help make!

According to my Gmail archive, on July 2 of last year, Sheriff Joshua M. Neff emailed a bunch of Library Society of the World folks to let us know that the awesome Blake Carver (host of this site and many others) had set up an embryonic LSW site running on Drupal at We were all really excited about it, and then we hit a wall, or rather two walls: one was that none of us felt very comfortable with Drupal, and the other is, as you all know, that trying to design a website with a bunch of people — even a bunch of like-minded people — is an exercise in frustration.

Since then the site has languished, though on occasion someone adds something to it. People also still add things to the orginial LSW wiki on occasion, and drop in the LSW Meebo Room, although most of the action of late seems to be taking place in the FriendFeed room — and last I looked, the LSW group on LinkedIn was thriving, too.

The LSW is anarchic by both design and nature, and that’s as it should be, but when Josh brought up the Drupal site again yesterday on FriendFeed, I got an itch to do something about, and I’d like to invite you to help.

Right now, I am just working on wireframes — the information architecture and the general layout of the site. I figure we’ll worry about how to get Drupal to do all of this after we figure out what we want the site to do in the first place. Right now, the general idea seems to be that the site should both pull in LSW activity from other places (e.g., pull in an RSS feed of the FriendFeed room, etc.) and point out to those other places.

Inviting people to collaborate on a website design is asking for trouble, I know, but I’m going to do so anyway. I hope we can all agree that none of us will be completely happy with the site we come up with. We all have ideas about what good web design is, and while we probably agree on a lot of things, we all still have our own aesthetics, and we will all need to accept that there may be colors, fonts, and graphics that are Not Our Thing.

The discussion is mostly taking place on FriendFeed, but if you haven’t been by there, here are all the threads I can find on the subject:

Recent Discussions

Older Stuff

If you’re at all interested in helping out, please dive in! I suspect we’ll keep discussing things mostly in the FriendFeed room, but feel free to drop me a line at newrambler at gmail or catch me on IM (newrambler on gtalk; theblackmolly on AIM). Just be sure to bring patience, tolerance, and your sense of humor.

working with wordpress, and other lessons in software selection

A year ago or so, when I decided to take on redesigning our library website*, I immediately decided to use WordPress. Although I’ve never actually installed WordPress by myself, I run two blogs that use it. I’d seen a gorgeous implementation of it at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. I understood more or less how it worked and what you could do with it, which is not something I could (or can) say for Drupal or Joomla or a lot of wiki software. So I dove in: I did a sample site on; I got our IT guy to install the real thing for me; I mucked around with the markup till I figured out how to change colors and get rid of some of the bloggier elements, such as dates on pages, and in the process screwed up a lot of other things that, happily, my friends were able to fix.

These days the site is looking pretty good, I think, and I’ve taught seven or eight other people to add content to it, which I think is awesome. But there are some things that I never considered when I was starting out on this lark (most of my projects start as larks), and while I don’t think I made a bad decision, I thought I’d enumerate some of the difficulties, too.

CMS difficulties
WordPress is blogging software, not content management software. If you don’t want to do anything too complicated, it works well enough, but there are compromises I’ve had to make. Although the Park County Library System is a system, in consists of three very different libraries that are a long way away from one another. It’s 32 miles from my library to the main library in Cody, and it’s 26 miles beyond that to get to the other branch in Powell, and unless you can fly, there’s no way to make those journeys any shorter. I was torn, and still am, by how to represent those differences while still creating a unified website. I chose to make separate pages for each library instead of (as Thomas Ford does) making separate pages for each group we serve. That means that we don’t have a central kids’ place: we have a Cody kids’ place, a Powell kids’ place, and a Meeteetse kids’ place. That means I can’t just say, “Hey, want to know what the library is doing for young people? Go to” I’m not completely sure that balancing those two things is something a real CMS could do better, but I imagine that it might.

This one really threw me for a loop. I have done WordPress upgrades before (all by myself! though with fear and trepidation and many, many backups), but I was not at all prepared for the whole new look of the backend that came with the move from 2.3 to 2.5. A different look for the backend isn’t a big deal for me, and it may not be for you, but for a lot of my website contributors, it’s going to be a big hurdle. I’ve created training materials [Word doc] with circles and arrows and paragraphs explaining what each thing is, and while you might think you could say, “Hey, just look around — the categories are still there, they’re just in a different place,” for some people, it’s a big change, and I’ll need to redo all my circles and arrow for the new format — and that’s a significant time investment

I’ve been ignoring the upgrade because of the time and effort that will be involved, but I sort of know I can’t do it forever. (If someone can explain to me what exactly the security threat of running old software is, I’d appreciate it greatly. I know it’s a threat; I just don’t know why or what sorts of bad things could happen because of the holes in the software.)

Things people want to do that the software just won’t do
I gave up on getting our library card signup form fit into WordPress, which I think is basically okay. But I’ve had people want to create all sorts of things — forms, tables, exactly positioned images — that, for various reasons, just don’t quite work with WordPress, or don’t work with it without them learning some HTML. I love that I can get pretty much anyone who can use Word putting stuff on the website, but it’s hard to know exactly what to tell them when they start to get irked with the limits of WYSIWYG editing. Again, to us learning a few HTML tags may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a leap for people who just want to update the children’s section quickly and get back to their work as very busy children’s librarians.

For these reasons and others, I’ve been trying to create a little community of practice for people using WordPress in libraries. Jessamyn has blogged about it already, but even though I think my mom is the only person who reads this who doesn’t read, I thought I’d repeat it. If you’re at all interested in using WordPress in a library context, from Scriblio to a teen blog space, please join us!

We have

  • a wiki I have always used pbwiki as a free wiki service in the past and would have used it for this, too, but their latest upgrade, I got a little irritated at them, so after shopping around, I chose bluwiki instead. It’s free; it’s ad-free; it’s decent looking, but it’s not as familiar as pbwiki, and I wonder if that means that it will be harder for some people to use.
  • a WebJunction group The new WebJunction has some nice new social features, and a WJ group allows you to set up both a discussion forum and a place to upload documents, so I thought we’d give it a whirl.
  • an email list Well, sort of an email list. I’ve run any number of lists in the past, but there’s something going on with this one that I don’t quite get, wherein messages only seem to go out if you send them from the site. If we don’t get this figured out soon, we may migrate to a different provider. I feel incredibly dumb for not being able to make this work better, which just goes to show you that even if you think you’re thinking about it, software can come back to bite you when you least expect it.

*Our old site, for the curious, looked kind of like this (although significantly better in IE than in Firefox).

the new Cody library, my sort of new job, and other news

I realized long ago that I was never going to be a newsy blogger. There are plenty of other people out there reporting on new things, so I don’t. Sometimes, however, I really ought to report some news about what’s happening at my actual librarian job.

I came out to interview for this job in January of 2006. That same week, the Cap Tax II campaign to fund a new Cody library kicked off. I arrived on the job in March and got to work on that website not too long afterwards. That November, I got to celebrate not only the trouncing of the Republican majority in Congress but also the passage of the cap tax. (In fact, I was on the road on vacation the day after election day. We stopped in Farson to get gas, and I called the library from a payphone to get the news.) Some months after that, I started work on what would become the Park County Library website , and last October I attended the groundbreaking for the new library.

This Saturday, the old Cody library will close its doors for the last time. The new library will open six weeks later, on October 4th, and it should be a site to behold: three times the size of the incredibly overcrowded current library (where the branch manager and the circulation manager both have desks right behind the circulation desk, and boxes of donated books line the walls along the entrance).

I’m thrilled that I’ll get to be there. And since, although they’re not really connected, my progress in my job and the progress of the Cody library project have been intertwined in my time here, I’m also excited to tell you about the ways my job is changing. While I’ll remain as a librarian in Meeteetse and continue to do collection development and instruction and programming there, I’m turning over a lot of my administrative duties to my extremely able coworker. That will give me time to be a traveling librarian one day a week and a virtual librarian another. I’ll be traveling to the Powell and Cody libraries to do staff training and, eventually, to teach some classes for the public. And one day a week (or, more likely, hours throughout the week that add up to about a day a week), I’ll be working on our virtual branch, developing web content (like this silly little screencast I just made) and learning more about whatever I need to learn. (I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll meet Mabel Wilkinson’s requirements , but maybe someday.) I look forward to continuing to grow with the library system where I work.

with a lot of help from my friends

This post is long overdue.

On October 3, I did the official soft launch of our new library website. There are still some improvements to come (online library card sign up!) and some things I’d like to do but which may be hard to institute (MeeboMe reference!) but on the whole, it’s done.

It’s basically a WordPress installation with some of the bloggy parts taken out, a modified WordPress theme, and a highly customized sidebar. I use Google to run the events calendar, because I wanted something that would easily handle repeated events such as story times. There are still some little problems (for instance, the header has a blue background in Internet Explorer and none in Firefox), and the header does kind of hog a lot of real estate, but given the amount of time it took to get it working at all, I decided against trying to do more with it right now). On the whole, though, it wasn’t really very hard to set up, despite the devils in the details, and if you’d like more information, just let me know.

Websites don’t usually come with acknowledgements pages, but they should. This, then, is an acknowledgements post.

First, I’d like to thank everyone in the Park County Library System: our director, Frances Clymer, for giving me permission to go ahead with this project; our IT person, Ty Wright, for doing the WordPress installation; everyone on the web team for putting up with multiple logins, long instructions, incessant e-mails, and general nattering from me; and the library staff for embracing the new site.

Thanks to Mitchell Szczepanczyk for doing the test site WordPress installation and to Mitchell and his co-worker Holmes for various troubleshooting.

Thanks to Desiree Saunders at the Wyoming State Library for her indefatigable database access fixing and for pointing out a number of decisions I’d forgotten I had to make.

Thanks to Aaron Schmidt for showing what a blog-based library website could look like.

Thanks to Dorothea Salo for pointing out some faceting errors in an early iteration of the Research page and for sending me this at a crucial point. The Research page still has problems, but those aren’t Dorothea’s fault.

Thanks to Michael Sauers for blogging about the importance of valid code. I know ours isn’t perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than at least one (far more expensive) example he cites.

Thanks to Andrea Mercado and Jessamyn West for their offers of assistance. Thanks also to Jessamyn for writing the post that inspired me to make the iPod options page into its own front-and-center page rather than just having it be a post.

Thanks to Steve Lawson for fixing every CSS problem I created and some I didn’t. I am planning to leave a bequest to Colorado College when I die mandating that they always employ at least one person who can fix other librarians’ CSS problems, since I think that’s on the verge of becoming an official part of Steve’s job description.

Thanks to the Twitterverse and all the regulars in the LSW Meebo Room for advice, encouragement, and general good humor.

And thanks to the people behind WordPress, Twitter, and Meebo for creating the tools that made all this good stuff possible. (Oh, and Google, but they get enough props, right?)

Thanks to everyone I forgot.


My friend says that cross-country skiing is a good sport because it keeps you humble. Every time you start to get too pleased with yourself, you manage to slip and fall down. I can now say the same for usability testing: doing it is an excellent way to remind yourself that you have not created the pinnacle of user interface design. Luckily, I was pretty sure of that to start out with.

Anyway, yesterday I visited the two other branches of the county library to do some usability testing of the new website I’ve been working on. I was about to sit down and put together my findings, but it occurred to me that it might be helpful to someone down the line some day if I wrote a little about the whole process.

The book on usability that everyone recommended to me is Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. While under normal circumstances I would be off put by that title (it is, after all, one of my goals to make people think), when it comes to web design, it’s right on. I don’t want people to have to think about how to find the information: I want them to think about the information.

Krug talks a lot about how to design websites and how not to, and at the end of the book he outlines how to do “simple” usability testing. His “simple” involves a separate room, a video camera, several people to run the test, and $50 each for the people who take it. All of that is above and beyond what we can manage here, but Steve Lawson told me they’d done usability testing without the camera and with cookies or something instead of $50–so I figured I could also do it without the separate room and the multiple people. I did get treats for the testers from the Meeteetse Chocolatier.

Since I’d returned the Krug book many months ago, I poked around to see if I could find some more good advice on the web, and I came up with the University of Virginia library’s Web Usability page, which had some good instructions and lots of sample questions used for testing various parts of their websites.

Of course, I did a lot of things wrong: I designed the website, and I wrote the questions and did both the interviewing and observing. These are all big no-nos, but you do what you can, and I think I learned a lot even with this small, highly imperfect system.

I asked the other branch managers to find me two volunteer testers each. I said they didn’t need to be computer experts–just average people who might use the library or the website. I planned for an hour with each person, which I figured was going to be way too much time and was–each tester took perhaps 20-30 minutes total.

We did the tests sitting at one of the public computers in each library. The tester sat at the computer, and I sat a little to the side so I could see the screen. I explained the idea–I would ask them questions or give them little tasks to try to do–and emphasized that the test was a test of the web design, not of them. For each question, I recorded whether they were able to answer it and made some notes about the process they followed to get there. I tried to keep track of how much time they took on each question, but that got too hard to do along with writing comments and watching, so I gave up. Here are some of the results:

I started by asking, “Is the library open on Thursday nights?” Half the respondents saw the library hours in the sidebar right away; the other half clicked on the tab for their branch and scrolled from there. I was glad I’d decided to put the library hours in both places, so things began well, but they went downhill rapidly.

Almost everyone mistook the catalog search box in the sidebar for a search box for the site. If they couldn’t find whatever I had asked them about (how long they could check out a movie; what kind of ID they needed to get a library card; what programs are available for teens), they’d try typing something into the search box. That’s perfectly logical–in most cases, a search box will search the site its on. In this case, though, it searches the library catalog. As you may guess, when you type in “library card id” as a catalog search, you don’t get many helpful results.

A few people figured out they were in the catalog and not in the site when that happened, but most didn’t really distinguish. Almost everyone tried to use the “Go Back” button in the catalog to get back to the website, which of course doesn’t work.

Another result of people thinking that the catalog search was a site search was that when it came to asking them where they’d go to look up a book or a movie, many of them were stuck. They wanted the catalog–many of them even said, “I’m looking for WYLDCAT,” the name of our statewide library catalog. They didn’t see anything that said “WYLDCAT,” or any of the familiar graphics, and they didn’t think of the search box as having anything to do with the catalog. So they went all over the place–they’d try clicking the tab for their library, or clicking on the Books category, or clicking on one of the New Books posts. One of them said, when I asked how they’d find a book, “I’d go to one of those computers,” pointing to the computers reserved for catalog searching.

The question I thought would be the hardest–“Can you look for information about your genealogy?” turned out to be the one everyone got right on the first try. Everyone clicked on the Research tab, and then scrolled (or used the anchor tags) till they got to the genealogy databases.

The other thing that turned out to be really puzzling was the contact form. I meant to get rid of the “website” box before I did the testing, since I figured that would be confusing, but as it turned out, the whole thing was confusing. Many people were just baffled. . . “But how can I put in an e-mail address? I don’t know any e-mail address to send it to?” At the debriefing, after we finished, I explain that it was an e-mail form, and the E-mail box was for their e-mail address. Though some said that making it say “your e-mail address” would help, I got the feeling that the contact form really isn’t the way to go for this project.

So, here are some changes I’m going to make:

  • Add the WYLDCAT logo above the library catalog search box, and revise it to say “Search for books, movies, etc.” or something like that
  • Add a “search this site” search box
  • Redo the contact page and give multiple ways to contact each library: address, telephone number, and at least one e-mail address (There is a generic address for each library, and some e-mail addresses are on the old website. I need to find out who is willing to be contacted and who isn’t. That might have been a smart thing to figure out earlier on, eh?)
  • Put a few more things like phone numbers and important details in bold type
  • Move the information from the Friends and Foundation tabs somewhere else (probably to the sidebar) to make room for an FAQ tab up at the top–though I think I may just call it “Help,” since I’m not sure how many people will translate “FAQ” to “Frequently Asked Questions.”
  • Relabel “Flickr Pictures” to something like “Pictures From Your Library,” and maybe add a note explaining that they’re hosted by Flickr. Flickr as a site was not familiar to anyone, and a few people thought maybe it was connected in some way to the movie question.
  • Get rid of the News Categories bit in the sidebar. It seemed to confuse people to have a tab that said Cody and a link that said “Cody Library.” Unless you’re familiar with blogs, it’s not readily apparent that this is effectively a blog.
  • I’m not totally sure about the whole front-page-as-blog thing. . . I think people may expect something more static. I could make a front page and have the blog in a separate tab–or maybe just have one blog post at the top that stays the same. I haen’t made up my mind yet.

Doing usability testing–even in the small, podunk kind of way that I did it–was hugely helpful. It seems obvious now that people might confuse a catalog search box with a regular search box, but I never would have guessed that on my own. When I’ve made some changes to the website, I may try it out a few more people and do a final tweaking, and then, I think, we’ll be ready to go live.

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, 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 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 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.