Collaborating, Hearing Voices, and Participating from Afar

Memorial Day Weekend was very soggy in Texas. Fortunately for me, most of my planned activities translated well to the covered porch at the family lakehouse. I was not able to get sunburned or swim, but that can be savored another time.

Last week, after completing my third meeting over chat, I came to the conclusion that I like collaborating online better then I do face to face in most instances. I have yet, in my career (a short but busy career so far), to present or collaborate on a major project with someone in my same library or in my same town. I would much rather have a meeting over IM then a conference call on the phone. I do like to talk on the phone, but for business, I prefer IM. I think the transcripts are what attract me to IM. However, I know it exposes my inability to type dreadfully. For groups, IM is still my preferred meeting style.

There are times when a voice over the phone or VoIP is a beautiful thing. I remember with clarity Jason Griffey and I testing our audio equipment for his talk on for Five Weeks to a Social Library (scroll down to Presentations). I had not seen Jason since Midwinter, a lapse of a few weeks, and hearing his voice in the OPAL room made me smile in a tooth showing I miss my friend kinda way. I had a similar experience while listening to Dave give a talk on Podcasting for ACRL.

As ALA approaches and my meeting schedule starts filling up, I am again dismayed at the number meetings for which a few emails, a blog post, and an IM chat could suffice to reduce the meeting in length or the need for it at all. It seems like we beat this poor horse every. single. year. The good news is that there are groups trying to increase the amount of online participation available to members. One of my IGs has some fun plans for Annual in this area (more coming soon), but we are no where near a critical mass for change.

If you are the chair of an ALA (or any other org for that matter) committee or interest group, what is your committee doing to decrease reporting time during meetings or conduct business online? If you have only considered making changes to your group’s workflow, make a change today. Do something different.

In BIGWIG, the Blog and Wiki IG in LITA which runs the Lita Blog, we conduct almost all of our business and planning on wikis, on blogs, and over chat. Our meetings are more for idea generating then anything else and we have beignets. I was on an ACRL committee, which I will officially be off as of this June, and I am leaving because the entire work of the committee could be done by creating a collaborative wiki.

Again, I ask: If you are the chair or member of an ALA committee how can/could you do your committee’s work differently?

–Jane, wants to build a better ALA

16 thoughts on “Collaborating, Hearing Voices, and Participating from Afar

  • May 29, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    I got my ACRL task force to use a wiki. And, some of the work for my committee appointment is done in the wiki (which is nice, because I have a virtual appointment there).

    The task force wasn’t easy — I created the space, and invited everyone and offered to help out, but there was a general lack of excitement. Folks eventually came to use it, I;m guessing because the came to see that it was *useful* to them and carried a tiny learning curve. I’m trying to figure out how to get that point across more easily in the future, since I see it as the key — technology innovations need to offer an advantage over other means for hesitant folks to try them….

    ALA does not have it’s own wiki spaces, though. Adoption and persuasion would be much easier if they did!

  • May 29, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I like the link to a published Google Spreadsheet… you didn’t mention it, but that’s actually a great platform to get people started collaborating who might be new to the collaborative space, but familiar with spreadsheets (or docs)… The simultaneous editing is a particularly common “wow” moment for many people – not to mention the “discuss” (chat) tab in spreadsheets…

  • May 29, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    As I am in a non-frustrated mood today, it made me chuckle that the petition to get the “Virtual Communities and Libraries” established requires you to print out, sign, and mail the form to the ALA committee.

    The PLA committee that I am on does very little virtual work. I will ask about any plans to change that at our meeting at annual.

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  • May 29, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    I second Jason’s awwwww. Can’t wait to see you guys at Annual if you get a minute between meetings. 😉

  • May 30, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Because I am so remote from ALA the only way I can participate is virtually.

    My NMRT committee started a wiki this year which was underutilised, but I will be looking at its purpose and role for next year. Another committee I was on used Yahoo Groups which I really dislike.

    Locally, here in Australia most of the committees I have been on met by teleconference. This was painful because it had to be scheduled during work, and most participants didn’t have an office so it was disruptive for participants and co-workers. They haven’t yet allowed (!) wikis and the chat room uses proprietary software. On the plus side, no committees require conference attendance to join.

    There must be a happy medium between the two.

  • May 30, 2007 at 8:10 am

    I must say that you all made my morning by taking some action in your various committees. *All* it takes sometimes are enough people questioning the status quo.

  • May 30, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I was quite happy to see how some of the EL groups utilized online tools, and it’s certainly helpful to now have these models to show others (exactly as you are doing here). I hope you’ll blog more about your actual experiences (what worked, what didn’t, the tools, what you were able to accomplish virtually, did everyone in your group feel the same way, etc.) either here, on the LITA blog, or on the TechSource blog. We could really use some “how we done it good” details. (And this is the royal “you” – any of you, anywhere – as this should not fall only to Jane!)

    Since we finally have some folks doing this instead of just talking about doing it, can we advance the discussion to how to replicate it with committees and a national organization? Needless to say, I am really looking forward to your EL group’s final project! 🙂

  • May 30, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Jane, thanks for punting. I took on the related political-strategy perspective over at FRL. Change CAN happen.

  • May 30, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I’ve been involved with NMRT for years, and they’ve always conducted the majority of their committee work online. It’s become easier over the last few years, especially now that ALA is supporting wikis, which are excellent collaborative tools.

    I’m VP of NMRT this year, and one of my presidential initiatives is a series of leadership talks presented completely online. Many of our members don’t receive funding to attend conferences, so they can’t benefit from our conference programs. Broadcasting online is the only way to reach them with this content. As far as I know, we’d be the first group within ALA to do such a thing, so keep your fingers crossed that they have the technological capability to handle it. (If they don’t, I may work with OPAL to make it happen…)

    We’ve also transitioned our clunky, web-based, rarely-updated NMRT Handbook to a wiki, which should keep it more current. Some of the committees’ pages haven’t been updated since 2000 because the ALA CMS is such a pain to work with.

    I’m also planning to put together a virtual version of the ALA orientation program that NMRT presents at each conference. That way, people who are unable to attend the program can access the information, especially the information about divisions and roundtables of ALA.

    NMRT and its members are trying our best to innovate and encourage online participation. I think it helps that we’re all librarians who are new to ALA, so we’re not entrenched in one particular way of doing things. If you’re not familiar with the status quo, it’s so much easier to go against it!

  • May 30, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Nanette, I’d love to chat with you about what you want to do. ALA’s ITTS department has been investigating online meeting options, but it’s been on the back burner the last couple of months because of the CMS migration, a looming migration of our blogs and wikis, database updates, computer replacement cycle, etc. (I won’t bore you with the long list). Maybe you could be a test case for us on some of this.

    In regards to the leadership talks, maybe we can involve LAMA ( or an Emerging Leaders project to help, too. And we’ll be launching a new video channel soon through American Libraries, so we could help disseminate content for you.

    I also have this idea I’ve been toying with to build a theme park on our half of ALA/Arts Island. Each ride would be a unit/division/piece/whatever that you go through in order to make it more fun (and experiential) to learn about. I haven’t fully fleshed out the idea, but I think it could help with the learning curve. I mean, have you seen our organization chart?!

  • June 8, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    I wrote this before I read your piece above (yes, I’m way behind with my blog reading). The complaint about the amount of face-to-face work which can be done via social web tools does seem to be making its rounds about the Internet ether.

    I think there is grassroots movement to change how the committees do business — at least I’m trying to get committees I’m involved with to change their working styles.

    I really do think the resistance is coming from the fear of adding more work to one’s life. I does take time and effort to keep up and the task is endless.

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