Robin Hastings discusses Collaborative Work

By Daniel A. Freeman |

The new issue of Library Technology Reports, "Collaboration 2.0" by Robin Hastings is hitting the shelves this week. Robin is the Information Technology Manager for the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City, Missouri. She manages the library’s network, websites and training classes, as well as a four person staff who keep the library’s computers running while she’s off presenting at conferences. Given Robin's extensive experience in technology training and online collaborative work, she is the perfect person to discuss how technology has led to a revolution in the way that librarians can collaborate.

I had a chance to interview Robin recently about her LTR, and just how far this revolution in collaborative work can go.

Dan Freeman: So your topic for this issue is Collaboration 2.0. Can you define this concept for us?


Robin Hastings: Collaboration 2.0 is the use of free, easy-to-use web 2.0 tools (think Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, etc.) to make teams who may not be in the same city, state or country work together seamlessly. Since the philosophy behind the 2.0 tools is one of user-created content, almost all of the 2.0 tools have ways to create and share content with other people - that makes collaboration on library projects, presentations, training programs or anything else that creative librarians can come up with really easy. Everything I profiled in the report, by the way, is freely available and easy enough to use that millions of people have already been using these tools without being forced to by their jobs!


DF: How did you become an expert on this topic? Does your job involve a lot  of online collaborative work?


RH: Curiosity. I got to know the social sites and their features because I was interested in checking them out and seeing what they could do. I've got an account on nearly every social networking site that has come along in the past few years just because I was curious about how they could make my life easier, or more fun, or just because...


My job as a trainer involved quite a bit of collaboration. I mention the Library Learning 2.0 program, started by Helene Blowers, in the report - when Bobbi Newman and I did that for our library, we used the collaborative features of these tools a LOT. I also do a fair amount of presenting at library conferences, and at our state library association conference a couple of years ago, Joy Weese Moll and I presented together using a Wiki as both a presentation organizer and as the "virtual handout" for the  presentation. That worked really well, and I took that idea and ran with it for future presentations, creating wikis that would give folks who came to my presentations (even ones I did by myself) a way to ask questions after the fact and give me a way to answer questions that came up during the presentation that I didn't have time to get into at that moment. In that way, the wikis were very much collaborative, but with the audience instead of a co-presenter.


DF: Can you talk about some specific examples of how this collaborative work  has helped different libraries?


RH:  I profile a bunch of different libraries and how their collaborations using these tools helped out a lot. One of the examples that I thought was really interesting was the use of a building project wiki at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. Jason Griffey got that started and it has been pretty well received - and used - by the staff to distribute information about the project as it been going on. Many different people contribute to that wiki, so it is definitely a successful collaborative effort. Another example I thought was interesting was the Library Learning 2.1 project in Maryland. Maurice Coleman and Jennifer Ranck worked on a state-side training program that offered training and information on 2.0 tools to the entire state of Maryland. They used collaborative tools extensively when creating and while actually doing the training itself.


DF: What sort of case studies do you examine in your report?


RH: Besides the two I just mentioned, there is a case study of the *very* collaborative Library Society of the World (LSW) and how they use many different Web 2.0 tools. I also profiled uses of collaborative efforts using Web 2.0 tools from academic libraries, public libraries and special libraries. The work involved includes training initiatives, educational support groups and many other day-to-day library tasks that have been made easier using Web 2.0 tools.


DF: What's the biggest impediment to collaborative work in libraries today?


RH: Technology, the previous "biggest impediment" is no longer an issue - with free accounts on just a few of the Web 2.0 tools I go through in this report, libraries can collaborate easily and cheaply. The biggest hurdle right now is creating a culture that rewards collaborative efforts just as much - if not more - than single-person efforts. If the organization encourages collaboration, it will happen. There isn't much that a technology can do to make that happen, though, it has to start in the organization's people. Then they can use the technologies that I present to make it work for them!


DF: Obviously there have been a lot of developments in the past few years that has made this type of collaborative work much more appealing and effective. Where does it go from here? What future developments do you see that can make this hot trend even hotter?


RH: The biggest roadblock I found in my research was the idea of using some of these tools (Facebook in particular) for work-related purposes. These are social and to be used for fun! However, with the popularity of Facebook Pages (business or organization accounts instead of just personal profiles), more people are seeing Facebook - and other tools like it - as a way to get work done, not just for socializing. I think that is a development that will continue. One of the things that I see coming up that I think will make this trend even hotter is a combination of ubiquitous computing, the cloud and web-based single sign-on. If computers, and our data, are everywhere (ubiquitous computing + the cloud of data) and we can get to all of it very easily (single sign-on), there will be *very* few barriers to information sharing and collaborative work. I think Web 2.0 tools are on the cutting edge of the cloud + single sign-on trends, at least (FriendFeed now lets you sign up for the service using your Facebook, Google or Twitter account credentials - that's one less user name/password combination you have to remember) and as computers become smaller, more accessible to the masses and more embedded in our everyday lives, the possibilities of access to all of our data (and our collaborator's data) in an easy-to-remember way will make collaboration far easier - at least technologically.



DF: There's been a lot of buzz recently about Google Wave. Do you see this as something with the potential to usher in another revolution in collaboration?


RH: Absolutely! Anything that will "'unify' communication on the web" (as stated by the Mashable website in their article on the service at will be a boon to people who are collaborating with one another. One of the issues with using 2.0 tools to collaborate is agreeing on a platform. If I check MySpace every day, but my coworkers are all heavy Facebook users, we have a potential platform issue. If we can use Google Wave to provide communications *between* those two platforms (I haven't gotten my hands on an invite yet, but from what I've seen so far, it looks like that will be completely possible), then I can stick with what I do anyway and my coworkers can do the same, but we can still communicate effectively and we don't have to worry about one person having to change their routine to accommodate the group. Something like that will take away one of the bigger sticking points in 2.0 collaboration - deciding on what platform to use.