Tina Griffin and Carla Owens
Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo
Volunteerism at the Brookfield Zoo of the Chicago Zoological Society began almost fifty years ago. In 1971, the Volunteer League was created through the work of Trustee, Edie Duckworth, and in cooperation with Dr. Crowcroft, the current zoo director. Their initial responsibilities were to assist in office work and operate the Elephant’s Trunk Gift shop. In 1977 their work expanded to recruit the first cohort of zoo docents. Sixteen years later, the Guest Guide program began, offering direction and answers to general questions. Most recently the Hamill Family Play Zoo volunteer program was created to enhance the zoo experience for families through early childhood education efforts. Zoo volunteers also work in other areas, like offices and the library. Today Brookfield Zoo operates with the support of approximately five hundred fifty adult volunteers.
Animal Fact Sheet WIKI
Historically, a primary source for volunteer training on the animal collection was through printed fact sheets. These animal fact sheets were comprehensive documents, with all relevant animal characteristics, including species scientific name and taxonomy, habitat, geographic location, and husbandry information. These sheets, compiled into a binder, formed the basis of the knowledge required for the docents to interpret at the exhibits around the park.
Every time a new volunteer was recruited, the entire binder had to be copied. Originally the copies may have been typed or by replicated by ditto machine. Eventually, conventional copying, by photocopy machine, was able to speed up the process. But overall this was still time and resource consuming.
Eventually, the fact sheets were digitized. The advancement in technology allowed these pages to be converted to digital files that were then put onto a CD. This CD could then be copied as needed, and the sheets printed from there. While this was a vast improvement over copying by hand, this process still required individual copies to be made and incurred considerable expense in CDs, paper, and maintaining computers.
In 2008, the librarian designed an animal factsheet template and utilized a free wiki software program called MoinMoin that was accessible via the web. Over 200 animal factsheets were copied into the wiki by volunteer Linda Jung, creating an internal Wikipedia. Wikis are online information web pages made and organized around the information needs of a particular group. These wikis can be private or public; can be hosted on the internet or on a closed network, like a company intranet. Wikis became an attractive option to host the animal fact sheets because they could be accessed by anyone who was granted permission. The data could be controlled, and it eliminated the need to make multiple copies.
The library undertook the project to create an internal wiki website and convert the information to an online format. There were a number of issues to consider. Some of them include: whether to pay for software or use a free one, whether to locally host or post it on the Internet, whether to let the public have access to the data, whether to use templates for layout or design our own, and to consider what other file types or objects and be inserted (like pictures, documents, or tables).
The library chose the free MoinMoin as the wiki site they would use institution wide. It could be locally hosted on the zoo network, and secured for staff and volunteer use only. This particular wiki software allows for images, which we considered important as we have an extensive photo record of the animal collection. Additionally, it is free software, an important point as this was our initial endeavor into a major project and didn’t want to be committed to pay for upgrades.
In the beginning, there were technical decisions that needed to be made, generalities in terms of access and format. But we discovered that these simple decisions affected many work areas of the zoo. One of them is the web editorial department, responsible for web content and the public website. Another is Share the Care, which facilitates the animal adoption fundraising program in the Development department. One of the largest users were the volunteers and docents, as their daily responsibility out in the zoo was to assist guests and relay factual animal information. Zoo keepers from Animal Programs department and various employees and interns from the Conservation, Education and Training departments also required this information to use in different ways. All of these departments must be considered because the focus of the wiki was to provide a centralized and normalized site for animal information for all the groups.
At the start, this was to be a simple conversion to an online accessible format. However once our library interns started editing the pages, it became clear that the information contained in these pages was severely out of date. An approval process developed. Animal Programs was responsible for editorial comments carried out by the zoo curators on each animal factsheet, after the library completed a factsheet. This was doable, except that each sub-division within the animal program would be responsible for this work and the burden on each sub-division due to lack of staffing made it difficult to achieve complete buy-in. The added work for zoo keepers created a bottleneck. Therefore some pages languished for a significant amount of time.
The librarian, Carla Owens, and Krista Skach, from Creative Services formed a team to create an agreed upon workflow responsibility from the various departments was when progress was made. Steve Kikoler, library volunteer, and Carla Owens served as consistent lead editors, and members of the editorial department Chris Howes and Mary Nodulman, photo editor for creative services, Jamie Zite-Stumbris, Interpretive dept, editor responsible for share the care requests, external Steve Pine website editor, and Animal Programs, together formalized the process. With the agreed upon work responsibility from Animal Programs and Editorial, the project moved forward.
It’s been seven years since the beginning of the project. Project delays occurred because all the wiki pages had to be rewritten and fact checked, and approval process consensus issues resulted from a zoo keeper staff shortage in animal programs. The project has taken much longer than expected but that is understandable since the content is largely converted and entered entirely by interns and volunteer staff. This project is also created with the idea that it will be a “living document” in that it will be updated and maintained on this format. The animal factsheet project will be launched in July.
The path to making an online library website was similar. In 2010, global conversion from print to electronic resources had begun. Most journals were being produced, if not existing only in digital form; therefore, purchase choices shifted to electronic content. It follows that electronic resource purchasing increased for the library over this time. Over thirty journal subscriptions were purchased or replaced with electronic, and access to databases like BioOne and JSTOR were obtained. In 2010, the decision was made to make these resources available through a library website. Having a website also meant additional services could be potentially be offered to the volunteers and staff, like citation support and self-directed research training through web guides.
Based on some of the problems with developing the wiki site, the library site was built using Google sites. This software was also free, had controlled access, had easy templates to add content in various formats, was web ready (and hosted), and had the added advantage of being familiar to many users already.
Unlike the wiki project, the content decisions could be made entirely by the librarian. The approach to the website was to organize the emerging digital resources for easy access and to support Zoo programs, like AIP, a master’s degree that is cooperation between Miami University and zoos across the country. Incorporated into the site is a link to the animal fact sheet pages. In addition, the Brookfield Zoo library is a member of the RAILS consortium. This membership allows the zoo library to operate as a public library extension for its users. The library website is also due to launch soon.
It is important to note that both of these projects were substantially supported and executed by the library, library interns and other zoo volunteers. The initial wiki conversion was begun by Linda Jung and Betsy Snyder, editor. CELO interns were responsible for bulk updating and editing. Steve Kikoler became the lead editor for the animal fact sheets, which was instrumental in creating a stable presence for the final editing to be done. Carla Owens Librarian & Alison Avery (CELO intern) designed and started the library website. I have been updating content and readying the site for launch.
Both of these projects will allow the mission of the Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo, to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature, to continue far into the digital age.