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Career Strategies for Librarians
Electronic Communication in the Workplace
by Lauren Pressley  

Many new methods of communication have emerged with new technology. With these developments
come choices about which new technologies to spend time exploring, which communication methods to
implement, and what really makes sense for your organization. The aim of this article is to provide an
overview of several different emerging electronic communication techniques, give a brief overview of how
they work, and discuss how they can be useful to you as a librarian.

I’m going to assume that readers are familiar with websites, email, and instant messaging, and instead
focus on some of the newer technologies that are appearing.

Aggregators
An aggregator is a type of software that displays content from selected websites. These selected
websites must have a form of syndication such as RSS or Atom feeds. Syndication allows websites to
be picked up by aggregators.

What’s amazing about aggregators is that they pull the most recent content from blogs, news sources,
or other regularly updating websites and put it all in one location. With an aggregator you can say
goodbye to browsing the web all afternoon; instead you can look at what your regular sites are saying in
ten to fifteen minutes. Many sites use syndication, so not only can you read news and blogs from outside
sources, but you can also create a feed for your library, including lists of your new books, pictures from
events held in the library, etc. This is useful not only for staff, but for the general public, too.

Aggregators are built into some sites like Netvibes.  They can also be added to software like Firefox, can
exist on the web as in Bloglines, or can be downloaded and installed as with News Net Wire.

Blogs
A blog, short for "weblog" or "web log," is a type of website in which posts, often containing hyperlinks to
other websites, are displayed in reverse chronological order. Many people use blogs as a personal
journal, a log of interesting developments in their profession, a place for political ponderings, etc. Most
blogs allow for comments so that conversations can be followed.

Blogs can be particularly useful for libraries in a number of ways. A committee could keep a blog to
discuss projects together. A blog could be kept at the reference desk so that librarians scheduled for the
evening can know what went on earlier in the day. A blog could contain notes from all staff meetings so
that staff could refer back to them later. The benefit to this system is that everything is kept in reverse
chronological order. It's easy to follow the discussions in the order they occurred. Commenting makes it
easy to see how ideas evolved and allows for a more detailed discussion when necessary.  

There are several websites that offer free use of their blogging software, such as Wordpress and
Blogger. If you decide that blogs are exactly what you need, you could opt to buy the software and install it
on a server. This allows you to associate the blog with a domain name of your choosing and gives you a
little more control over your display.

Podcasting
Podcasting was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2005. Podcasts are audio
files available for download through syndication. The subscription feed is the aspect of podcasting that
differentiates a podcast from a file (such as an MP3) or streaming content.  

Podcasts are useful for those who are auditory learners or those who work non-standard shifts. Evening
workers could use podcasts to keep up with staff meetings. Staff development podcasts could explain
new procedures or policies. Enhanced podcasting allows for the integration of images with the audio
file, which can enrich the learning environment. For example, enhanced podcasts might explain and
show steps for processing new materials.
A library could use podcasting to provide training to staff, to distribute audio portions of staff meetings for
those who aren’t there, and to send special announcements from administration. Podcasting could be
used to provide audio tours of the library, quick explanations of a selected resource, or audio versions of
guest speakers or events that occurred in the library.

To create a podcast you need a microphone, recording software, a computer to record the audio on, and
a way to distribute the audio through syndication. To take advantage of podcasts a user would need an
internet connection, access to the syndicated feed, and a computer with headphones or speakers.

Photo Sharing Sites
Photo sharing sites allow users to share digital photos with people on the web. Flickr, Webshots,
Snapfish, and Yahoo! Photo Service are some sites that provide this service. Each service has different
features, but most allow for varying levels of privacy, commenting, and syndication.

Photo sharing can be very useful for visual people. I use a Flickr slideshow along with explanatory text to
help student employees who are visual learners. Pictures corresponding to location information or
equipment troubleshooting steps can make an explanation clearer. A library could use online photos to
create a private photo directory of the staff, photo albums of library events, or various marketing tools.

To create a photo sharing site, you'll need a digital camera, computer with internet, and an account with
a photo sharing site. Many of the basic accounts are free.

Wikis
We often hear about the problems with wikis because of Wikipedia. Many feel that the information isn’t
reliable because anyone can contribute to it. That may, in fact, mean that you can’t rely on a wiki for a
term paper, but in some contexts community contribution can be quite powerful.  

Some specific situations lend themselves particularly well to wikis. Small groups, a defined scope of
topics, and restricted participation can increase the reliability of the content. You also have the ability to
see a page’s “change history,” so you can see what was altered. Changes can often be tracked with a
syndicated feed.  

Wikis are great as evolving repositories for information on a project, committee, team, or department. I
use a wiki with my student workers. I include all the information that I can about their job and use it
heavily for student training. Several wikis have emerged with library conference resources. There are
also a few for best practices in different aspects of library work.

To start a wiki you only need a computer and an internet connection. There are several websites that
offer free access to their software. If you decide that a wiki is well-suited to your situation, you might want
to consider buying wiki software and installing it on a server.

Social Networking Sites
There are a lot of social networking sites out there, including MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and Orkut.
These sites allow people to post photos, biographical information and interests, as well as to find others
with similar interests. Some also have built-in messaging systems.  

Staff members could set up an account to share their own information: hours they work, their specialties,
etc. The added benefit of utilizing these sites is that they put the librarian where the users are. Your
coworker might use it to find your work IM name or your working hours, but a patron might stumble
across the same information and send you a reference question through the site.  

Most social networking sites will allow anyone to join as a member. A few have specific restrictions. For
example, Facebook requires that members have an email address that ends in ".edu."

Other Communication Technologies
Text Messaging

Text messaging is one new evolution of instant messaging.  Short message service (SMS) or text
messaging is a lot like instant messaging, but it takes place over a mobile device such as a cell phone.
People use text messaging to send short messages, to vote on shows like “American Idol,” or to get
quick information.  

This technology is rapidly growing. Google is even providing ready reference through it. Students and
newer librarians may be interested in using this technology for library communication.

SMS is a mobile device service. There are costs associated with this service; generally it’s about ten
cents per message. To send a message you’d need a cell phone, though there are some websites that
will send text messages as well.

Skype

Skype allows users with microphones and speakers to have audio conversations over the internet.
Skype is free for computer-to-computer calls, but there is a fee associated with calling or receiving calls
from landlines. Skype is excellent if you need to call home from a conference or communicate with
colleagues on research or committee meetings from far away.

You can get a free or pay account from Skype. Then you just need a microphone, computer (many
computers come with microphones), and speakers or headphones to use the service.

Conclusion
There’s a whole world of emerging communication software out there. Some of it might be useful to you
and your coworkers, while others might be more useful for communicating with student employees than
your colleagues. Consider the needs of your colleagues, staff, or users when considering which
technologies to use. You might want to offer training sessions on new technologies to library
employees. There is currently a lot of discussion of emerging technologies in various librarian blogs.
Some of it is taking place under the heading of Library 2.0. Perhaps you will find that these new
technologies can help you communicate more widely and effectively with your colleagues, student
employees and patrons.

About the Author:

Lauren Pressley is the Microtext Assistant for the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University
and is working towards her master’s degree in library studies at the University of North Carolina at
Greensboro. She loves playing with new technologies and uses instant messaging, photo sharing, and
a wiki in her day-to-day job.

Article published June 2006

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