On October 3rd, myself and a handful of other Faculty of Information students toured the Globe and Mail Resource Center and Photo Archive. Our tour guides were Celia Donnelly, Department Head, and Marjan Farahbaksh, senior employee and FI graduate.
The thing that impresses me still, five days after the fact, is the quality of the computer resources Celia and Marjan showed us. The Globe and Mail uses a lot of really cool software to keep track of their daily intellectual output.
Each day’s photos are stored in a computer database. The front end of the database is browsable, meaning someone could sit down and navigate through a random assortment of whatever images happen to have been submitted to the Photo Archive on a given day. Descriptive metadata is added by a technician (currently an FI student held over from a temporary Summer gig while the regular employee is on maternity leave).
The metadata makes it possible to search for photos by any of a number of different parameters, which means the Photo Archive can, in many cases, easily respond to reference requests for images of specific things, or requests for information about which images actually ran in the paper. Unfortunately, Celia explained, due to organization-wide staffing cuts (resulting from general shrinkage in the newspaper sector), there’s never enough time in the day to describe every photo. C’est la vie.
Even more impressive than the photo archive software was the Globe and Mail’s brand new (barely a month old!) internal knowledge sharing system. The whole thing is built on Microsoft Sharepoint (which Marjan strongly urges students to familiarize themselves with).
It’s difficult for me to describe the capabilities of this system in detail, because it’s basically a protean thing, with the ability to add and shed features depending on organizational need. The Globe has theirs configured to give every internal department its own webpage (essentially a wiki), for employees to share useful job-related information on. The Resource Center’s site, for example, had pages and pages of instructions for answering different kinds of complicated reference queries. In this way, the system allows the knowledge of individuals to flow out to all their colleagues.
There were also some interesting collaborative file-sharing features we didn’t get to see much of. Marjan claimed that with the system, it would eventually be possible for multiple individuals across multiple departments to collaborate on a story contained in a single, centrally-stored directory. There is a word for that, and that word is: neato.
The whole thing was customized, branded with The Globe’s logo and the logos of all the participating departments. It looked slick.
I wonder if there’s any open source software out there with similar functionality. Has anyone ever seen or used any?
In any case, all our thanks to Celia and Marjan.