It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since I created the Biz Wiki. When I first wrote about using a wiki as a research guide, I had no idea where the wiki would go. For the four year anniversary, I think it’s important to address some of the things that I’ve learned over time.
1. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit
It was risky, initially, to drop my old static html research guides in favor of the wiki format. It took a lot of work porting the content over (and I use “port”, as I didn’t simply cut and paste the old content in the move to a new system). I had no idea how the new wiki would be received, or if it would even be used at all.
2. Experiment with new forms of media
In the process of trying something new, you get to experiment with new forms of media. One thing I learned in this process is the way a media is “intended” to be used may not necessarily be the way that you wind up actually using it. In the case of the Biz Wiki, I had originally set it up so that it would be a true wiki and that anyone could add or edit the content. I didn’t promote this that much initially, and I still probably could have done a better job of encouraging students and faculty to be active in the wiki’s content. However, four years later, I have a better understanding of where my faculty are and how busy they are. As an example, I recently emailed my faculty members a list of items that I was recommending to cut, as I have to cut $68,000 from my budget. Can you guess how many responses I got? About 3. Bearing that in mind, I think it’s unlikely that my faculty have the time or the interest to edit the Biz Wiki. They see that as my job (as is managing the library budget), and as long as I’m doing a good job, everybody’s happy. Many have questioned whether the Biz Wiki is actually a wiki at all, since I am the only one managing it. You can call it what you want, but for me, it’s a wiki, and it just works.
3. Keep it fresh
A wiki is designed so that you can add and edit content with ease. However, even a wiki with content as exciting as business research tools can get a little boring at times. (really, it can). There have been times that I have gotten really, really bored with the wiki, so that even editing the existing content can become a chore. It’s difficult to do, but I think it is really important to push through the doldrums and continue to manage the content. When I find that I’m doing as much as I should to manage the content, I try to make a habit of periodically picking a random page and trying to tweak it in some way. I’m also in the process of overhauling my Biz Wiki Screencasts page into something that is a little more user-friendly and easier to manage.
4. Steal ideas from others
In the process of keeping it fresh, sometimes you just run out of ideas. I became very tired with the old look of the Biz Wiki, so I went looking for a new one. As luck would have it, another popular wiki has a pretty good front page, so I borrowed the code, changed the colors, and made it my own. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I figure the more I can make the Biz Wiki look and feel like the Wikipedia, the easier it will be for my patrons to use.
Borrowing ideas from others is one of the best things you can do to make your content relevant to your users. I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of how others are using social media and tools. I look at other libraries, but I primarily like to look for other non-library examples. I feel that if I just look at how libraries are doing things, then I may not be seeing other really good examples of social media. As an example, take a look at how Larry Hyrb, the brand manager for Microsoft’s Xbox Live uses twitter, a blog, 12 seconds, video, and podcasts. I look at stuff like he’s using and try to think about how libraries can use these tools to sell our brand. We may not use them in the same way or get the same kind of feedback from our users, but we can still use the successfully to reach our patrons in different ways.
5. Listen to feedback
Now I’ll be honest here. I don’t have faculty members calling and telling me how great the Biz Wiki is or how great I am. However, I do have students tell me that they used the Biz Wiki because their professor told them to. That in itself is a huge compliment. Sometimes students whom I have never met or taught stop me in the library and tell me how much they appreciate the Biz Wiki and how much it helped them. One professor even tells his students that they have it easy, thanks to the work that I’ve put into the Biz Wiki. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but comments like that help to keep you motivated.
Constructive criticism is also helpful, although I’ve not received much about the Biz Wiki. However, the Business Blog was recently reviewed by a library school student, and it helped to hear an outsider’s perspective of that tool. I recently became a bit bored with the Business Blog as well, and I changed the template up a bit and used the student’s comments in the process.
Most of my feedback comes not from glowing reviews about the Biz Wiki or the Business Blog, but from listening to others. Students and colleagues often tell me they searched for a particular topic in the Biz Wiki and did not find what they needed. I take information like that, as well as the current projects students are working on, and use that for new or additional content for the wiki or the blog. Listening to your community’s needs is truly one of the best feedback mechanisms you can use, and it will help you keep your content and your services relevant. I’ve also found that looking at the hit counts for the Biz Wiki and Business Blog can show me what is being used and what is not. Obviously I try to create more content that is similar to the stuff that is being used.
6. Help people find your content
You can create the greatest site in the world, but if you don’t link to it anywhere, no one is going to use it. Yes, I am stating the obvious here, but some could use to hear that over and over. In the case of the Biz Wiki, I link to it in various places on our library website. You can find a link on our subject guides page, in the Company section of our database portal, in the industry section of our database portal, and listed twice in our Business section as well. I’m also blessed to teach several hundred students each quarter, and I am sure to promote the Biz Wiki there as well. It often helps to show them something they really need to get them to return to your site. As an example, if I have enough lead time, I may try to make a special guide just for that class. Just a hint, show them the guide at the end of class, not at the beginning. Otherwise it’s a little difficult to keep their attention.
7. Adding and maintaining content is hard, regardless of the technology
Whenever someone asks me about wikis, I try to tell them in some way that wikis are not for everyone. While a wiki makes it incredibly easy to add and update content from anywhere, it still takes time and effort to maintain the content. The bigger the Biz Wiki becomes, the more effort it takes to maintain. I’ve got quite a few pages that are in need of updating, and I even have a few pages that will need deleting. It takes time to do that work. A wiki makes it pretty easy to do the work, but it does not make time move slower. Other projects and priorities can distract me from the wiki, and occasionally I have to go in and knock the cobwebs off. A wiki is an awesome vehicle for disseminating library information, but it does not have an auto pilot.
8. If one tool doesn’t work, get another one
Sometimes thing just stop working. I used to use Pidgin to connect to all of my IM services and with Meebo, until one day the Meebo widget stopped displaying my status. I was disappointed, but I didn’t cry or freak out about it. When your hammer breaks pulling nails you go get another one. Likewise, when your widget won’t work, you find another tool that does. In my case, I found Digsby, and it works wonderfully for what I need it to do. In a similar fashion, I have begun using Blip.tv to host all new screencasts that I do. This tool allows for easy embedding of videos, and also gives me viewership stats. It’s easy to get attached to the tool that you’ve used for so long, and new tools may not have the same feel as that old hammer did. But new tools may eventually feel more comfortable and be more useful in the long run.
9. Don’t settle
With any web 2.0 or library 2.0 or other tech tool, it’s easy to try something, and if it works, continue doing the same thing or using the same tool. While it is comfortable to keep doing the same thing, even if it has proven successful, I don’t think this is good for librarian or their services in the long run. I’ve mentioned how bored I’ve grown with the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki over the years, and how that boredom drove me to some new ideas. I can only imagine how bored regular users of the sites must feel. To alleviate my boredom, to challenge me, and to offer my patrons new and improved content, I have started doing more with screencasts and web video. I look like a dork at times doing the videos, but at least I’m offering new and useful content to my patrons. I’m also learning something in the process, which means I’m growing as a librarian and hopefully enhancing the services that I offer as well.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I thank you for sticking around. I’m also curious what other might have to say. What projects have you started and what was the most important thing you learned from them? How did you keep the projects fresh and growing? If the project died, why? What advice do you have for others who might be afraid of trying something new?