From Web Surfer to Web Master in 60 Days
Oregon Zoo, Portland OR
It all began with the Green Team. The Green Team is made up of a representative from each department at the zoo. Its mission is to find ways for the zoo to cut back, recycle, and save resources. Its goal for the docent/volunteer division of the zoo, the Oregon ZooGuides, to save resources by creating a web site for the use of ZooGuides only.
Every month the ZooGuide office sends out a paper newsletter. The newsletter averages 20 pages and is sent to over 450 addresses. If you multiply 20 pages times 12 months by 450 copies, that is 180,000 pages…a LOT of paper! The goal for the web site is to cut this amount of paper usage in half.
In the spring of 2001, two representatives from the Green Team met with a committee of ZooGuides made up of a ZooGuide who works one day a week in the volunteer office (me), and ZooGuides who were experienced web site programmers. A web design was drawn up and a first page was created. And that was the extent of the work done over a period of two years. Meetings met with little success as the experienced web site designers/programmers had insufficient time in their personal lives to work further on the job. Everyone was frustrated.
In the spring of 2003, I was approached by the chair of the Green Team and asked what I thought needed to happen. I replied that I guess I’d better learn web site software and get the job done. The Chairperson was very excited and even offered me the assistance of an intern in the zoo’s Marketing Department to get me started. I had time for one meeting with Lisa and we set the date of June 1 for the web site to be on-line and ready for ZooGuides to use. I then promptly came down with severe pneumonia.
During my recovery, while I was not able to make the commute from home to the zoo, my brain was still working. I had many ideas and I communicated with Lisa by phone. Two months later, when I was ready to return to the zoo, Lisa had the basic outline of the web site ready. She had used the design worked out 2 years before by the original web site programmers, and had built on that from our conversations on the phone. The decision had been made to host the web site on the Metro computer system (Metro is a regional government body consisting of the three counties of Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas and the governing body of the zoo, among other services). Therefore it was necessary to learn the software that is used for the zoo’s own web site, something entirely new to me, a software called Dreamweaver.
To make matters even more difficult, the web site had been set up on an Apple. I have used numerous computer systems in the past but never an Apple. It was completely foreign to me. Not only did I have to learn new software, but I had to learn it on a completely foreign (to me) operating system. But Lisa is a good teachers and I am a fast learner. I quickly found myself spending way too many hours at the zoo. My husband forgot what a home-cooked dinner tasted like and had become completely responsible for the laundry. Grocery shopping was a thing of the past.
It came as no surprise to me then that my husband was desperate enough to agree to purchasing a new computer and buying the software so that I could work on the web site from home. Besides, my old computer, which would not run the sophisticated web software, was moved over to my husband’s desk.
The initial intent of the web site to put the monthly ZooGuide newsletter on line has expanded to be much more. We have a section that included the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all the active ZooGuides. There is a calendar section that shows upcoming events month by month, and also a monthly calendar of ZooGuides birthdays (a regular feature of the paper newsletter). There is a separate section for the governing council, including members, minutes of meetings, the annual budget, and much more. Under the Events section, all the events staffed by ZooGuides are listed along with the ZooGuide chair for each event. Each program with the ZooGuide division has a listing with pertinent information for its members. There is also a section covering other zoos and ZooGuides are invited to submit a written report whenever they visit another zoo. There is a whole section on animal news, featuring news on the zoo’s animals, animals in general, information on Endangered Species and the Endangered Species Act, how the wolves are faring in Alaska (the 2003-04 season saw the beginning of aerial gunning of grey wolves in Alaska), etc. This section also features news about California condors, the zoo’s newest venture into restoration of endangered species. There is a section about fun. ZooGuides work hard and they play too. This page features animal jokes, on-line animal games (test your animal knowledge and skill!) and information on activities by the Fun Committee. Another section is a scrapbook-featuring picture of the zoo’s animals taken by ZooGuides and pictures taken at other zoos and events.
Last but not least, and the initial goal of the web site, is the on-line monthly newsletter. With the scope of the web site widening quickly, it was apparent that I needed help. It was not a 1-person job any longer. Along came Debbie. Debbie was a new ZooGuide and an experienced Dreamweaver programmer. She has been a good support and has taken over several sections of the web site, including full responsibility for the newsletter section. Still, the maintenance of the web site is almost a full-time job with just the 2 of us.
If you and your organization entertain the idea of developing a web site for docent/volunteer use, first consider 2 things:
· What do you want your web site to include?
· Do you have enough resources in your membership to put it together and maintain it?
In the beginning, we made a promise to ZooGuides that their information that might appear on the web site would be considered confidential and strong effort would be made to limit access to the web site to ZooGuides and zoo employees who need the information. In order to do this, the web site can only be accessed by someone who has the proper User ID and Password. The password is changed periodically to ensure that confidentiality and ZooGuide information is protected as much as possible.
Is the web site doing its intended job? While we do not yet have 50% of all ZooGuides converted over to the electronic newsletter, we do have a sizable number using the web site. We try to entice them away from the paper version by being the first out with important information, such as the animal updates, other important notices, and feature articles and pictures that cannot be found in the paper version. ZooGuides who may be traveling have found it especially useful as they can access the web site and get the “news” before arriving home to their paper version. Every month we have a few more converts; people who feel the on-line newsletter and web site meet their needs. We’re getting there.