes librarian and faculty contact information, information about the session itself, resources covered, and concept emphasized.
  5. Subject categories are assigned for easy browsability. Standard categories include departments like “Business” and “Social work”, as well as categories such as “All Instruction Sessions” and “Archives”
  6. Comments continue to be added as the quarter continues
  7. When the quarter is ended, the page is added to the Archive category so that it can be updated if it is taught again.

Which flavor of wiki should you use & where will it live?

The decision on which wiki software we should use and where it would live were fairly straightforward for us: our UW Tacoma Computer Services techs were unanimous and enthusiastic in recommending MediaWiki for its ease of use and functionality. However, there are tools available to find the perfect wiki for your use. The most useful of these tools is the Wiki Matrix, which allows you to develop a customized list of software packages to compare.

If hosting the wiki is a space issue for your library, there are wiki farms available to host your wiki. Wiki farms can be free or cost a nominal fee, but it’s important to know what services are available. You can read a comparison of wiki farms on Wikipedia: If server space isn’t an issue for you, you can host it on your own server. Working at the University of Washington Libraries is a boon for this kind of situation—we have access to a plethora of technology resources. Another advantage is having crackerjack technology support staff, who initially guided us through the process of installing a wiki. Terri & I took it over from there, working together to understand how MediaWiki functions and how we could make it operate most efficiently for us. One of the decisions that we needed to make during setup was about access; we have the capability to password-protect our wiki, and we did so, limiting it to library staff only. This allowed open conversation by staff regarding issues that might arise with a particular assignment without fear of a student stumbling into something that might not be appropriate for them to read. This is just one of many decisions that will likely crop up particular to your institution.

Conclusion: to wiki or not to wiki

We have run into two barriers so far: librarians fearing the time and energy it takes to learn yet another new technology, and making sure that our reference staff understands why we have this resource and how it can support them in their work, as well as providing a communication tool for sharing with their colleagues. Both of these barriers are easily surmountable with training and marketing. We are beginning to market our instruction wiki to our reference staff by placing reminders at point of need (like the former print notebook that housed handouts). The training sessions that are underway address the fear involved in learning and implementing a new technology. Overall, developing this wiki has been fairly painless and has indeed proven itself to be a very useful tool. I would recommend that any library give it a try, availing themselves of all the fabulous resources, software & manuals that are freely available online, as well as the useful books and articles that can make realizing this project easier.

Who are wiki users?

  • Education
    • Brigham Young University’s Center for Instructional Design
      “The CID Wiki's raison d'être is to serve as an encyclopedia of all things related to BYU's Center for Instructional Design.” Contains entries related to library instruction.
    • OpenWetWare
      “OpenWetWare is an effort to promote the sharing of information, know-how, and wisdom among researchers and groups who are working in biology & biological engineering. OWW provides a place for labs, individuals, and groups to organize their own information and collaborate with others easily and efficiently. In the process, we hope that OWW will not only lead to greater collaboration between member groups, but also provide a useful information portal to our colleagues, and ultimately the rest of the world.”
  • Libraries
    • Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki
      “Library Success was created by Meredith Farkas to be a collaborative space for librarians to share success stories and inspire each other to do great things in our own libraries.”
    • The Library Instruction Wiki
      Developed by Oregon librarians, the Library Instruction Wiki is “a collaboratively developed resource for librarians involved with or interested in instruction. All librarians and others interested in library instruction are welcome and encouraged to contribute”
    • University of Minnesota Libraries Staff Website
      The UM Libraries Staff website uses PmWiki to organize the Libraries staff website content without requiring users to learn HTML.
    • Western Connecticut State University Libraries First Year Experience wiki
      The First Year Experience wiki is part of WCS’ General Education Committee Wiki, “a collaborative space to write, save and track changes to documents and ideas. Members of the university community are welcome to use the comments box on each page to communicate thoughts, ideas and suggestions.”
    • Vanderbilt University Jean & Alexander Heard Library’s LITS wiki
      VU’s LITS has “adopted wiki technology to maintain their site collaboratively. Information on the site is meant to be available to the general public. More sensitive information is kept on a separate site with controlled access.

References & Further Reading

Baldwin, V. A. (2006) Using New Technologies for Library Instruction in Science and Engineering: Web 2.0 Applications Faculty Publication, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

Chawner, B. & Lewis, P. (2006) "WikiWikiWebs: New Ways to Communicate in a Web Environment." Information Technlogy and Libraries, 25(1) 33-43.

Ebersbach, A. Markus, G. & Heigl, R. (2006). Wiki Web Collaboration. Berlin; New York: Springer.

Educause Learning Initiative 7 things you should know about Wikis

Fichter, D. (2006). "Using Wikis to Support Online Collaboration in Libraries." Information Outlook, 10(1) 30-31.

Klobas, J. (2006). Wikis: Tools for Information Work and Collaboration. Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

Lauf, B. & Cunningham, W. (2001) The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web. Boston: Addison Wesly.

Withers, R. (2005). "Something wiki this way comes: An interactive way of posting, updating, and tracking changes in information used by library staff." C&RL News, 66(1) p. 775-777.

Additional material and research contributed by Terri May, Reference Assistant, University of Washington, Tacoma Library.

Info Tech Tips and Trends: Winter 2007
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