Connecting, Linking, Training—Virtual Worlds and Library Branches

Early Saturday morning at OLA 2011 I heard from two speakers at a session on staff Intranet software packages that were used to reach out to staff at library branches. Region of Waterloo Library ( and Essex County Library ( have made many wonderful discoveries as they implemented these tools to link staff.


But the fog of information can drive out knowledge.


                                  Daniel J. Boorstin, Librarian of Congress 1975-1987

Region of Waterloo Library uses Google Sites to connect their staff. Google Sites is similar to a wiki in terms of how it can be edited. It’s free, and requires nothing more than a Google account.

Google Sites Tour








Region of Waterloo discovered the Google Sites was ideal for multi-branch libraries. Their design included a menu on the side for links to a library calendar (with booking capability), procedures, tools, forms, training, and basic branch “how-to”. Elsewhere on the page were buttons for popular and useful sites for staff.

In arranging the content for Google Sites, the library set about creating a hierarchy for the menu structure, with basic goals of “prioritize, reduce, relate.” For example, there is an All Forms menu option, with an intuitive, easily navigable structure below it. Library staff were asked how they would look for information, and the input went into the design of the site.

Commonly asked questions were gathered and answers were organized on the site. Common mistakes in branch operation were identified and these were addressed in the content. In the procedures section, screen shots of software applications were widely used. Consideration was given to how to keep the content current. The content is searchable, and efforts were made to keep the terminology consistent.

When setting up the procedures page, the library made sure that it didn’t just become a parking spot for existing procedures. Designing the site properly meant managers were forced to discuss procedures and to discover inconsistencies.

As an intranet, Google Sites was very effective in bringing the often isolated branch staff in touch with library operations. Setting up a Google Site was a great opportunity to organize critical information such that a new branch head, or new branch staff, can quickly get up to speed on branch operations.

Branch specific information included:

– description of facilities (such as where one can get water)

– schedules

– information about the computers and hardware

– sheets and forms required for branch operations

Content control is given to each branch to add resources they think are important. When one branch put up a weeding schedule (what had been weeded; what needed weeding), other branches took note and soon collaboration started on standardizing weeding schedules.

The branch specific pages took on lives of their own as staff found ways to link to usable information. Staff found themselves connecting more with other staff. Because staff were given some control over the direction of their branch page, an organic process started.

The silos of information that had existed in the past were coming down.

In this kind of environment, information gets transformed into shared knowledge and effective collaboration is more likely to flourish.

More examples followed. Staff began sharing ideas about summer reading clubs. How-to’s were built and shared.

Staff could contribute by using the Comment feature. This became a handy collaboration tool as staff could comment on each page with ideas.

Some etiquette rules were considered, and Google Sites provides some limited controls. For comments, one has to think of who is in control of comments and what to do with orphan comments where no discussion follows. Issues such as archiving comments were addressed. Google Sites, like a wiki, saves the page history.

For non-editable content, there is a link to a page with PDF files.

When content is updated on Google Sites pages, e-mail notifications are sent out automatically.

There are only three levels of access control on Google Sites: owner, collaborator, viewer. There is no page level granularity for access—these three levels apply to the entire Google Site. For sensitive information, there is a link to an external document management system with secured access.

Google Sites pros:

– out-of-the-box easy; searchable; accessible; free

Google Sites cons:

– limited file storage (100 MB; 20 MB attachment—but unlimited pages); no page level access control; inability to publish updates from outside services; no backup (Region of Waterloo had to devise some partial backup and hardcopy backup strategies)

noodle Noodle, by Vialect, Inc.

For its corporate intranet and social networking solution, Essex County Library purchased Noodle, by Vialect, Inc.


Essex County Library pays $2200/year for the software. Noodle is regularly being improved so the library believes it has made a good investment. Noodle comes with a statistics feature, so its usage can be checked for pages and features that work and for stuff that doesn’t work.

As a communications tool, Noodle is effective for administrative staff communicating to staff with information such as job postings and supply requests. The tool is also built as a social networking tool, allowing peer-to-peer communication with chat and blog functions. As was the case with Region of Waterloo Library, Essex County Library found the communication and networking tools to be a major improvement for staff working at branches, especially for branches with only a single staff person.

Noodle can be accessed at home, and Janet Woodbridge, CEO of Essex County Library, marvelled that her staff have even done supply requests at home through Noodle.

As a communication tool, Noodle allows for consistency and accessibility in information. If there are problems that need to be addressed in the library, everyone gets the same information, and there can be rapid feedback, such as when information about difficult patrons needs to be communicated.

Noodle has a People page, where staff can upload their own pictures. Those pictures are then used in the Chat function, and when indicating if people are online.

Noodle is great for building moral support. Staff can share joys and sorrows, and get immediate supportive feedback. Noodle can be used to encourage those who are new to the library. When staff request for assistance, all staff can respond.

Noodle is used to store training material and branch manuals. This material is searchable. The training material can be blogged about by staff.

Among the topics in the training section are workplace health and safety topics, such as shredder safety, which came up as a requested topic.

Staff can share ideas about programs in program blogs. By posting and sharing ideas, the CEO can get to know who the great contributors are.

Essex County Library set up a staff book blog, with staff reading the same book and being allowed to blog about it.

Numerous other blogs are available, and these are good ways of getting miscellaneous information out of filing cabinets and into searchable and accessible forms, with the opportunity for feedback and requests for enhancement built in throughout. As one staff member said, Noodle is just like Facebook, and just as easy and habit-forming.

Blog discussions have been incredibly valuable. Discussions have led to decisions, and the decisions end up in procedures manuals.

Noodle has made life easier for Essex County Library. Little improvements can easily be incorporated when staff start collaborating more. Registrations lists for programs were developed. Notification of changes to Noodle are e-mailed out. Job postings are easily accessible. For supply requests, the name of the person requesting was added to the form so staff on different shifts can more easily track supplies. Noodle is used for an IT inventory form.

Noodle has more flexibility than Google Sites. Parameters can be set on pages, controlling what can get edited to a greater degree. Essex County Library was pleased to give permission for blogging and for updating branch information by branch staff since that’s how great collaboration gets started. Staff are required to log in daily and check the What’s New section.


A Noodle staff profile page. Note the “corporate wisdom” image. A remarkable feature is the “wisdom” calculator, which is based on how many pages the staff member has looked at. The more the staff member has read on Noodle, the higher the wisdom!

At Essex County Library, paper usage has gone down. Files for forms and procedures can be downloaded as needed.

Essex County Library uses the remotely hosted version of Noodle, and thereby taps into the back-up process at the host site—an improvement over Google Sites. Noodle can also be hosted internally at the library on a server. For the library, the annual cost of Noodle is based on space used. Unused pages are deleted over time to save money. Deleting pages had the unintended consequence of reducing “wisdom” since a deleted page is subtracted from a person’s “wisdom” calculation!

When Essex County Library started with Noodle, they spent about three months setting it up and adding content. Training was done first before it was put into operation. One-on-one training was provided.

At both Region of Waterloo Library and Essex County Library there was rapid take-up among staff for these intranet and social networking tools. The staff really took to the freedom of adding content, and improved results for the library followed with the increase in collaboration and the tearing down of the information silos.

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