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On Maintaining Extra-Library Websites

   December 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Volunteers logoThere was an article in our local paper this week about a resident's experience volunteering in the community. Nice, but what I especially like is that he cited http://www.chelmsfordvolunteers.org as the way he found his volunteer opportunity.

This stood out to me (and others at the library) because this website was created and maintained by the library - yay us! The article doesn't mention the library at all, but it's still a win because the resident found what he was looking for.

I'll be the first to admit that the Chelmsford Volunteers site isn't a marvel of design. We created it a few years ago to be a centralized listing of organizations in town that have volunteer opportunities, because this is something we get asked about a lot. It's evolved over time, and now a simple WordPress website, with a calendar of upcoming events, and one page for each organization so that it's easy for people to search.

The reason I bring it up here is because I was curious if any other libraries maintain websites under a domain different from the main library's website. My library also maintains the website for our town-wide history project.

Our logic for creating these as separate websites includes:

  • branding: it's easier to remember "chelmsfordvolunteers.org" than "chelmsfordlibrary.org/volunteers" or something else
  • shared resource: the chelmsfordhistory.org is a project involving other organizations in town, and I think having a non-library website makes us all co-owners of the project, instead of the other groups just contributing to a library project
  • focus: the library does a lot of things, but each of these separate websites are very focused on one specific area - having standalone websites lets visitors see only what's relevant to that topic, instead of all the other stuff we do, which might be a distraction
  • it's easy: all our websites are hosted at bluehost.com - creating a new website is a matter of buying a new domain and clicking a button, and it's ready to go

I'd be very curious to hear about other libraries' experiences with maintain websites beyond the primary web presence - how you do it, why, is it successful, etc. If this is something you do, please leave a note in the comments with a link to your website - thanks.



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Using The Tools At Hand

   July 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Volunteers logoA project we've been kicking around at my library for a long time is creating some kind of town-wide centralized volunteer listing. The library is a natural place for such a resource, but it's a big project.

To fill this need, we just launched ChelmsfordVolunteers.org. The end product was not really the goal we set out with - and I don't think it's the last version of the resource, either.

Originally, we wanted a tool that would list groups in the area that need volunteers, and also a calendar of upcoming events with volunteer opportunities. We also wanted the local organizations to be able to update their listing and event information themselves, without any library staff intervention.

As part of a grant, a local high school student explored a few different software options. We started with a WordPress version, then a Drupal version, then a WebCalendar version, but we kept running into the same problem: the tool did either the database part well, or the events calendar part well, but not both. Each solution also had other pros and cons, which is why we kept looking at different options.

The current iteration of volunteer listing actually uses two existing tools, which are combined under one domain name (chelmsfordvolunteers.org). From a single web page, we link to each tool, but tried to make it look like it was all integrated together.

The two tools are the Community Information database, which is run by the consortium and is (supposed to) list all non-profit groups in all communities of the consortium. I edited the records of the Chelmsford organizations to make sure they all had a reference to "volunteers," and these records provide all the contact information for the groups.

The other tool is the Calcium Calendar from Brown Bear. The library has been using this as our main events calendar for years, so it was easy to set up another one just for volunteer events.

Between these two tools, we've got both an events listing and an organizations database, although they are not connected. Using Comm Info is nice in that we don't need to maintain two records for each organizations, but we are limited at the same time to only non-profit groups - which excludes some hospitals and other businesses that offer volunteer opportunities.

Another drawback of the current setup is that the organizations do not have direct access to update their information and events. We set up two web forms to handle submissions and updates, but it's an extra layer and more of a hassle for everyone involved than it needs to be.

But it works, and it's better than nothing until we find the ideal solution. So if anyone knows of a tool that will fill this need, or another library doing something similar, I would appreciate hearing about it.



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