with a little help from my friends

Between the Library Society of the World and Michelle’s post today and the general DIY awesomeness of the biblioblogosphere, I’ve been getting a distinct “we could get a barn and put on a show!” kind of a feeling, albeit mostly about the virtual world. And that in turn has made me think it’s about time I posted about my latest project.

As anyone who has ever looked at the code behind my website will know, I taught myself html in 1999 and had forgotten most of what I learned by the time I got around to recreating the site sometime in 2004. Taking Internet Fundamentals and Design last summer brought me somewhat up to date, but there are still wide gaps in my knowledge. (Someday I promise to go back and fix all my horrid tags and add metadata and, oh, update my ancient resume and. . . well, someday.)

But I never like to let ignorance stand in the way of getting things done accomplished. (Just think, if Columbus had done so–well, I guess fewer people in the Americas would have died from imported illnesses, which would be good–never mind.)

A few weeks ago I decided I was sick and tired of our current county library website. And I was sick of the general inertia about changing it (should we hire someone? what should it look like? should we form a committee? [actually, no one ever suggested that–but you get the idea]). So I thought, the hell with it, I’ll mock something up using wordpress.com, which I also used to make the cap tax website (though in that case we never used its blogging capabilities). I showed it to a few people, and they said, hey, cool. I showed it to my director, explaining that once I had an actual WordPress installation, I could do a lot more. I’d been expecting to ask forgiveness for my general impudence, but instead I was given permission to proceed.

I did, with a lot of help: I got my friend Mitchell to do a WordPress installation for me, since that is one of many things I don’t really know how to do. (Actually, I got him to install WordPressMU, because I was having delusions of aadl.org like grandeur.) Aaron Schmidt pretty much inspired the whole idea. Steve Lawson answered approximately 900 stupid questions (and may get a few more). Dorothea Salo pointed out (via Twitter) that my faceting on the research page was, to put it mildly, nonexistent. Marc Stratton from the Wyoming State Library sent many e-mails clarifying how to make links to the catalog. A random stranger from Publib whose name I’ve forgotten whose name is Don Yarman and who works for the Delaware County Library in Ohio showed me how to make links to various EBSCO databases. I stole some bits and pieces from websites here and there. Remaining mistakes are, needless to say, my own.

Now it’s about ready for the alpha masses. I’ve got a few things yet to do:

  • add metadata
  • actually learn CSS (going through the CSS file and randomly changing colors until you get the background you want is not really the best way to get stuff done)
  • decide how to incorporate the del.icio.us account I’ve made for the Meeteetse school
  • figure out how to use the MU part, if I decide to go that route (though I’m thinking at this point that that’s overkill)
  • get the header image to look better
  • I’m still not really happy about the Research page, but who is happy about the way they present their databases?
  • surely there’s more

Today my director showed it to a Thomson Gale person who was supposed to be giving us information on how to create direct links to our Virtual Reference Library (me: “uh, actually, I already did that”), and he was apparently impressed. The biblioblogosphere, though, is a tougher audience. So, have at it: here’s the site. There’s not much there yet, but you should get the idea.

10 thoughts on “with a little help from my friends”

  1. We absolutely can put on our own shows, Laura!

    Your website looks great, and I think it’s terrific and inspiring that you were able to sell the idea to your director. Great job!

    My friends at NEKLS (Northeast Kansas Library System) have been using WP to create websites for smaller Kansas libraries. Check it out: http://www.mykansaslibrary.org/

  2. Your choice of using WordPress is great. However, I just found out recently that you may consider to also use Joomla. In my point of view, it even greater and promising than WordPress.

  3. I like the design. Here are my comments:

    On the Research tab:
    It would be nice if there was a list at the top of the page with anchors that would jump down to each section. I can see that page growing in the future and becoming a crazy long page to scroll through. Scrolling is boo.

    On the library card page:
    Is there an online form? I wish more libraries had an online form for cards. Wouldn’t it be great if after you filled out the form, you could go pick up your card, all ready for you, at the circ desk?

    On the Contact page:
    Have you considered MeeboMe widgets?

    *claps* way to go!

  4. @Neff–thanks, and thanks for the link, which looks excellent.

    @belajar–I’ve heard good things about Joomla, but for this project I wanted to use a system I already knew, and so far WordPress does most of the things that I want it to. The rest I’ll improvise–and who knows, maybe Joomla (or something else) will be the right answer down the road.

    @Michelle–Yeah, anchors on the research page would be a good idea. Thanks! I would love to have an online form for library cards, but I’m not sure yet that the rest of the library is ready for that, as they are rather attached to the little index-sized cards that people fill out that fit neatly in the drawers used for storing library card records–but maybe someday. I would also love to have MeeboMe, but IM is another thing that hasn’t really taken on here yet. Baby steps, baby steps.

    Thanks to all for the excellent comments!

  5. This is looking nice. Are you doing tests with actual users yet? I have been trying to look at the site as a novice user might and wondered about a few things. Would they “get” the “6 + 3” kinda-captcha thing? Is there a better way to label the “Flickr Pictures?” One the one hand, people shouldn’t know or care about Flickr; on the other hand, they should know that they are leaving your site for a site that has all kinds of images once they do a search there.

    I’m sure real users would find other possible areas for improvement. If you haven’t done it before, it doesn’t have to be too elaborate. Just come up with 5 tasks that people should be able to do quickly and easily on the site. Ask 5 people to try those tasks, and give ’em some cookies (a chocolate croissant?) for their time. Write down where they trip up and see if you can fix that. Lather, rinse repeat.

    Then come do it for my website. 🙂

  6. Yeah, I do want to do some testing of the sort you describe with some actual library users (with any luck a few from each branch), since I suspect that there will be some things that don’t make much sense to them.

    This isn’t a particularly internet aware culture, and there are plenty of library users who, I suspect, will never even look at the website. (I once said to a guy from Ann Arbor, “Oh, the library there has the best website!” He said, “Oh, I’ve never looked at the website, but I go to the main branch all the time.”) My goal, then, is to design a website for people who do want to use a website. We’ll see if I’ve actually managed that!

  7. This is great, Laura! I think you are off to a brilliant start with this Website. This just goes to show that any library can do something like this with a minimal amount of tech savvy. There are almost always people in our profession out there who are willing and happy to help.

    And while I agree with Michelle that a MeeboMe widget is cool, it’s really hard to staff when there is only one person, or just a couple of people, staffing the entire library. I know of a lot of very small libraries that want to do Meebo, but there’s just no way they could sit in front of a computer and staff it.

    Again, congratulations! You rock!

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