or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Conference Twittering v. Blogging

   June 16th, 2009 Brian Herzog

twitter logoA quick recap of my experiment to both twitter and blog the CMS Day workshop last week: I didn't like it.

And interestingly, while catching up with rss that night, I read Librarian by Day very nicely summing up everything I didn't like about it.

Blogging a conference is how I take notes for myself during the sessions - I don't know if it's helpful to anyone else, but it is to me, and I put it out there just in case someone else is curious. But twittering a conference ultimately felt like a series of inside jokes that only people at the conference would get.

Don't get me wrong - the conference was great, which is why I was trying to share it. So perhaps it is my lack of tweet skills, but it didn't seem that 140 characters, without the context of the conference, is very helpful (other than a laugh or two).

I'm still new to this, so forgive me if this observation has already been made: it occurred to me that twittering is the metadata of life. I can describe the conference or what I'm doing at any random moment, but it's still just a description of something else. Metadata absolutely serves a purpose, but when it comes to conferences, maybe the most useful tweets are those that point to resources available elsewhere (or that are humorous one-liners).

Or, perhaps more likely, I'm just doing it wrong.

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NELA-ITS Spring Workshop 2009 – CMS Day!

   June 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Website 2.0! slideToday's workshop is all about CMS - why use them, and what's available. I'll try to provide useful notes - also follow #nelaits09 and/or #nelaitson Twitter.

CMS Day: Building a Better Website with Content Management Systems
Drupal, Joomla, Plone, and WordPress

June 12th, 2009, Portsmouth (NH) Public Library

Keynote: Jessamyn West - Website 2.0!
--Slides & Links

  • Old style web maintenance: people give content to one person who updates the site (bottleneck) - relies on ftp and requires expertise
  • New style (with CMS): everyone can update all the time - quicker and more efficient, and doesn't require heavy-duty tech skills

Your website doesn't need to be special and unique, just useful to your patrons. Timesavers like CMS software, and good ideas that other libraries are already doing, are your friends. You can include a calendar, catalog, links and databases, programs, "about us" and local history, contact info - every has these things, and you can too.

Static v. Dynamic content (the C in CMS): dynamic content means websites are built on the fly by pulling information from multiple places

What is a CMS (content management system)

  • creation of content - lets the right people do it
  • management - easier to get info out (and remove it when old)
  • distribution - send out (or bring in) via rss
  • publishing - much easier, and more standards compliant
  • discovery - you learn, everyone learns

All cms share similar tools: themes, calendars, rss feeds, blogs, uploading images/files - don't get too hung up on these. All have online demos/versions to try out. There are also user communities that offer development and support.

Paige Eaton Davis, Minuteman Library Network

  • Using Drupal for staff intanet
  • Goals was to facilitate communication (which staff wanted), web 2.0 features (rss, comments, etc), calendar, printer-friendly versions (because it will be a source of documentation for member libraries)
  • Why Drupal? free, open-source, large community support, robust and room to grow
  • Install was kind of techy, so not completely smooth and flawless - but they managed with little knowledge + documentation
  • "Drupal is a very elegant and yet very hairy beast"

Getting it going:

  • Drupal Core contains a lot of core functions (do not hack core modules)
  • Also lots of contributed modules to extend capabilities - two good ones: Content Construction Kit (CCK - lets you define different kinds of content types [blog post, calendar event, etc]) and Views (allows tweaking of content output). Others in use are Calendar, Minutes module, Signup, Interest Groups
  • One challenge with Drupal is learning its terminology
  • Great thing is that menus are dropdown and easy to universally manage from one location
  • Themes: use standard, customized, or borrow one http://themegarden.org/drupal6
  • Lots of support online, plus O'Reilly books, Library Technology Report

Kate Sheehan, Dairen Public Library

  • Kate's not a coder - has used WordPress, but now specializes in content
  • Lots of thought when into architecture of Drupal site - used it to pull all sorts of library content (static pages, multiple blogs, etc) together into one place and organize it logically and usefully
  • Staff did struggle with terminology until they got away from using blog terminology
  • Community: patrons can contribute to website and catalog (using sopac, which is a Drupal module) - anyone can create an account to participate
  • Using tags to specify age range/reading levels for kids, which helps both patrons and staff
  • Website has content pulled in from other sources (flickr, et. al.) so policies had to be reviewed on licensing, citing and the technical how-to aspects - they try to use a lot of photos to make things more interesting
  • Found that using Google calendar for events was easier than Drupal module

Randy Robertshaw - Tyngsborough Public Library

  • Chose Joomla because it is very easy to learn and has a low learning curve
  • Randy is only librarian in his library, so he does all the maintenance himself
  • View website as real electronic branch - staff contributing to it is same as creating book displays or answering questions in the library
  • When considering Joomla, only look for v1.5-native components
  • Lots of for-pay modules, which can be $5-20, and are professional looking right out of the box, instead of spending time reinventing the wheel - http://extensions.joomla.org and http://joomlacode.org
  • Prefers Google calendar to events module - uses rss to feed events to homepage. Others are JcalPro and Eventlist - but prefers "outsourcing" tools like gcalendar and flickr (using iframe) to embed content back into library website
  • Joomla allows multiple themes, so children's site can look different from adult portion
  • One plugin is a PDF indexer - lots of others - some simple, some complex
  • Content can be timed, so it will automatically go up and come off - is also archived to use later use, and stats show on each post on the backend

More considerations

  • Remove copyrights for programs
  • Review the reviews of extensions before you choose them
  • Stay away from "beta" software (no release schedule)
  • Make sure to cache your website so you're not hitting the database every time
  • Is CMS search engine friendly? Always a problem with dynamic content
  • Security and backup of CMS and website and content
  • Use distributed content lets you share the work among staff but make things easy and centralized for patrons
  • Always keep an eye on development - Joomla is available now, but things always change


Rick Levine - C/W MARS
"Home on the Web" [pdf] project uses LSTA grant to enable small MA public libraries that currently have no website (or were part of the local government website). Goals were kept simple and cheap - single template, promote databases & local programs, forms-capable, "harvestable" calendar (for down-the-road state-wide zip code based calendar).

The Plinket program offers a lot features, and creating library websites is quick. The time investment comes in creating content - which is where time should be spent.

Backend input forms, content types, and management is very simple - does provide security levels to control what people can do and what html code they can use.

Examples: Bolton Public Library and East Brookfield Public Library and Thayer Memorial Library (uses fanciest features in iframes)

Theresa Maturevich, Beverly (MA) Public Library
Chose WordPress because it was free, NOBLE offered some support, staff had some knowledge of it, large community base (easy to search for answers online), lots of free themes and plug-ins and widgets, easy to customize.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org - wp.com is hosted and has limitations, whereas wp.org is downloaded and installed on your server. .org offers more features and control, but you're responsible for backups and maintenance

Don't need a lot of tech background, but some html helps. It's easy to modify page templates to customize or use different theme for kid's page. WP lets you use hierarchy (using Parent and Child) to make website look like web pages and less bloggy.

Can use multiple blogs (news, events, book reviews, etc) and keep them separate. Posts can be automatically posted (but not deleted), and they use comment moderation to check before they go live - and people do expect answers.


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Time To Try Twitter

   June 11th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The Twitter Book coverI'm going to be at a CMS workshop Friday (sponsored by NELA-ITS), and I was planning on blogging the workshop like last year. I also got the idea that this might be a good opportunity for me to try Twitter, too.

So if you're curious, follow me at http://www.twitter.com/herzogbr - I've never done this before, so I make no promises. And hash tags: do I just make it up myself? If so, then I declare #nelaits09 #nelaits

And here's my nerd note for the day: so what does a librarian do to get ready to use Twitter? Why, research it, of course.

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Upcoming Workshop: CMS Day!

   May 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

website designer comicI'm a member of the IT section of the New England Library Association, and we're holding a workshop on popular CMS software. If you're thinking about redesigning or updating your website, or would are just curious about what CMS' are and what they can do, then this workshop is for you.

CMS Day! Build a better website with Content Management Systems: Drupal, Joomla, Plone, & WordPress
Keynote by Jessamyn West

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Location: Portsmouth Public Library, Portsmouth, NH (directions)
Cost: NELA members - $50; Non-members - $60
Registration Fee includes lunch & a NELA USB hub!

To Register
Secure online registration & downloadable mail-in registration [pdf] are both available at http://www.nelib.org/its/conference. Registration Closes Monday June 8.

Program Schedule
10:00 a.m. - Registration & Coffee & Library Tours
10:30 a.m. - Keynote: CMS options - Jessamyn West
12 noon - Lunch (provided!) and Library Tours
12:45 p.m. - Librarians share their real-life CMS experiences:
--Drupal - Darien (CT) PL (darienlibrary.org) & Paige Eaton Davis, Minuteman Network
--Joomla - Randy Robertshaw, Tyngsborough PL (tynglib.org)
--Plone - Rick Levine & CMRLS Librarians
--WordPress - Theresa Maturevich, Beverly (MA) PL (beverlypubliclibrary.org)
3:30 p.m. -Wrap-Up!

Keynote by Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian. She lives in rural Vermont where assists tiny libraries with their technology planning and implementation. Her favorite color is orange. Jessamyn maintains an online presence at: librarian.net and jessamyn.info

NELA Program Refund Policy: A full refund shall be granted provided that the registered attendee has contacted the authorized representative of ITS responsible for taking registrations, at least ten (10) business days in advance of the program. In the event that notice is given less than ten days, a refund is not granted, however, they may send a substitute to the program.

For more information, please contact Scott Kehoe at 978-762-4433 x16 / [email protected]

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NELA2008 Session Highlights

   October 23rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Ethan ZuckermanI was at the NELA 2008 conference this week, and spent yesterday and today going over my notes and trying to get caught up. Lots of good stuff, but here are a few of the highlights from the sessions I attended:

Ethan Zuckerman
If you ever have a chance to see Ethan Zuckerman speak, do it. Not only is he interesting and entertaining, but his work using technology to bridge cultural divides directly relates to what we do in libraries. He also approaches things from a global "big picture" viewpoint, which is a nice change from my generally myopic "what's going on in my community" point of view. I learned a lot from Ethan, both library-related and otherwise - read the complete notes from his "The Internet is NOT Flat" session.

Men in the Library
Being a male, I was curious about Nancy Davis' program called "The Vanishing Male: Guy Stuff That Lures and Hooks." It was a discussion about why men generally use the library less than women, and what libraries can do to attract more male patrons:

  • Men are "seekers" and not "browsers" - they want to go in, get their stuff, and leave. Libraries should have signage that caters to this, and be more open, so men don't have to wander around looking or ask for help
  • Book groups don't work for a lot of men because men don't like "sharing" - to get men to a book group, have it "led" by a scholar or other authority (male book groups prefer non-fiction books), and that way the men feel they're getting something out of it
  • For programming ideas, try anything tool-based, such as "greening" your house, installing solar panels, bike repair & maintenance, etc. Men also like father/son programs, like building a bird house or a "dads and donuts" story time early Saturday morning
  • To get guys to come to programs, promote them in places where guys go: the hardware store, the transfer station, etc.
  • Also, make sure you have men on your staff and on your board of trustees - it's easier to attract males if they feel comfortable in the building, and book displays are more likely to appeal to them if the books are chosen by other guys

NOTE: Keep in mind that most of these are generalizations

Genealogy Core Collection
Cindy O'Neil, a certified genealogist with the Manchester (NH) City Library, explained the resources she felt were essential for libraries to offer their patrons doing genealogical research. Her handout was a bibliography important genealogy resources, and I tried to include as many of them as possible in my session notes on the NELA conference blog. Definitely worth checking out and comparing to your resources.

Of course I got a lot more out of the conference, but these were the things that stuck with me that I wouldn't have gotten if I didn't go. A lot more information on the other sessions are available on the NELA 2008 conference blog.

Update: I don't know how I could have left this out: For people wanting a real hands-on demo of how to very quickly improve their library's website, Lichen Rancourt's presentation on how she converted the Manchester (NH) City Library's website from static to Library 2.0 is a must see. Even while working within the City's content management package (which means these changes apply to any website management tool), she brought the real spirit, vibrancy and interactivity of the physical library to the website. The improvements include a flickr badge, a WordPress blog feed for up-to-date news and information, and an events feed.

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Conference Blogging

   October 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

NELA2008 registration tableRight now I'm in Manchester, NH, for the 2008 NELA conference. In addition to being an attendee and a speaker, I'm also blogging the sessions I attend for the NELA conference blog (read my posts).

This year there are ten volunteer bloggers, and I think it's great -

  • great that NELA is supporting a blog
  • great that people volunteer to contribute
  • great that the notes we take during sessions are available for all attendees, people who couldn't come, trustees who need to see these things, and anyone else who is interested

There are lots of worthwhile conferences and workshops every year, and I go to very few of them. I think it's important for these conferences to extend beyond the conference dates and facility to reach the people who can't come. Considerations for "virtual attendance" seems to be getting more common, in fits and starts, but I think it'll happen.

Along these lines, RUSA has recently asked a small group of librarians to look at this very issue. The goal of this task force is to recommend

a suite of technology-based approaches to virtual membership, virtual attendance at conference, podcasting or videocasting conference programs, the creation of webinars to be hosted by RUSA, and a range of other approaches that would provide resources to our members – both those that attend conference and those for whom conference attendance is a barrier to participation.

Now this is an organization moving in the direction of its members. Thank you, RUSA. I'm not sure what the end result of the task force will be, but just the fact that a large, member-based organization like this is paying attention to the needs of its members is a step in the right direction.

And hopefully, once RUSA develops and implements a good model, it will spread to the rest of the ALA.

But for the time being, don't be afraid to let your consortia, library associations, or other conference groups know what works and doesn't work for you, and where your needs are and aren't being met. That's the best way to get the resources tailored to our needs.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Internet Librarian conference is also going on right now - check out blog posts tagged with il2008 on google blog search.

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