Library: how to organize?

Subject: Library: how to organize?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 2001 08:45:39 -0500

Gloria Etherington has been given the task of <<... organising and running a
Library for four sites. Each site will have there own documentation which
they will have to look after themselves i.e update etc. All sites will have
to do things in a similar way i.e. catalogue files, use the same document
templates etc., same tools.>>

One thing you'll have to do is find out why each site organizes its files in
a specific way. If you're lucky, you'll see an underlying pattern that
explains how people access the files. (That pattern may not be obvious, and
you may have to work with them for a while until it emerges.) Once you
understand that pattern, you can design a site structure that supports the
needs of its users. And don't forget that there are two groups of users,
each of whom may require different support: those who access the files, and
those who maintain/update them.

<<At the moment our files are kept in various ways - some by project and
some by useage of software.>>

The truly wonderful thing about online information is that the physical
location of a file has little bearing on how someone accesses it. In your
specific case, this means you have two issues to resolve: the underlying
physical structure of the files (the directories and servers they're on) and
what the user sees (the user interface). In effect, it doesn't matter at all
where a file is stored to the person looking for the file: they should be
able to get to (say) all software from the software directory, all reference
manuals from the reference page, and so on. In your case, that means you'll
probably want at least two means of access: one by project, and another by
software usage. In terms of the directories you set up to store the actual
files, the structure must be both logical (easy to understand and remember)
and efficient (easy to use) for the people who are actually responsible for
maintaining the files. Ask _them_ about their needs and how you can support

<<At the moment we find that we had to 'hunt' for what we want if we don't
know the project name and vice versa for the other files.>>

One thing that often helps is creating a short, clear checklist of all the
parameters that could be used to describe a file and using that to build an
index (manual, or in a database) of the available files. Everyone who adds a
file to the network must fill out this checklist for the new file, and hand
it to someone who can then add the file to an index based on the checklist.
Think of this as building a library's card catalogue. In fact, if you've got
a really big job ahead of you, it would make good sense to hire a graduate
student in library or archival studies to come in and set up something
effective. Increasingly often, grad students need to complete a real-world
project as part of their degree requirements, so you might be able to help a
student while simultaneously getting a well-designed file structure.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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