Dear reader,

this post is a direct follow up to my previous article with almost the same title, in a more dubious vein: In it, I described my first steps for the creation of an “open library” inside the company: an endeavour aiming at creating an exchange space for culture, recreational literature, personal development and, last but not least, improving interpersonal relations among colleagues.

Six months and a week have passed since those days, and we can now review the history of the project so far. Long story short, the “test group” replied with keen interest, and we jumped into developing the tools of the trade: a book catalogue and a set of rules.

The rules are essential, and can be summarised as follows:

  1. To be part of the book-sharing community, you need to share at least one book (D’oh!)
  2. You can borrow one book at a time, for a maximum of two months
  3. To borrow the book, you just need to call or email the owner
  4. Books have to be kept with respect and care. Damaged properties must be repaid.

As you can see, the rules state three basic things: be involved, respect others, be autonomous in requesting books.

The last point, autonomy, is at the base of the book catalogue we developed. I like to manage things, but more than this I like what manages itself! So, we created a shared Excel file: shared not only in the sense that it sits snugly in a directory accessible by everyone but exploiting a feature of Excel that allows multiple users to make changes to the same file at the same time. Not as powerful as the sharing feature of online products like Google Docs (where you can see in real time even the cursor position of other users!), but quite useful. One word of advice: save often when you use that feature: the program receives and transmits changes to the document when saving (so, for example, you might avoid adding two books simultaneously on the same line).

For your pleasure, and for any use that is not commercial, you can download the file clicking here:

Some instructions for using the file:

  • To add new books or to update data:
    • Open the file
    • Write, in the first available row, the essential pieces of information for the book. In some cells a drop-down will guide your choice: if you feel some items are missing, please contact administrators to expand the list
    • Before and after every addition, save the file
  • To borrow a book:
    • Communicate with the owner (by email, phone call, in person… it doesn’t matter, but don’t act without an explicit request)
    • When you obtain the book, update the catalogue by stating, in the appropriate columns, your name and the date of lease start, then save. The catalogue will give an automatic warning if the “lend to” name is missing and if the lease duration has expired (try it!)
  • To give back a book:
    • Contact the owner and bring back the book
    • Delete from the catalogue your name and the lease start date, then save

Sound pretty simple, right? There are two things I especially like about this use of the tool: it encourages personal contacts between people (i.e. “real life social” instead of “keyboard and pyjama” social!), and it requires practically no effort on my part. Everyone is in charge of keeping the file updated, and every lease is managed only by the people involved. Sure, the system still needs some overseeing: I’ll do a backup copy of the file every now and then, just in case someone makes a blunder, and if the Excel sharing feature shows some limitations I may switch to Google Docs.

After having set up the file, the document with the rules, and having shared the whole thing with the test group, I basically let everything run on autopilot for some months. The only thing I did was sending an email now and then to keep people reminded of the project and keep them engaged by highlighting new additions to the catalogue. Maybe I’m making this part sounds exciting and easy, but actually, it was troublesome. To me, it seemed like no one except a few people were genuinely engaged in the library, and my prediction for the outcome of the project was turning worse and worse. At some point, four very active people (one of them has a side gig as a writer, with two books published! I mentioned her briefly in left the company at basically the same time.

Despite my natural optimism, I sincerely thought it was over.

Then, magic happened! One of the ladies on the board of my company’s recreational club heard of the project and she jumped straight in, asking me why I decided to limit the library only to a small group of people and was also eager to know whether we could pitch the entire company about it!

This was on Thursday. By next Tuesday (two days ago) the set of rules and the catalogue were updated, an email was sent to the entire body of workers and a nice logo for the project greeted visitors of the intranet! I feel so grateful to everybody involved in this ultra-quick go-live!

I’ll keep you posted about this project, as you know it’s important for me to work on something worthy besides my main job ( For the moment being, I’ll enjoy the injection of excitement and optimism!

Until next time, keep pushing: it will budge sooner or later!