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TL v64n1: Cultivating a Grapevine
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Cultivating a Grapevine: Building an Intranet Using WordPress




This past summer I completed a practicum with East Tennessee State University's (ETSU) Charles C. Sherrod Library. Part of that practicum involved designing an intranet site for the library's faculty and staff. I worked with Celia Szarejko and Alison DePollo, the latter of whom would take over the project when my practicum was finished.

The idea for an intranet first arose during strategic planning. The Workforce Development team knew that there were communication issues in the library. When thinking of ways to share information better, a wiki was suggested. The Technology team (also a strategic planning group) came up with a similar idea, so both teams decided to pursue it and create an intranet. My practicum in library technology began shortly after, where one of my objectives was to assist with the initial planning and creation of the intranet.

Before beginning, my practicum supervisor posed the following question to help guide me in the process: why do intranets fail?  A quick review of recent literature from 2010 on revealed two key concerns: lack of maintenance and staff buy-in. People need a reason to use the intranet; simply implementing one is not sufficient incentive for using it (Sharpe & Vacek, 2010). Also, the information needs to be maintained, as it is often one of the main reasons that intranets fail. Becky Yoose from Miami University cites lack of maintenance as one of the reasons they switched from one wiki site to another to host their intranet (Yoose, 2010). The newer site was more user friendly and thus easier to maintain.

Design Prep

After reviewing the literature and gaining a better understanding of how an intranet works in a library setting, I came up with four key concepts to consider as I set about designing the intranet:

  • Security – The site should only be accessed by registered users.
  • Usability – The site should be easy to use, both for content contributors and users.
  • Searchability – Information should be well organized with an efficient search engine.
  • Maintenance – Information should be current and relevant, with clearly defined user roles for content contributors.

Security is vitally important when dealing with internal information, so that was my main priority. My second priority was fostering faculty and staff buy-in. I wanted to involve them in the creation of the intranet; as the future users, their input would be invaluable during initial design stages. The ability to search the site effectively was also a priority, since the site would not be used if users could not find the information they seek. Last, but possibly most important, was maintenance. Usability of the site would be key in ensuring that the information would be maintained. Policies would also have to be developed to determine what type of information was included, who was responsible for updating it, and how often.


Drupal was considered for its flexibility, but had too steep of a learning curve. Instead, WordPress was chosen for back-end usability and rather than host it on a local server, a web host was selected. Once a selection was made, a survey was sent out to gauge how library and staff viewed the concept of an intranet, what they would use if for, and whether they used various other technologies that could be incorporated into the intranet.

The survey had a high response rate (over 80%). Top priorities for intranet content included policies, procedures, forms, and tutorials. Meeting minutes and information on internal events (such as training sessions) were also highly requested. There were some detractors who were not thrilled at the prospect of an intranet (particularly the work involved); however, the majority of respondents were in favor of an intranet.


The next step focused on organizing the information on the site. The survey requested volunteers to participate in focus groups. Two groups were created from the respondents: one for faculty and one for staff. Card sorting exercises would assist in designing the architecture of the intranet site by providing insight into how users would organize topics into categories. Each focus group would participate in a card sort exercise to evaluate how they organized various data and headings. Card sorting can be done many different ways, but is typically done with index cards or online software to sort topics into categories. Our approach differed, in that each group compiled a set of topics on sticky notes and then organized them into categories on the wall. Since the groups were small (3-5 people each), this worked fairly well and sparked discussion on what should go in the intranet and the different ways that information could be organized.

Once the focus groups completed the card sorts, the data was compiled into a set of spreadsheets, analyzed, and a master list of the generated topics and categories compiled. Using this master list, we created an online card sort exercise to distribute to all of the faculty and staff using Simple Card Sort ( Distribution was done by providing a link to the card sort exercise via email.

One of the most useful features of Simple Card Sort was all the different ways it organized and displayed data, from simple charts to a detailed dendrogram. Data analysis revealed a pattern that could be used as a framework for the site architecture. Main headings included Policies, Groups, Meetings, Reports, People, How to..., Campus and Community, and Happenings. Each heading would have 2-7 subheadings that would appear in a drop down box when mousing over the headings.

Once the data was collected and analyzed, the building of the website began. Since I would not have time to fully complete the site, I designed a prototype, using the information gained from the card sorts to develop the information structure and implement other features. In addition to content, there were requests for features such as chat, a forum, and enhanced search capability. WordPress is remarkably easy to use and there are a variety of plugins. The following table details the plugins that were chosen and why:




User Access Manager

Regulate access to your posts, pages, files and categories


User Domain Whitelist/Blacklist

Limit access based on email address domain (i.e. '')


User Role Editor

Create specialized roles for users and regulate what those roles can and cannot do

Security, Maintenance


Increased search capabilities


Quick Chat

Chat box that allows real-time chat both as a group and privately


BbPress Forum

Create forums and message boards on a variety of topics


Each plugin added a specific feature that was requested by users. One quick note about Relevanssi is that while it does greatly increase search effectiveness, it requires the index to be updated when new content is added. Google custom search was the first choice for the intranet, but due to the security needed for an intranet, it would be unable to index the content and an alternative was chosen.


Unfortunately, my practicum ended before the intranet could be fully implemented. Alison DePollo (Access Services Librarian) took over the project and will submit an update at the end of the school year. Moving forward, Alison's plan is to identify people who would like to help contribute to the site, but she will remain the main content creator for the sake of uniformity. Once potential contributors have been identified, they will go through a training workshop on how to use the software and content creation guidelines.


Even though I was able to greatly contribute to the project, there are two key stages I would have liked to have time to address: user roles and content control. Creating clearly defined user roles is imperative to maintaining content currency and accuracy (Sharpe & Vacek, 2010). Moving forward, I would suggest creating a policy or set of procedures for the intranet. San Francisco State University has an excellent example that is viewable by the public:

Crafting an intranet was an amazing experience and I am very grateful to the librarians at ETSU for granting me this wonderful opportunity.


Sharpe, P. A., & Vacek, R. E. (2010). Intranet 2.0 from a project management perspective. Journal of Web Librarianship 4 (2-3), 239-249.

Yoose, B. (2010). When the new application smell Is gone: Traditional intranet best practices and existing Web 2.0 intranet infrastructures. Journal of Web Librarianship 4 (2-3), 161-175.

Further Readings

Battles, J. J. (2010). Designing and building a collaborative library intranet for all. Journal of Web Librarianship, 4(2/3), 251-263.

Dahl, D. (2010). An unexpected ally: Using Microsoft's SharePoint to create a departmental intranet. Journal of Web Librarianship 4(2/3), 207-224.

Jeffery, K., & Dworak, E. (2010). Who moved my intranet? The human side of introducing collaborative technologies to library staff. Journal of Web Librarianship 4(2/3), 177-186.

Kim, B. (2010). Organizational and social factors in the adoption of intranet 2.0: A case study. Journal of Web Librarianship 4(2/3), 187-206.

Leonard Library, San Francisco State University. (1998, December 7). 3.16 Library intranet procedures. Library Administrative Manual.  Retrieved from

McHale, N. (Ed.). (2012). Designing and developing library intranets. New York: Routledge.

Nisha, F., & Ali, N. (2011, April). The application and use of library intranet services at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Library Philosophy and Practice. Retrieved from

Thomas, L. C. (2010). Library intranets: Trends and enhancements. Journal of Web Librarianship 4(2/3), 277-282.


Crystal D. Johnson is a master's level student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. She can be reached at


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