Communication is the key to our success

The ultimate purpose of intranets is to facilitate communication. Unfortunately, present practice tends to use computer technology (ie. intranets, groupware, interactive media, or email) as the sole conduit for communication. Astute librarians will come to realize that these technologies do not replace older means of communication like face-to-face meetings, telephones, or newsletters, but supplement the communications process. Communication is the key to a librarians success and using computer technology is just one way to achieve this goal. Hopefully, future librarians will be less enamored with the "kewl" things computers can do and spend more time using computers to provide the sorts of services the profession and our clientele require.

Ladder of Understanding

Ladder of Understanding
Ladder of Understanding

The late Paul Evan Peters provided me with my framework for understanding. He compared this framework to a ladder, a Ladder of Understanding. The first rung on the ladder represents data and facts. As the data and facts are collected and organized they become information, the second rung on the ladder. The third rung is knowledge where knowledge is information internalized, put to use, and given value. The last rung is wisdom, knowledge of a timeless nature. Part of what librarianship is about is the process of enabling people to move up and down this ladder freely. This is important because the existence of intranets depends on the existence of information.


The word "intranet" has appeared in our vocabulary only withing the last few years, but the idea it denotes is all but new, namely a medium for communication. As the roots of the term suggest, intranets are loosely defined as internal networks. Their purpose, like the Internet's, is to facilitate the storage and communication of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and ideas throughout an organization.

Intranets could well have been created using networked microcomputers and protocols like Novell's IPX or Apple Computer's AppleTalk. Unfortunately, these protocols are primarily used for sharing applications and files. It wasn't until the widespread implementation of TCP/IP networking in microcomputers and the development of HTML that the concept of intranets really started to take off. Before the widespread use of TCP/IP and HTML intranets were the realm of groupware applications:

Most important, in a twist from the external to the internal, companies have discovered that the Web architecture that works so well on the Internet can work just as easily in-house--and for a lot less money than high-priced groupware products such as Lotus Notes and cousins.[1]

The creation of intranets happened because TCP/IP is a more robust and universal networking standard and HTML, unlike plain ASCII characters, is a platform independent method of rendering text with more than a modicum of formatting and document linking. Thus, any TCP/IP enabled computer equipped with a Web browser can read the documents of intranets, and consequently, very few specialized applications are needed to participate in intranets as they are currently defined.

Sidebar: Intranet Math

  1. Understanding: 1) data + organization = information, 2) information + value = knowledge, and 3) knowledge + time = wisdom
  2. Intranets: computers + networking + information = intranets
  3. Intranet librarianship: intranets + communication = librarianship

The role of libraries and librarians in the creation of intranets is not new. The literature is full of examples. Simple title searches for the word "intranet" in OPACs or even my Index Morganagus return many hits. One of the more interesting describes how a database application coupled with a Web server has proven to be an effective, interactive delivery tool.[2] "We love databases!" Another article in the same title briefly describes Microsoft's library experience with the creation of an intranet.[3]

As Shakespeare may (or most likely not) have said, "But networked computers equipped with HTML browsers does not an intranet make." You need information, organized sets of data, in order to complete the intranet equation. Typically, the information found on intranets are internal memos, policies, institutional announcements, and other information pertaining to the organization the intranet serves.

Communication and communities

Even though you may have an extensive intranet complete with comprehensive sets of information, your intranet will not be a useful organizational tool unless it supports communication and fosters a sense of community. The intranet is a supplement for the other communications mediums of organizations:

As with external communities, it's a mistake to think of internal electronic community building as a replacement for company picnics or watercooler chat. Instead, think of the intranet as a new way to make the job better for the staff, and for the company to operate smarter.[4]

It is at this point when librarians can move the intranet from a mass of information to a center knowledge and understanding. This is where librarianship can make a difference as long as it stays focused on its principles. In other words, if librarians were to continue focusing their efforts on identifying information needs and facilitating methods for satisfying those needs, then librarians will play a pivotal role in intranet creation and maintenance.

Communication is the key to our success. Its the ability to listen to patrons and clients. Its the ability to internalize what was heard and echo it back. Its the ability take what was heard and use the profession's skills to foster the communication of knowledge, not simply information. The key to our success is not the technology. We sometime become too enamoured with computers and do not see the bigger picture. Remember, the computer is just the tool. The computer will change. Intranets are but one tool that can allow the profession to accomplish its goal.


  1. Garman, "From the Internet to Intranets", ONLINE v20 n3 (May 1996),
  2. Tripp and Gross, "From Static Web Pages to Interactive Information Delivery", Courier v35 n3 (Jan/Feb 1998),
  3. "Capturing and Sharing Competitive Intelligence: Microsoft's Intranet" Courier v35 n3 (Jan/Feb 1998),
  4. Dan Gillmor, "Make your intranet do more", Computerworld v32 n8 (Feb. 23, 1998).

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <>
Source: This is a pre-edited version of Eric Lease Morgan "Communication is the key to our success" Computers in Libraries 18(9):28-30, October 1998.
Date created: 1998-11-27
Date updated: 2004-11-13
Subject(s): communication; intranets;