The Internal Communications Review Task Force (ICRTF) was asked by the Associate University Librarian for Public Services and Communications to examine how we communicate within the Libraries and how we make documents available. We also were charged to recommend new ways to accomplish these tasks. In this report we touch on various communication tools at our disposal. One additional question was asked of this Task Force: What changes are necessary to support the new organizational structure of the Libraries? To address this issue, a Communication and Culture subgroup (Rhonda Marker and Connie Wu) helped the Task Force look beyond the nuts and bolts of techniques and technologies to examine the communication culture at the Libraries.
The Communication Audit of 2004 was our primary source of information about the communication culture at Rutgers University Libraries (RUL). That examination found that a lot of good communication already is going on in the Libraries. In general people have enough information to do their jobs. In addition, the Libraries have formed effective functional groups that bring together memberships from among both staff and librarians, across organizational boundaries and across campuses. Many of these groups practice good communication techniques through timely and abundant notices of their meeting agendas, minutes, and recommendations. They also model communicating "information as you go," which informs the RUL community not only with the final result but also with important factors that went into the eventual outcome.
The Communication Audit also found that although people have enough information to do their jobs, there is not enough communication between library units to cause them to feel a part of the whole enterprise of Rutgers University Libraries. Specifically, personnel in Camden and Newark expressed a sense of isolation. To the extent that communication about other areas of the Libraries is not freely shared, if people have only the information they "need," then they risk working in isolation and will likely not extend themselves to go beyond merely what is required. Some other areas of concern identified by the Communication Audit that related to the communication culture in the Libraries were:
This Task Force does not have any easy "fixes" for a better communication culture at the Libraries. However, we have identified some of the hallmarks of an effective communication culture, which would include:
Cultural change cannot be mandated. It is difficult to "teach" a new culture. By using the twin techniques of raising awareness and modeling a more effective communication culture, we look to influence the way the Libraries work. This Task Force has tried to model more open and inclusive communication by sharing our minutes and interim documents on Sakai, by inviting Library personnel who are not on the Task Force to join our Sakai group, and by openly, and without posturing, discussing both our progress and our setbacks within the Task Force.
We have a new administrative structure and are embarking on a new Strategic Plan for the Libraries. Only by involving everyone will the Libraries be able to fulfill this ambitious vision. If we hope to get that wide participation, we need to build a communication culture that can overcome the potential barriers of geography and structure to promote camaraderie and teamwork.
An important part and often first step of communication is information gathering, finding out who is doing what. The Task Force formed a Staff Directory subgroup (John Brennan, Yasu Denda, and John Shepard) to investigate how the staff directory can be made more useful and kept more dynamically up to date and to make recommendations for an improved directory and activity roster.
The Staff Directory subgroup recommends a redesign of the RUL staff directory to provide seamless connections between and among five major separate categories of information. This "one stop shopping" approach would provide a more robust and flexible staff directory enabling people to easily locate specific information about a particular faculty/staff person, library unit, library responsibility, library committee, and subject specialty. See Appendix A: "Staff Directory Flow" for a draft of the directory's framework and links among the major categories.
The Staff Directory subgroup viewed and analyzed over 100 online staff directories at other research universities to assess the scope of the effort required to implement this recommendation. The subgroup discovered:
Although the Staff Directory subgroup did not find a working prototype of their concept, the Task Force thinks a "one-stop shopping" staff directory linking together multiple streams of information is in the best interests of the library and our patrons and should be pursued. We also realize this project will require breaking new ground, that its scope is far-reaching, and that it will require considerable programming. Therefore, we recommend initiating discussions with the committees and people (WAC, Systems) who can best advise us on the feasibility of this effort. Involving the right people now will help ensure the cost and benefits of this proposal are properly weighed against other RUL technical initiatives.
In the interim the subgroup identified three quick changes which, given proper approval, can be implemented with relatively minimal effort.
The question of how to keep the staff directory dynamically up to date was discussed by the entire Task Force. There are no mechanical, routine solutions to this problem since human input and editing are required. The Task Force believes incorporating a design feature in the staff directory that allows individuals to edit elements of their profile themselves, combined with semi-annual reminders to committee chairs and supervisors to update directory information in their areas of responsibility, will help ensure that the content of the staff directory is kept accurate and up to date.
A Virtual Spaces subgroup (Marc Foster, Sam McDonald, Roger Smith, Julie Still, Ann Watkins, Marilyn Wilt, and Julia Zapcic) studied virtual spaces used for communications at RUL and focused its investigation on email, listservs, collaborative development of documents, video conferencing, audio conferencing, and Sakai. While the subgroup did not make any formal recommendations regarding the use of wikis and blogs, the subgroup recognizes that both can be effective community building and communication tools. Sakai does include both wiki and blog tools. The subgroup recommends their further consideration for potential use for minutes, agendas, documentation, and other discussion points.
The Virtual Spaces subgroup also worked on preliminary recommendations for best practices for video conferencing meetings. See Appendix B "Sound Practices for Running Meetings Using Teleconferencing Equipment." The subgroup recognizes that there is an existing best practices web site available to RUL and its preliminary work translates to suggested enhancements or additions to this site: http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/staff/systems/pcwg/best_practices.shtml. Greater effort is needed to familiarize staff with this page's existence and use. PC Coordinators working collaboratively with area supervisors and the Libraries' Training and Learning Committee will lead the way in training staff in these areas.
The Virtual Spaces subgroup concluded that RUL faculty and staff should practice excellent email etiquette and that currently we might not be using current email applications to their best potential. Etiquette for basic drafting and replying to emails should be established, posted, and reviewed periodically. The subgroup looked at some such guidelines in use at other institutions, for example Yale University: http://www.library.yale.edu/training/netiquette/ The subgroup additionally recommends the widespread use of "cheat sheets" or guides to commonly used email applications, such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Webmail. These will be available on the PC Working Group's Best Practices web site and will help users become more efficient in managing their inbox, quotas, folders, and filters.
The Virtual Spaces subgroup discussed the use of listservs and the establishment of a centralized list of listservs. Such a composite list is indicated as "under construction" on the existing best practices website. As an organization the Virtual Spaces subgroup recommends we:
The Virtual Spaces subgroup discussed the widespread use and popularity of video conferencing equipment at RUL for meetings, and identified a number of internal communications problems related to its use.
First, there is a disconnect between videoconference end users and technical support staff, even as the use of video conferencing continues to grow at RUL. Technical support for videoconference equipment needs to be clarified. At present, a variety of staff are charged with supporting technology used in meetings, depending on location. It is often unclear to end-users who to approach for assistance. The coordinator for video conferencing, with designated staff on site, needs to be widely recognized and available for video conferencing support. Support staff and their backups should be noted in print near the equipment itself with accurate and up to date contact information.
Second, end users have varying levels of familiarity and comfort using the equipment and this has an impact on the efficiency of meetings. End users need to be independent users of the technology. Each device should have clear printed instructions with it. They should be Word documents in a binder. They can also be made available online on the BookRoom page as PDF documents. Technical support staff should review and update these documents regularly through the year. Also, technical support staff should be available to conduct training for any staff members using the video conferencing equipment for the first time, or for those who simply feel the need for a refresher.
Third, sound practices for running meetings using this technology should be developed, posted and reviewed periodically. Some basics are included in Appendix B "Sound Practices for Running Meetings Using Teleconferencing Equipment." A review and expansion of these protocols is recommended.
The Virtual Spaces subgroup recommends that audio conferencing be included in any training endeavor for the video equipment, and be seen as a back up. Should video equipment fail to be properly connected when starting a meeting, no more than ten to fifteen minutes of a scheduled meeting should expire before engaging those present by audio teleconferencing. Audio conferencing meeting practices and protocols should follow closely those developed for video conferencing.
Small-scale meetings can possibly be handled by local PC based software such as "GoToMeeting" and similar PC based meeting technology. The subgroup's initial opinion is that these software programs are good for small groups or subgroups of less than 5, and not for larger, regular meetings. There are versions that are tailored more toward a seminar-type scenario, where participation is limited to audio commentary via the Internet or a phone connection. This may have some application to our work but large meetings/lectures are better attended in person.
With committees composed of members from the three campuses, the capability of working collaboratively on reports and other documents is important. While some collaboration is already taking place, creating group documents often involves travel, phone calls, and extensive emailing. Making the committee members' participation more effective would save time and reduce frustration.
It is possible to increase this effectiveness with tools that are already available. Libraries staff routinely use Word 2000 that includes the "track changes" function. When committee members respond to a document, they can use "track changes" to record their revisions and comments. Other members can easily identify the changes and add their own remarks. The editor of the document can accept the changes with a keystroke. In Word 2003, the "track changes" function has been expanded as the "shared workspace" option.
Documents may be shared with committee members by transmitting them as email attachments or by uploading to the "Resources" tool on the individual's or the group's Sakai site. With either method, editing and commenting abilities are maintained in the Word document. "Track changes" in Word and the document sending options are easy to use and could be employed successfully with a short training sessions or a "how-to" guide.
A member of the Task Force reported on a positive experience using Google's free web-based word processing program while collaborating on a document with a colleague outside of Rutgers. The Task Force recommends RUL conduct a trial of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which allows for keeping track of different versions of files sent over email and sharing changes in real-time: http://www.google.com/google-d-s/b1.html
Sakai is in the early stages of adoption and development at Rutgers, but is highly recommended by the Task Force as an effective internal communication tool. It is already being used in some RUL working groups, including this task force, to share discussion items and draft documents. In our opinion this software holds great promise to keep small group work moving ahead between face-to-face meetings. Midway through our deliberations, we reconfigured our RUL ICR Task Force Sakai site to permit public viewing of our documents, to permit others to join the site, and to include our site on the public sites list. Approximately ten RUL staff joined the site. We also experimented with a Chat session in Sakai.
Task Force members discussed our use of Sakai and its potential as a resource and communication tool at a special videoconferenced meeting with Emily Corse, Senior Programmer Administrator in the Dean's Office on the Camden Campus. Emily Corse increased our understanding of various aspects of Sakai including these highlights:
The prompt to email to all participants in Announcements is a key feature of Sakai. It pushes information to people and keeps them coming back into the site. Emily Corse advised the task force that project or course management software that lacks this "push" feature and require participants to actively go to a site are generally doomed to failure.
Based on the Task Forces' use and study of Sakai, we think a key communication feature is the ability to handle message boards. While ideally discussions on Sakai will run themselves, editorial control over discussions on message boards and of documents posted in draft form require a commitment on the part of the administrator of a particular Sakai web site to assure accurate information is maintained. Some important considerations and best practices for moderating a Sakai site closely mirror those for listservs:
The primary functions of the Staff Resources web pages are to:
Another subgroup (Judy Gardner and Sam McDonald) investigated how to improve the functionality and use of the Staff Resources web pages. This subgroup also discussed two related issues: the need expressed by department heads and others for departmental web pages outside of Staff Resources, and confusion reported by staff when they try to locate resources on the NBL and/or RUL web site. To address these concerns, the Staff Resources subgroup first recommends that we:
This subgroup decided to frame its remaining recommendations for improving the Staff Resources web pages in the form of proposed guidelines and specifications for the pages. The guidelines describe how new departmental, area, functional, cross-departmental, or administrative unit top-level categories may be added to the web pages; how pages layouts can be customized with unique categories, sub-sections, and headings; which content formats and types of documents are acceptable; and how to submit and maintain files. See Appendix C, "Guidelines and Specifications for Staff Resources Web Pages."
Many of the areas discussed in this report fall within the purview of existing groups and individuals at RUL. The Task Force recommends we coordinate our internal communication efforts more fully. For example, the PC Working Group might promulgate best practices that supervisors will in turn integrate into job expectations and the Training and Learning Committee will introduce into periodic training sessions.
The Task Force does not envision ongoing oversight of internal communications assigned to one individual in the organization. Additionally, we recognize the limits of simply making tools available, writing policies, and making recommendations to improve communication. We believe that the most effective way to ensure excellent internal communications is for individuals at all levels of the organization to assume individual responsibility for modeling and practicing the culture of communication we described.
We also suggest the following steps to help advance the specific recommendations made by the subgroups: