Intranets and Special Libraries:
Making the Most of In-house Communication
James A. LaMee
April 30, 2002
Table of Contents
The Special Library Connection
Value Added: Special Librarians and Intranets
Planning the Intranet
The Information Center Website
Intranets, Special Libraries, and Copyright
What is an intranet? Why should libraries, particularly special libraries have an interest in intranets and intranet communication? How are intranets useful in a library setting? What is required to implement an intranet in a special library setting? Who should be in charge of managing an intranet in a special library setting? What features should be included? How does the library website fit into the intranet?
All of these questions will be addressed in the following document. There is no one way to design and implement an intranet. However, the special library or information center should be a prominent part of a corporate intranet because Library and Information Science professionals understand information and information communication.
An intranet is a network inside an organization that uses Internet technologies (such as web browsers and servers, TCP/IP protocols, HTML hypermedia document publishing and databases, and so on) to provide an Internet-like environment within the enterprise for information sharing, communications, collaboration, and the support of business processes (O'brien, 252). The intranet is used by members of the organization and access is limited by the use of one or more security techniques. The security measures typically used are ...passwords, encryption, and fire walls (Ibid, 253).
This definition is only part of describing an intranet. Intranets brought to fruition the concept of knowledge management (Srikantaiah & Koenig, 26). The creation, collection, dissemination, and processing of information can now be done with much greater ease and has brought about many changes in the way organizations do business (Ibid, 27). Information is the key element and who understands information better than a Library and Information Science specialist.
The Special Library Connection
Librarians can play a major role in developing the content of successful Intranets (Saunders, 18). Library and Information Science (LIS) professionals have the experience, knowledge and ability to handle the information needs of organizations. They collect, classify, organize, index, distribute, store, and otherwise manipulate information. They can create and publish information. All of these skills are needed by organizations/corporations that recognize that the information held by their employees and residing in their computers is of immense value. That information is most valuable if it can be easily retrieved when needed. LIS professionals perform all the tasks that make this possible.
Corporate libraries and information centers as well as law, medical, and subject specific libraries are natural users and or creators of intranets because an intranet allows LIS professionals to market information and library services to everyone in the intranet. According to Darlene Fichter, Intranets provide an unprecedented opportunity for establishing the library's prescence on every desktop in the corporation and providing time-sensitive and audience specific content (Fichter, 1999).
Using commonly available technology, intranets allow libraries to survey their audience and collect the results electronically. The special librarian can then use this information to meet the needs of users in the intranet. The information professional may then use the intranet to provide information access, online training, and information dissemination, the basics of knowledge management.
Value Added: Special Librarians and Intranets
LIS professionals bring key core competencies into the use and management of intranets. These core competencies are:
1.) ability to identify critical information (critical evaluation),
2.) ability to organize information for access (indexing),
3.) ability to package information (abstracting and publishing), and
4.) knowledge and skill in information dissemination (document delivery). (SLA)
The LIS professional brings other valuable skills and abilities to the operation of an intranet. The LIS professional can provide technology, project management, people management, budgeting, political, and technical skills to the creation and use of an intranet (Griffiths, 19-21). Creating an intranet in conjunction with the information technology staff or improving the special library prescence on an existing intranet is a worthy and achievable goal. The following steps are a path to implementing an intranet.
Planning the Intranet
What specifically does the organization want the intranet to accomplish? Existential expectations will focus on developing individuals and the organization. Technical expectations will focus on better, faster, cheaper with hardware implementation and application. Do you want the widest possible use of the intranet throughout the organization? The more people using the intranet the more empowered the users feel (Telleen, 1). These decisions are important and determine future decisions about the intranet and the organization.
Decide who will be in charge and to whom they will report. Will the leadership be shared, but divided on content and technology lines? The LIS professional should move toward content management, if not being the overall leader.
There is much information available on choosing equipment, and pricing is competitive. The intranet will require at least one client server (computer), router, and possibly one or more hubs and a multiplexer. The individual design will depend on the number of computers that will be connected and their distance from the intranet client server. A broadband/fast connection to the Internet is recommended. The client server will need a fast processor and a lot of RAM in order to manage content, graphics, and numbers of users.
No central server is required for relatively small LAN (local area network) systems operating on a peer-to-peer basis. Larger LANs and WANs (wide area networks) will require a central server.
The central server will need a network operating system (NOS) to coordinate the intranet. Microsoft, Novell, Sun Microsystems, and Apple all produce software capable of running an intranet (O'Brien, 153-154). The choice of software at this level will depend largely on what systems are already present and how well the current systems can be integrated into a new intranet network. Operating systems for peer-to-peer networks include LANtastic, Windows for Workgroups, and Personal Netware (Saunders, 150).
Application software may also be needed on the remote desktops to make them equally operable on the intranet. Office suite software is available from several providers. The primary connection tool from one computer to another is the web browser and there are a number of browser applications that allow the relatively inexperienced to create documents that will be web accessible. HTML, XML, and Java are all being used for web applications. Web application software is under constant development and research should be done during planning in order to make the best choice. One choice available is to let people use whichever browser (Win. Explorer or Netscape) they prefer and put the responsibility on the document creator to make the document work on either browser.
Security software will also be needed for the network server, a firewall. A firewall should protect the server and the intranet from outside attack.
The planning group should make decisions that encourage wide use and ease of access for all members of the organization. The group should establish some brief guidelines for quality and quantity, but otherwise set no barriers that serve to restrict interested users from publishing and communicating on the intranet (Telleen, 10).
Rules about use should be kept to a minimum and designed to help everyone perform well and achieve appropriate goals. All corporate regulations about harassment, good taste, and confidentiality should apply (Telleen, 11). With that said the following rules ought to be required. First, every page should have the author's name on it. Second, every page should have the date of last revision posted. Third, a means of contacting the author should be posted on every page (Ibid). It is also a good idea to label each page with the level of confidentiality (Ibid).
Documents that are officially produced by the organization should be clearly marked, identified, and have a confidentiality label. Those documents could also be identified with some unique formatting (Ibid).
Adoption and Awareness
Finally, issues related to adopting this communication standard should be discussed in seminars/training sessions and workshops. All employees should have access to e-mail and company communication through the intranet. Employees may need to be taught some computer skills in order to facilitate their access to organization communication, e-mail, and intranet resources (Ibid).
Training workshops for document writers, editors, and publishers should be offered in the beginning and periodically. Organization members will have a wide variety of experience with computers, and some will need much more training and practice to increase their ability and confidence with using the intranet (Telleen, 12-14).
The Information Center Website
The information center needs a good website. There are many good books and articles out there on website design. If money allows, website design can be contracted to a web design firm. However, if you are elected to design the page, remember you can do it, and as you gain experience you can make it better. A good starting place is finding and studying the designs of award winning websites. A quick look at a search engine should locate some sites.
There are some key elements to good design. First, is the three click rule. Most users will not continue to search for information if it is further than three clicks from the home page. Organize the site to make it no further than three clicks deep. Second, keep graphics to a minimum in order to keep download time short. Images can be shrunk to sizes that work well with homepage. Warn users about large files, then they can choose whether they want the information or not. Third, remember small is beautiful. The homepage should be no more than two screens in length, because some users may not scroll down enough (or at all) and will miss some information. Fourth, if the site is too flashy it will be a distraction. Movement and gimmicky pages are likely to detract from the purpose of the website. (Griffiths, 78-82)
Now that what to avoid has been listed, there are some good features that should be included. This following is a list of things that should be included. However, the more features included, the more details that will have to be managed. Websites should be updated regularly and reworked about every six months to a year. Links should be checked weekly and deleted if non-functioning.
1. Bookmarks: The Special Library provides a selection of useful bookmarks to other websites. These are chosen based on the needs of the user community. (Griffiths, 84)
2. Practical Information: Give the information center's address, phone number, and a map (Ibid).
3. Training Information: Recommend training opportunities and provide training materials as time permits. Links to information about training can be provided, but be careful about copyright concerns. (Griffiths, 84)
4. Site Map: A site map clearly identified on the homepage is a quick way for user's to find what they need. (Ibid)
5. Online Catalog: An online catalog helps your users find what they need quickly. All books, journals, etc. should be listed. Links to online databases and journals should be provided here. (Griffiths, 85)
6. Librarian Availability: Let your users know that you will answer questions through e-mail. Their questions may lead to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. (Griffiths, 85)
Following these do's and don'ts will help get a website up and running. The key to a really good website is to refine it continually. Always be thinking about how to make it better and more widely used. The more it is accessed the better, particularly if the same users are coming back again and again and bringing new users with them.
Intranets can have a wide range of capabilities. An intranet may begin with simple information sharing, but as the intranet grows and user's gain a better since of how it can benefit the organization, then it becomes more active in the manipulation of information. In later stages of development it will be capturing and disseminating information, enabling the flow of work, reducing costs, and maximizing the collaborative work of the organization (Head, 5-6).
The intranet increases functionality when file management (databases), print management, bulletin boards, and directory abilities are added. Some best features to include on the Information Center website have been listed. The Intranet, as a whole, also needs to include certain functions and abilities. The following features may increase the intranets usability.
1. Shared Access to Documents: this is the defining feature of an intranet. Documents should be saved in a standard format to eliminate compatibility problems (Baca, 1).
2. Controlled Access: Intranets should be password protected. Proprietary information and human resource information should be carefully protected. Consider having different levels of access. All information should not be accessible to every employee. (Bacca, 1)
3. Events Calendar, Scheduler: This should be centralized to help keep everyone informed and on the same page (Bacca, 2).
4. Intranet Search Engine: The best organized site can still use a search engine for locating information. A keyword search may be the fastest way to find the information needed. Search fields and go buttons take very litttle space. (Bacca, 2)
5. Address Book: An organization address book with employee, vendor, and client contact information is a helpful addition. Batch e-mail becomes very easy. It can also be cost effective (save on paper and update time). (Ibid)
6. Task Management: Managers can use the intranet to assign tasks, reassign tasks, and prioritize the duties of their employees. Responsibilities can be shifted or deadlines can be given or changed. (Ibid, 3)
Intranets, Special Libraries, and Copyright
In the special library, the LIS professional becomes the key figure in dealing with copyright concerns. The LIS professional must know and understand copyright law and how it impacts the organizational intranet. All persons creating documents for the intranet must know the basics of copyright law and follow it (this is another good reason for the author's name to be on all documents). Information properly cited can be used. The information professional will need to teach a copyright law workshop regularly.
A review committee could be created with persons who understand the basics of copyright. All documents submitted for publishing on the intranet could be reviewed by the committee, and if problems arose the author could be consulted before posting the document on the intranet.
Making photocopies of articles and printing out articles from databases could also be areas where copyright might be abused. The information professional will cover this topic in the workshop as well. Also, a link to copyright issues could be placed on the information center homepage. The LIS professional might provide information about copyright issues on the intranet with emphasis given to individuals who wish to publish on the intranet.
The LIS professional will facilitate some key services from the Information Center. The basic services are maintaining the core collection of appropriate information for the organization. Acquiring new information that fits the interests of the organization and organizing that information to make it easily accessible and retrievable. The information may be in the form of books, journals, databases, field notes, lab notes, memos, etc. In addition to these basic services the LIS professional may add or facilitate some or all of the following services.
Project Collaboration is the process of assisting more than one person or group to work together on a project or document. Documents can be made available to others at any stage of their life cycle. The documents may be archived at various points in their development process. Online working, through videoconferencing, instant messaging, or discussion group technology are all part of project collaboration.
Communities of Interest are groups working on related issues in different offices or locations. The LIS professional can facilitate a single virtual presence to groups with a common interests or concerns. E-mail can be used to access subject experts across the intranet.
Discussion Groups tend to be more informal than a project collaboration group. They are facilitated through a list-serve or a chat room arrangement. Ideas can be exchanged and creative thinking is encouraged. These may require some moderation on the part of the LIS professional to remind users of policy issues, like no commercial messages or no crude language, and to keep the discussion focused on topics related to the organization.
Internal Newsletters can be published and posted to every computer station. Re-printed articles and illustrations/photographs will need copyright approval. Digital cameras used in-house can quickly cover many photography needs.
On-line Training can be provided through the intranet. This is best if broken down into short units of ten-fifteen minutes. CD-Roms, DVDs, and videostreaming can be used to teach a wide variety of subjects. (Griffiths, 164-167)
LIS professionals have the skills in working with information, communication, and project management that make them a good fit for leadership roles in the design and implementation of an organizational intranet, however, an intranet is not static. The LIS professional must stay abreast of the changes in intranet design and use. Changes in the organization and it's information needs will require the LIS professional to revise and adapt the intranet and information center. The programs and resources that are working well today will become obsolete and will need to be changed. The organization's mission or business may change in response to forces in industry. As these things occur the LIS professional will respond to the new opportunities and challanges. The need for intranets may decrease in time, but the pace of change in our world will only create a larger need for the competent LIS professional.
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Prepared by James A. LaMee for CLIS J724. Author contact: email@example.com