Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2006

Communication and Community: An Intranet for Colorado Correctional Libraries

by: Diana Reese and Mary Beth Faccioli, Colorado State Library Institutional Library Services

The Colorado State Library’s Institutional Library Services unit provides library services to residential institutions, primarily correctional facilities, in the state of Colorado. The unit works cooperatively with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to supervise and coordinate these services, employing three state library consultants or regional librarians. The regional librarians establish policies and procedures, and recruit, train, and cooperatively supervise approximately forty librarians and library technicians employed within DOC’s twenty-three facility libraries. The resulting collaboration is known as Colorado Correctional Libraries (CCL).

There are several challenges facing CCL, primarily due to geography. The regional librarians are each responsible for seven or more facilities spread throughout the state, so they travel extensively to provide training, technical assistance, and support. Face-to-face training takes place as time allows. To expedite training, DOC hired a correctional training consultant, Mary Beth Faccioli. She traveled the state, visiting library staff at each facility to assess training needs and determine the most effective way to deliver training. However, she learned so much more than that. She heard that librarians felt overloaded by e-mail, the main way in which the regional librarians and other library staff communicated. Important information delivered through e-mail was lost when old messages were deleted. She heard that the three-volume paper procedures manual was an excellent resource but was difficult to use and keep current. Most importantly, she heard the librarians speak of feeling lonely and isolated and not part of a library community.

To address these issues, CCL created an intranet. Intranets are private networks based on Internet protocols that are accessible only by a particular organization’s employees, or others with authorization. They typically serve to empower employees with organizational information. CCL's intranet has three primary objectives: (1) to facilitate the dissemination and exchange of information and to archive that information for future access; (2) to provide a platform for the delivery of online training; and (3) to allow staff spread throughout the state to build community online.

Content on the CCl's intranet is varied and includes:

  • An online procedures manual that can be browsed by document title or searched by keyword;
  • Collections of web resources related to reference, readers' advisory, collection development, public relations and marketing, professional development, and more;
  • Short news items with information that would have formerly been sent out on e-mail, for example, a new Web resource, a procedural change, or kudos to a staff person;
  • A repository of program information and materials that allows staff to learn about programs held at other libraries and implement those programs in their own facilities;
  • A section that includes digital images of staff at various events, a staff directory, and schedules for the regional librarians and all libraries;
  • An interactive discussion board with various forums, including one to ask questions of the regional librarians, one to have personal discussions, one to trade extra supplies or books, one to share reference stumpers, one to discuss work-related issues (for example, intellectual freedom), and more;
  • A weblog to place and respond to interfacility loans; and
  • An online training area to upload static and dynamic Web-based tutorials.
For an intranet to remain relevant, it is important for new and timely information to be made available on a regular basis. Because of this need, it was important to create the site in a way that would allow for the regional librarians and other staff to add content to the site, rather than rely on a single site administrator. Thus a content management system (CMS) was chosen to build the intranet. CCL slected Mambo Open Source, because of its excellent reputation. It is also free, powerful, and easy to install, set up, and maintain.

The site has been operational since August 2005. It is succeeding beyond our wildest dreams. Staff use the discussion boards regularly, and all of the feedback received has been extremely positive:

  • “I absolutely love putting pictures of new staff here.”
  • “Pretty user friendly (for us non techies).”
  • “I really appreciate the beautiful and useful tool you have created for us. Hopefully, this will eliminate some of the alienation that is felt by some of the librarians.”
  • “I really like the program and can see how useful it is for creating community, holding back the darkness of no communication, generating interest and yes, stimulating controversy (of the highest order, of course!)
By virtue of creating the intranet, our objectives have been met: information posted on the site is automatically archived and available via search in perpetuity, tutorials and other training materials are now available to staff online, and staff feel they are part of a community working toward a common goal. While the knowledge management function of the intranet should empower staff with information and the potential to deliver online training should ease the burden on the regional librarians and more effectively educate the staff, the real power and importance of the intranet may ultimately lie in its power to bring our CCL community together.

For more information, contact Diana Reese.