Collaboration in the workplace and beyond

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Kathryn Millis, Reference Librarian and Government Documents Coordinator, DePauw University Libraries

Bill Helling, Head of Reference/Local History, Crawfordsville District Public Library

Emily Griffin, Reference/Local History Librarian, Crawfordsville District Public Library

Sharing work materials, whether paper or electronic, has never been impossible, but the difficulties in creating easy access for multiple users while managing version control have made most sharing attempts problematic. The advent of enhanced online sharing helped, and now Google Apps have the potential to transform collaboration. What remains is for us to develop suitable and efficient ways to take advantage of these new capabilities. In this session, learn how an academic library and a public library have experimented with Google Apps to facilitate shared data input, scheduling, and collaboration in the workplace (and beyond it) using Google Docs, Calendar, and more.

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  •   SUMMARY of program: Sharing work materials, whether paper or electronic, has never been impossible, but the difficulties in creating easy access for multiple users while managing version control have made most sharing attempts problematic. The advent of enhanced online sharing helped, and now Google Apps have the potential to transform collaboration. What remains is for us to develop suitable and efficient ways to take advantage of these new capabilities.  In this session, learn how an academic library and a public library have experimented with Google Apps to facilitate shared data input, scheduling, and collaboration in the workplace (and beyond it) using Google Docs, Calendar, and more. 
  • In our reference department, because of our scheduling, staff members do not always get to work directly with each other on their several common tasks. As you suspect, shared responsibilities call for cooperation -- if not active collaboration. For example, we all perform indexing duties of the local newspaper, often on the same day.  Some of us are also responsible for blogging and tweeting for the library -- at the risk of repeating or forgetting blogs and tweets.  We all need access to the same departmental forms to finish work, such as submitting items to be cataloged.   And as a group task we all add to a collection development list.
  • We easily moved from the days when we simply passed around paper to when we began to carry around electronic files on diskette or on other portable media. Collaboration via sneakernet was never satisfactory, however.  The diskettes could easily be lost or damaged, and transfer of electronic data depended on how fast -- or how slowly -- one person carried a diskette to another.   No real-time collaboration was involved. Each document had an original owner with the latest version. Multiple variant files do not aid accuracy and productivity.
  • When we eventually moved to sharing files via e-mail, all seemed better, but actually the same types of issues remained.  Files were sent or not sent to the right or wrong person in a timely or delayed fashion.  There was still no real-time collaboration.   And someone still seemed to own an original  from which mutants were born forever after.
  • Sharing the same files on a server seemed like an excellent way to overcome the risk of variation.  On our local network we could all have access to the original files --  But  only one staff member could edit at a time, so collaboration was delayed.  Access was only while onsite.  Most aggravating of all, however, were the times when the server was not available because of hardware or software issues.
  • If staff members could not access the files they needed, important work was left undone.  Those who had the ability to restore server functionality were not always present when needed.
  • We finally decided to experiment with Google Docs in order to overcome the previously mentioned obstacles to collaboration. At CDPL, we now actively use Google Spreadsheets, Documents, and Presentations on a daily basis.
  • The advantages to using Google Docs was immediately obvious. Because all staff members were already familiar with Microsoft Office, the transition to Google Docs -- with its similar look and feel -- was easy.   We did not need to install any software, and thus IT intervention was unnecessary.   Staff members could work from the computer of their choice now, as long as they had Internet access.   Staff members were able to work in the same document at the same time while viewing changes made by the others -- and they could also communicate with the chat feature.   The date and time of the last update was no secret, and we know who accessed the file last.   Very important was the fact that we had access to previous versions of the file, and we could go back when needed.
  • The reference and local history department uses Google Docs for many daily tasks. These include the indexing of our daily newspapers. We index vital statistics and community events.   We also use a spreadsheet to schedule our posts to our two blogs and Twitter account.     Each staff member can suggest items for purchase and view others' suggestions in our Collection Development spreadsheet.
  • We've discovered many benefits of using Google spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are user-friendly and convenient.  If you've used Excel, spreadsheets will look familiar, but with improved features.  For example, you can spell check as you type with "on the fly" feature.  Easily format columns by using the insert, delete, and sort functions. We've seen improved collaboration in our department.  We can insert comments and questions within each others' cells.  Because we can all see each others' contributions on the sheets, we avoid duplicating work.  For example, we can see what event we are blogging, which staff member plans to post, and the deadline date.  We're completing tasks more efficiently.  Because we can work on Google docs at any computer and any location, we are getting our work done faster and easily uploading it to our online databases for use by our patrons.
  • The spreadsheet is not without issues.  Known issues are those that Google is aware of and is currently working on.   Known issues include browser incompatibility.  Some functions, such as inserting date and time, do not work in Google Chrome. You can overwrite your saved changes if more than one form editing window is open. At CDPL, we've found that we can create formatting issues for each other...
  • Because these are collaborative spreadsheets, inconsistencies will occur. One staff member can change the format of an entire column.  In this case, you can see that date formats are inconsistent. 
  • We also use documents for forms and research.  A few of those documents are the Local History Submission form that we use for recent additions, Spanish language card application, and we prefer to use documents for various research and papers.
  • We've found the easy access to our documents are true benefit of using Google documents. Each staff member has instant access to the most recent forms available at any computer and any location.  We avoid using outdated forms and chasing after paper forms in office drawers and locked workrooms. We can receive instant feedback on our research from colleagues. We can work on our own research and our daily tasks while we sit at the reference desk.  We do not have to worry about carrying around a thumb drive or signing into our remote desktop.  All we have to do is sign into our Google account.
  • Again, Google docs is not perfect.  We've experienced issues when using documents. Known issues include image size limits,  web browser incompatibility (this time with with Safari), and footnote inconsistencies when the file is exported. At CDPL, we've found it inconvenient that we cannot copy and paste images or edit images as we did in Word.  We miss the right-click function for formatting and quick reference. We've also found that we sometimes lose layout when we upload Word files with text boxes.
  • As you can see, Google Docs did not maintain the layout of our converted Word document. This does not happen with each document.
  • We use Google Docs presentations for staff tutorials on local history research, reference duties, and library technology.   For example, I have contributed a tutorial about online searching for reference services.
  • Staff members create tutorials in their area of expertise and instantly share updated information with the entire department.  For example, we have tutorials on how to look up birth records and death records, a common request from our patrons. We like that we can access the tutorials from anywhere.  We can learn new skills at our own pace and at our convenience.  It is a major improvement over paper updates that were getting misplaced or were simply "not there" when you needed them. Group presentations can come together faster.
  • There are still image size limitations in presentations. We've experienced some disadvantages in presentations.  Although we can chat in presentation mode, we cannot chat with each other as we are actually editing the presentation. We cannot copy and paste images or edit them once they are inserted into a slide. There are visual differences between uploaded powerpoint files and presentation files. There are also inconsistencies between editing view and presentation view.
  • Newer powerpoint files lose text boxes and images once they've been converted to a presentation.
  • You know that saying What you see is what you get?  With Google Docs, that is NOT the case. A slide can look exactly as you want it to on editing mode and then completely different in presentation mode.  Often, lined-up columns will be askew once you view the presentation.
  • Anyone involved with cloud computing will have some of the same concerns. Google Docs does encounter errors that prevent you from opening or saving a doc.  Fortunately, the problems are usually brief and self-correcting. We have never lost any access for long, and no work has ever disappeared.   But will Google Docs ever disappear? And will it always be free? We have all experienced the passage or transformation of what were once considered safe and secure services.
  • But the advantages make any risk worth it. It did not take long for us to realize that Google Docs, in spite of our having to make some adjustments, led to increased productivity and easier collaboration. And not just in our library . . .
  • Our staff is stretched thin, and our shifts do not always overlap enough for us to work with each other in the library. Some of us enjoy being able to check on projects from offsite and also work with our colleagues in the same way.
  • Collaboration beyond the workplace does not just depend on desktop computers, however.  We expect to be able to use our mobile devices to enjoy web services, and Google Docs viewers exist for many types of these devices.  Capabilities depend on the device, of course, but the future looks promising.
  • Using an iPod Touch, for example, we can view our shared docs and edit without having to be tied to a traditional computing device.
  • The authors developed this presentation using Google Docs from various locations at various times.  This was our first Google Docs presentation, which came together  much faster and much easier than if we had to collaborate in any other way.
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