Using WordPress P2 theme as a communication tool in our organization

This week we had a soft launch for our new internal WordPress blog, running on the P2 theme.  I’m hoping it will be a better way to get our local knowledge out of our inboxes and on the web so that all public service workers, even students, will have access to the same information.

An internal blog is nothing new to us, having used for a while in 2005.  We moved from a WordPress blog a year later to a MediaWiki wiki because at the time, the wiki offered better organization of content.  Our departmental wiki later merged with an organization-wide wiki, and now it’s incredibly hard to find the content that is relevant for our department.  The wiki has grown too big for our department to use effectively, resulting in our searches returning false drops of someone else’s content.

Another problem with the wiki is that there isn’t a good way to view the most recent content.  In a public service environment, we need to let communicate among our staff about printing outages, tough research assignments (with links to resources), workarounds for tech/computer issues, etc.  In our big organizational wiki, the current issues get lost in the mix of archives of staff meeting minutes, cataloging procedures, and internal policy documents.

Therefore, we’ve started to blog again like it’s 2005.  We’re using WordPress again, but any blogger knows that the platform has come a long way in  decade.  To make it easier for our staff and students to post, read, and comment, we are using the P2 Theme, which allows you to post and comment directly on the home page.  Users don’t have to visit the admin page within the blog to add content, which will hopefully make it a lot easier for all staff to participate in the conversation.

Our blog is just in it’s infancy, so I can’t really report about its use right now.  However, I found WPUniversity’s articles on using WordPress for project management (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) very useful. Also, WPCandy has a nice list of plugins to use to enhance your P2 installation.

Matt Mullenweg discusses how P2 Changed Automattic.

A quick overview of the P2 theme is shown in the video below.

Also, Beau Lebens of explains the evolution of P2 and the future of O2.  It’s really neat to hear how the folks at Automattic use P2 for 80% of their communication.  Email is almost forbidden and highly frowned upon within the organization.

What can library managers learn from the WordPress official creed?

wordpress-logoAutomattic, the company that owns, is an interesting study in organizational culture, hierarchy, and work.  The Year Without Pants, a book I’m currently reading and learning a lot from, shows the inner workings of this very different (and very cool)  company. In the book’s pages, I picked up on the WordPress creed, which can also be found on Matt Mullenweg’s blog.  Looking at this from a library manager’s point of view, there’s a lot we can steal from those words.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

I will never stop learning.

  • We should cultivate a culture of continuous learning whereby employees have access to exploration and experimentation, readings, webinars, conferences, professional development, and lively discussion with colleagues.

I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.

  • We should empower employees to work beyond their comfort zone and encourage work with colleagues outside their department.

I know there’s no such thing as a status quo.

  • We need to know that change is always on the horizon, and we should do our best to welcome (and encourage)  change, while also helping employees adapt to change.

I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.

  • Libraries  have to be a customer-focused business in order to remain relevant.  Our strength these days is not necessarily in our resources, but in how we care about our communities.   The people who use our libraries are our biggest advocates, so we must be passionate about listening to our patrons to understand their needs.

I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

  • There actually is an “I” in Library, but still.  Good teams get things done.  Bad ones just get in the way.

I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.

  • Libraries are one of the most powerful ideas of any generation.  What we do is for the common good, to educate, to make the world a better place.  No one gets rich being a librarian,  but they reap their rewards in other ways.

I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.

  • Communication with colleagues, patrons, peers, neighbors, customers, vendors, IT support, library boards, politicians, stakeholders,  etc.  is an essential function of our profession.  We need to make sure our staff are good at talking and writing.

I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.

  • It’s not a sprint, but that doesn’t mean you should dawdle either.  Our profession continues to change rapidly, and if you aren’t at least moving, you’ll be left behind.

Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

  • In libraries, no problems are insurmountable given enough time, staff, or money. Unfortunately, we don’t often have enough of either, so we have to get good at improvising and solving problems with creative solutions.

I admit I have an email problem

The article  “Is there Life After Email?  Yes, and it’s Amazing.”   states that most business email is sent to either “cover your ass” or to “show off”.  I’m guilty of striving for excellence in both areas.

In the CYA statement, the author says that “Email is broadcast to entire divisions simply to ensure no one can say they didn’t hear about a decision.”  Yes, if someone complains they didn’t know about something, I am  guilty of re-sending them the sentmail from days or weeks ago.  It’s hard not to get a little satisfaction by passively rubbing their nose in the old email they were copied on.  For good measure, I’ve even highlighted portions that they should have read way back when.  This is one of the reasons I hardly expunge my sentmail folder.  Pretty silly and a little evil, eh?

The author also states that “for people who don’t actually make things for their job, email is the only visible, tangible thing they make all day. ”  Guilty as well, though I haven’t been one to measure how many email I send in a day.  Rather, I measure the size of my inbox.  It started at 5 on Monday, rose to about 30 yesterday, and is now back to 7 (hence me taking a time-out from email for this quick blog post).  If I have to stay home with a sick kid (which happens quite a bit with 4 boys), I’m able to “catch up” on email. Often this means my co-workers are on the receiving end of a full-on email bombardment that compares to the Normandy invasion.  It’s probably not fair to them, but it’s the work that I’m able to do remotely in that moment.   The problem is, those emails get responses, so the volley continues back and forth until one of us calls an email truce or silently surrenders.

Regardless of what my colleagues or I think about email, it is still a necessary technology in our line of information work.  We’ve used blogs, chat, wikis, twitter, and other technology to communicate within our organization and with those we serve, but none of those is ever adopted as universally as email, nor have they taken any traffic from the well-entrenched technology.  However, one colleague has me thinking again about using a WordPress P2 blog for non-essential/non-time-critical communication such as project updates, meeting minutes, or just personal “what I’m working on” or “I need help” conversations.  Has your organization used a P2 blog, and how did it work?  Perhaps we will investigate and/or give it a try.



How I make instructional library web videos and screencasts and how you can too

Web Video is a great way to reach patrons

Making videos for my library patrons have saved me time, allowed me to better serve my them, and enabled them to quickly find answers to their questions.   I first started using web video for library instruction over 6 years ago and have learned a lot along the way.  My hope is that the information in this post can help others make web videos and screencasts to reach and teach their patrons as well.

Update:  For a video demonstration of how I make videos, please see this post.

Why Web Video?

My job as a librarian means that I help students and faculty find the information that they need.  This help is often provided via classroom research sessions, individual in-person consultations, email, chat, phone, and even text.  As a single librarian who serves a college of over 2,000 students and 80 faculty, I am constantly looking for ways to provide better outreach and support to my patrons, while also looking to increase efficiency on  my end.  To this end I strive to reach the most people with methods that can be scaled for the size of the population that I serve.  I have found that web video is one of the easiest and best ways to reach as many people as possible with the least amount of my time and effort.

What type of content?

A sample of my video content

The content for the videos that I make generally comes from the questions that I receive.  It’s pretty easy to know what kind for videos you need to make based upon the frequency of questions that you get (or may get).  In many cases, I make videos for general topics, such as how to find economic information in Passport GMID.  In cases like this, my goal is to make a general video that will show users how to navigate a database with a rather complicated interface.  The question that this video answers is a question that I am likely to get quite a bit.  When I do get the question, I can easily send the user the URL to the video via email or chat.  This saves me time from having to type the email explanation of how to do this, and the user gets a visual explanation of how to find the information.

At other times, I make more specific videos that address specific research topics.  Currently I have over 200 business students who are doing a feasibility study of placing a popcorn franchise in the local Athens mall.  I met with all 200+ students (5 classes of 40 students) last week to teach them about how to research this topic.  I also created a specific Business Blog post to address the tools needed to research the popcorn and snack foods industry.  Before the class I made three videos, one for finding industry ratios for popcorn stores, one for finding demographics of popcorn consumers, and one for finding popcorn consumption by location.  All three videos were demonstrations of what I did in class, and were created so that the students could refer back to them after the class.  I even showed the video about popcorn consumption during class, as SimplyMap, the database demonstrated, can often take longer than 5 minutes (the length of the video) to explain during a live demonstration.

Regardless of the context of the video, I try to make all of my videos answer a particular question.  That is, I would rather make a video on “How to Find Stock Reports in S&P Net Advantage” than just “An Overview of NetAdvantage”.  This helps in a couple of areas.  First, I believe that a video that addresses a specific question will help me keep the video focused and shorter.  Second, someone searching for “stock reports” on the web via Google or on YouTube is more likely to find the first title, rather than the second.

 How much time does it take?

The first video I ever made (before YouTube was a household name) took me over 6 hours to make.  At that time (around 2005 or so) you would have to worry about things like video formats, compression rates, streaming, and more.  There was very much a trial and error approach and a very large learning curve when putting video on the web. Since then, web video formats and players have become more standardized and web video hosts have made uploading and publishing video a lot simpler.  Technology has advanced to the point that people can now focus primarily on the content of their videos, rather than worry about video codecs and compression rates.

When making web videos for library instruction, the time spent is directly related to the amount of practice you have had.  If you are just starting out, your first video may take you a while.  You may stumble with the screencasting/screencapturing tools.  You may fumble with the recording of your content.  You may try for perfection, but not achieve it.  I’ve had a lot of practice and have established a pretty good system over time (I will try to write up time-saving tips in a separate post soon), so I am usually able to create and publish videos very quickly.  With the three examples mentioned above, I was able to record, edit, publish to YouTube, and post all three videos to the Business Blog in just under an hour.  My record is  seven videos in about 90 minutes.  I’m still not as efficient as I would like to be, but I have gotten a lot better over time.

 How much time is saved?

One may think that not much time is saved if you have take extra time to learn how to do something new.  That may be true early on, but I can guarantee that as you get better making videos, your return on time invested will increase exponentially.  At the time of writing this post, those three videos that took me an hour to create from start to finish have been viewed a combined 172 times in the past 10 days.  I can tell you for sure that having those videos available has saved me and my students a huge amount of time.  They get the answer they need quickly and in the context of their specific research, and I can avoid answering the same question over and over again.  That frees up my time so I can answer the more unique (and harder) questions.

How long should my videos be?

I try to keep my videos to less than 5 minutes. Limiting the length to 2-3 minutes is even better, but some concepts or databases can’t be explained in that amount of time.  If the video is likely to go over 5 minutes, I try to find ways to divide the video up into several smaller videos.  As an example, a single video covering every single feature of Passport GMID (a huge and powerful market research database) would likely take 10-15 minutes minimum.  I’ve chosen to divide all the various features of Passport GMID into multiple videos.   The important thing  to remember is most people are not watching my videos for entertainment.  While I try to keep the videos as interesting as possible, the fact of the matter is that few people are going to find “demographics of popcorn consumers” a lot of fun.  Therefore, I try to get them through the content to find their answer in the most efficient manner possible.

Script or no script?

Depends.  If you are just starting out, I’d suggest going with a script or at least a brief outline.  Most of my outlines have been written on a Post-It note, so you don’t necessarily have to have an elaborate script with storyboard.  For most of my videos, I will usually run through the search demonstration before recording, then repeat the same basic process for the recording.  This practice run helps me to avoid stumbling and having to repeat the recording numerous times.  A script is also useful in keeping your thoughts on track and keeping you within your time limits.

Which software for screencasting?

While there are a ton of options for recording your computer screen (screencasting), my favorite is Screencast-O-Mattic.  I like it because it is web based, and it has free and paid versions.  I’ve been using the free version for quite some time, and I have found that the only drawback is the company watermark in the bottom left of my videos.  I recently upgraded to a Pro Account for 12 bucks a year, which removes the watermark and gives me some more advanced editing features.  If you are just starting out, stick with the free version for now.

How do I record my voice?

For most of my recordings, I use the microphone from a Logitech Webcam.  It’s easy to use and the sound is decent.  You can also use the microphone line-in port and a lavalier mic or even a Skype/webchat headset.  The hardest part for me (and others in our cubicle farm) is finding a quiet time or place to record the screencast.  I’ve found that I can get a lot of recording done before 9 a.m in my office, but you may find that late evening or lunchtime may work better.

Where do you record your videos?

I almost always record my videos in my office in the library, though I have been able to record a few at home.  Making videos is a good work-from-home task, especially while a sick child is taking a nap.  In a recent video, I actually recorded part of a sports business  video in front of our football stadium (in the cold).  I’ve got a list of other locations around town that I may use for the introductions in future videos, just to spice things up a bit.

Which resolution?

Screencast-O-Mattic allow you to change the size of your video to meet your needs. With the availability of modern widescreen monitors, I prefer to record with Screencast-O-Mattic’s HD setting of 1280×720.  This gives me the largest size file to work with, should I need to resize in my video editor.  In general, I upload all my videos in HD 1280×720.

Customize resolution size in SCOM

Why and How do you add the video of yourself in the videos?

In all of my videos, I bookend the screencast with a personal video introduction and conclusion.  I do the video introductions to make sure students and faculty place my voice and name with my face, and to personally introduce myself as the expert.  Without the video introductions, I feel like I am just a voice on the screen.  The video introductions add a little personality to the videos and highlight me as a resource in addition to the databases that I am demonstrating.  Plus, as shown in the image below, the video introductions allow me to show off my collection of sweater vests.

A typical video introduction

I use a small inexpensive video camera to record the video clips.  I then piece the clips together with the video from Screencast-O-Mattic in Windows Live Movie Maker.  The process is a little outside the scope of this particular post, but I will write that up soon in another blog post and link to it from here.

To edit or not?

If you are just starting out, my advice is to try to avoid editing.  With editing you add another level of complexity that you may not need or want to mess with.  If you totally flub something in your recording, it should be fairly easy to re-do the recording, especially if you are sticking to the 2-5 minute time limit.

How do I know when my video is done?

The easy answer to this is “when you have covered your topic as clearly and as efficiently (short) as possible.”  However, the definition of “done” can depend on  individual expectations.  I almost always record my videos in one take, listen to them once, then publish them to the web, warts and all.  If I notice in my listen-through that I provide incorrect information or if I am not very clear, then I may re-record the video.  A couple of “umms” and pauses won’t really harm the quality of your video, so don’t be too concerned with perfection.  I’m not trying to be Lucas or Spielberg—I’m simply trying to make content that helps students and faculty.  If I was super critical of my videos and demanded perfection, my videos would take a lot longer to produce and I might not meet my patrons’ needs in a timely manner.  In other words, I don’t think they will care if I mispronounce a word or two as long as they get their question answered.  If you think your video is bad,  you can search YouTube to find worse ones and feel a lot better about your skills.

Where should I upload?

YouTube.  But don’t stop there.  You can’t automatically assume that because you upload it to YouTube that your intended audience is going to find it.  You will need to cross post and promote your video all over the place.  Embed your videos on your libguides/research guides, your blogs, and wherever you think your audience will find it.  If you can’t embed the actual video, try to look for creative ways and place to link to the video. We even have an image link in our EBSCO database interface that links to our videos about searching EBSCO.

Our YouTube videos linked in EBSCO

But you don’t use just use YouTube, do you?

That is correct. I actually use a service called Blip.TV as well.  I started using them when YouTube was in it’s infancy because Blip had better video quality than YouTube.  This may also be covered in another blog post, but for now let’s just say I use both Blip and YouTube.  If you are just starting out, just stick to YouTube to keep things simple.

How do I promote my videos?

I have my YouTube account set to automatically Tweet my upload, which occasionally gets picked up by our official @aldenlibrary account, which can then get picked up by students, the official @ohiou account, and others.  I’ve often had pretty good success emailing a video to faculty members.  I usually tell them that I’ve been helping a lot of students with the same questions, and my video should help others with similar questions.  They are usually pretty good about forwarding the email to their students if they know it will help them find better information for their projects.  I also usually show at least one video in every class I teach, and show them the link on my blog where they can find all of my videos.  I also use a WordPress plugin to show related posts and promote the videos that way (yet another concept that should be its own post when I get around to it).

Twitter mentions in action

 What else should I know?

Hopefully by now you  have the basic knowledge needed to create your own videos.  In future posts I will address related topics such as cameras, editing, WordPress plugins, and additional resources/readings.  Stay tuned for more on the topic, but for now have fun making videos.  Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to submit one on this post.  Finally if you would like another business librarian’s take on making videos, check out Steve Cramer’s recent post on the topic.