The 10-Minute Digital Librarian #11: Discover collaborative tools for developing documents

After series of posts focusing on using digital tools to communicate your work, and how to keep yourself and users safe online, the next series of five 10-Minute Digital Librarian focuses on tools that are available to you, for free, in order to get more done, in particular with other people.

In doing so, it draws heavily – as does the whole series! – on the original ’23 Things’ developed by Hélène Blowers, which focused on useful tools available to library and information workers in order to help them in their work.

This post focuses on what is available in order to support collaborative drafting of documents. This refers to tools that allow documents to be shared with others, and for comments, suggestions and edits to be made ‘live’ by others.

Of course, many of you will already be familiar with these in one way or another, although will also come across situations where documents are still sent forwards and backwards as attachments.

In addition to reducing the burden on inboxes, collaborative drafting also helps to avoid trying to reconcile different sets of comments, allows participants to engage more directly with the views of others, and can automatically allow for a form of version control.

It can be used for developing plans, statements, reports or other materials that benefit from having a variety of views shared, as well as demonstrating a more inclusive approach.

In addition to business tools provided for cooperation within organisations, perhaps the most widely used tool here is GoogleDocs, which allows for free use to anyone with a Google account.

However, Google is far from the only player on the market, and many can feel uncomfortable using it. Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that its services are offered in all countries, or are offered in a way that offers the levels of privacy that you may want.

Free alternatives (or at least tools with free options) include Etherpad – an open source collaborative drafting tool – as well as potentially less well known ones like Draft or Zoho Docs. There are, of course, also paid options that exist.

Issues to think about when using these include:

How widely you want to share your text – you may want to make sure that only a smaller group of people have access, at least at an initial stage. For example, you may want to ensure that only your close team consults an initial draft, before seeking wider views. Look at settings for controlling access.

How changes are made – different tools have different ways of deciding whether people can make direct edits, or only suggestions on a document. Using a ‘suggestions’ mode allows for more transparency about changes, although can get confusing if there are a lot of them!

Version control – you may want to create new files from time to time, after rounds of comments. This can both increase transparency by allowing everyone to look back at how a document has developed, but also provide a means of avoiding re-opening discussions that have previously been closed.

Let us know about any other tools you would recommend in the comments box below!

Good luck!


If you are interested in issues around digital tools in libraries in general, you should take a look at the work of IFLA’s Information Technology Section.

Discover our full series of 10-Minute Digital Librarian posts, as well as our infographics.