Liberating the Reference Collection

Rick Roche writes:

We are breaking with our past at Thomas Ford. One thing that you could always count on was that the reference books were here on the shelves. As good as that was in the past, the problem now is that the reference books are here on the shelves, but no one is here using them. They are just sitting. So we are liberating them. We’re going to let them out to anyone with a card, just like other books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs.

The primary objection I have heard is “What if a book from a set doesn’t return, isn’t the set ruined?” This is a possibility, maybe even a probability in time. Still having books sit idle seems a greater sorrow in a public library focused on current utility and not archival conservation. I think the greater good will be served by this service. I look froward to seeing some smiles when I let someone take a volume of Contemporary Literary Criticism or The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

I’m continually impressed by this library’s focus on making its services and resources as convenient and useful as possible.

haunted library

The Thomas Ford Memorial Library’s YA department is hosting a haunted house. Nice idea!

Let’s just hope they don’t get in trouble for promoting witchcraft or somesuch.

rescuing data from the OPAC

Part of the long and major redesign of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library website mandated a browsable list of the feature films available. The idea, I’m pretty sure, is to have an online version of the title list binder that sits by the movies. There are a number of ways I could have accomplished this. Here’s a list or possible methods, ranked effort required and the resulting usability:

  • link from the website to the Word doc that already exists
  • link from the website to a PDF
  • copy and paste the titles into a Movable Type post to display them on the web
  • copy and paste the titles into a Movable Type post, but link the titles into the OPAC
  • make an individual post for each title, including a link to the OPAC, info about the film, a link to the IMDB’s entry on the film, and a place for user comments

films at the ford
There might be some more usable and labor intensive ways to do this, but let’s stop there because that’s what I decided to do. On one hand, it was bad that I couldn’t get access to the ILS and have some awesome scripts to automate this a la the WPOpac, but on the other hand, doing what I did wasn’t that much more terrible than linking titles to the OPAC in a plain old HTML document. Plus, since it is in this blog post format, other staff can easily keep the list up to date without the need for much instruction.

The pages could use some design tweaking, but since we’re going to have a whole new design in the next few months, it doesn’t make sense to spend that much more time on it. The important part is that the content and mechanics are in place. Speaking of mechanics, comments are moderated until approval. I don’t see this changing, mostly because this is built on Movable Type so spam will be very difficult to control.

infernal affairs

I see this little project as an experiment. If successful it will be an indication that the very lofty goals we initially made for the new site (now relegated to Phase 2) were on track, and that we shouldn’t forget about them.

You all are getting a sneak preview since this isn’t yet linked from anywhere on the TFML site. Poke around, see if you find anything goofy, and leave some movie reviews or comments.

Films at the Ford

customizing mediawiki for internal use

After Internet Librarian, ricklibrarian was jazzed up about using a wiki for an internal knowledge base. I should have called him “wiklibrarian.” So, last night I installed Mediawiki on the TFML website. I’ve done a few installs of Mediawiki which made this one fast and smooth.

What did, however, take a little bit of searching and a little bit of time was to find what I needed to add to LocalSettings.php to secure the site. Here’s what needed to be done, in order of security strength:

  • Only registered users can comment
  • Only registered users can see the wiki
  • No non-user can register to be a user

This will allow for staff to post freely, and will keep the library’s internal business internal. To perhaps save you all some time, I’ll list here the code I added to LocalSettings.php to achieve the above results. This will give you a private wiki without having to mess with .htaccess or other authentication. Yay. Note: If you prevent user registration, you’ll have to pre-register people and give them usernames and passwords.

## stuff i'm adding (ADS)

# This snippet prevents editing from anonymous users
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['edit'] = false;

# This lists ages anonymous (not-logged-in) users may see (only the log-in)
$wgWhitelistRead = array("Special:Userlogin", "-", "MediaWiki:Monobook.css" );
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['read'] = false;

# This snippet prevents anonymous users registering
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['createaccount'] = false;

For the sake of transparency, a case could be made for having this wiki’s content open for all to see. In fact, I’m sure library users would enjoy browsing some of the sections like “Staff Recipes,” and “Sure fire books” in the YA section, but it might be best to start with it protected. If the content turns out to have any utility for the public, perhaps we could move to protecting only specific pages.

weblogs, they work

When I talk to people about using weblog software for library projects I always mention that the clean code it’ll spit out is advantageous. This clean code, along with dynamic content makes it easy for search engines to index, increasing the chances of your stuff getting noticed.

As of yesterday, I have a really great example of this that also servers as a reminder of the positive impact that libraries can have on the web. In the TFML inbox yesterday:

Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

I am trying to trace an old friend of mine, [XXXX], that I lost contact with over the past 8 years. In the search engine I found the link below and would be grateful to receive a copy of this article, so I can check whether the deceased is the person I am looking for.
I live in Frankfurt/Germany.
Thank you for your attention.
Best regards

[gives link to an entry in the TFML obit index]

We no longer had the newspaper so I had the obit faxed over from a nearby library and emailed the text to Germany. Today, a response was waiting for me.

Dear Aaron,

Thank you very much for your prompt reply. Unfortunately, [XXXXX]
is the person I was looking for. I am stunned that he died more than 3 years
ago, while he was still quite young and had so many plans.

The patron went on to give the story of how they knew each other, then ended with this:

In the past few years I “googled” him unsuccessfully, but only now traced
him on Amazon’s search-engine A9.com, in case you are interested how I
discovered your website. What would we do without the internet!

Again, thank you very much, and although I feel quite sad now, with your
information I can close a chapter in my life.

Sincerely, [XXXX]

Wow, just wow. Let’s not underestimate the impact libraries can have by putting quality content on the web through our own websites and in other receptacles. Our dispersed digital branches go far beyond the boundaries of our communities. Even small libraries secondarily serve people around the world.

if you build it

An online library card application was the easiest thing I’d never done for the library’s website (I really like the URL too – fordlibrary.org/gettingacard). All it took was the repurposing of an email form already in existence and a few head nods from staff involved. The email gets sent to two address, the general one monitored by Reference, and to the head of Circ. The head of Circ gave a memo to her staff, created a box in which to put ready for pick up cards, and we were done.

We got an application within 24 hours of the form being on our website, so I’m very interested to see if it’ll get used often.

funny stuff

A few people have emailed me asking about my absence, so here’s a quick note saying hello to everyone. I’ve been off doing fun things, usually involving riding one of my bikes fast, far, or both. For some content, here’s a great comment I found on the MySpace of one of the TFML’s MySpace friends:

omfg! take ur town off of myspace! people could molest you!!!!! jk jk jk. lol. jus got back from my aunt &uncles crawfish thingy. fun fun. okay. laterr.

The library had a slew of 6th grade classes come in to hear about the summer reading program today. Their eyes popped when we told them about the library’s efforts with books on iPod, IM, video games and MySpace. Some of them were so shocked you’d have thought we showed them a married bachelor or a three sided square. I didn’t know our image issue was *that* bad.

best library myspace yet, and a request

Take a peek at the Denver Public Library’s MySpace, found at http://www.myspace.com/denver_evolver. For a number of reasons, it is one of the best library MySpaces I’ve seen. They’ve included music playing on their page, like every normal MySpace around, they’re networking with YA authors and cool bands, it has a visually appealing background, and, the page links back to content on their main website.

Also, has anyone written a policy especially for MySpace? I received an email:

We are developing a MySpace Page for our teen users but, before we can actually get the go-ahead from our director, we need a Myspace policy. I was hoping to look to see what policies other MySpaced libraries have put into place in order to get an idea of where to begin with ours.

Does your library have a policy in place for MySpace? If so, I would love to take a look at it.

I’m not sure what policy for a library’s use of a specific social software site would look like. Considering some libraries can’t change the location of their pencil sharpener without a forming a committee and drafting a report, chances are that some libraries will “need” policy for the use of social software. I would argue, however, that a library’s basic online policy could cover the using things like Flickr, MySpace, del.icio.us, etc..Here’s a relevant portion of the TFML’s Online Privacy Policy:

The Internet represents a world of resources and organizations beyond the walls of the Library. This website provides links to other sites that the Staff feels are valuable in some way. However, the Library cannot take responsibility for the accuracy or reliability of these linked Internet resources, their privacy policies, or their use of personal information. As an Internet user, be aware that some material found on the Internet may be considered offensive.

What’s different about linking to websites that happen to hold some of our content? I don’t think there’s any difference.

TFML website redesign

I spent some time redesigning and restructuring MPOW’s website. The old site wasn’t getting much attention from me because I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. The only way to update it was to rip is apart and start over. The bad part about it is that the navigation suffered a bit, I think, but I’ve got a plan to make it better.

The good part is that the site looks so much better, and is now ACTION ORIENTED and USER CENTERED. So instead of “Readers’ Advisory,” users see “find a book or movie.” Instead of “Adult Services,” “Young Adults” and “Youth Services” users see “adults,” “teens” and “kids.”* It is still fully liquid and scales down decently to 800×600.

I’m really tickled with the corner banner reading “support your library” which Brian points out is a visual metaphor as well, holding up the webpage. If you want to put a corner banner on your site, here’s the code I used:

<div style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;float:left"><a href="PATHTOLINK"><img src="PATHTOIMAGE" /></a>

Also, here’s a link to the support your library gif [via]

It is a small touch, but I gave people the choice of three font sizes on the page. That is, if people are aware what those As on a page do.

Also, now that it doesn’t look like junk, take a look at our Click-A-Story page. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone uses it as a podcast, if people will just listen in their browsers.

I still have a huge laundry list for the site. Some of it is wishful thinking at this point, some of it is very realistic:

  • better action oriented nav
  • integration with OPAC (not holding my breath, but since John Blyberg has written some great code for the Innovative ILS, maybe I can get SWAN folk at the MLS to work with me at some point.
  • visual cues for being in a certain (age-based) section of the site. i don’t think it should be difficult to find some suitable color changes in the CSS. Also possibly a big, fun, “FOR KIDS” gif placed by the banner for the YS pages
  • breadcrumbs leading back to a page’s ‘parent’ (i.e. teen news >> homework help) displayed on each page. this will be simple to do if I make header includes for each department
  • better looking middle column content, without sacrificing its legibility
  • conversation! I didn’t want to tackle enabling comments right now. easy to do technical wise, but it’ll take some time to formulate and write a policy. this one is important and we’ve gotta get it right.
  • more content. the hard part.
  • expose RSS where it exits. the site needs some orange gifs, har har.
  • etc, etc…

We’re going to start a formal process of planning the next generation of our website in January. Participants will include a board member, four staff members and two or three members of the community.

Now that you’ve read the words, you can see some images with annotations in my flickr set new TFML site. Let me know what you think, feel free to point out anything you think is bad, and of course feel free to write me some CSS to accomplish anything I’ve listed above 😛

*note: I got the okay from the head of Youth Services to use the word “kids.” I know sometime YS librarians see the word as derogatory.

UPDATE: you too can try this at home. there are many great open source and public domain CSS layouts available on the web. this one is from ruthsarian layouts. also take a look at blue robot.

reasons why my library is cool

We’re interviewing people for a part-time YA position at my library. In speaking with people, two questions in particular have really struck my fancy:

Do you have any experience blogging?

Do you have any experience with instant messaging?

And, believe it or not, I’m not even the one that came up with these questions, it was Rick!

Come to think of it, I even asked one person what kind of experience they have with video games. I must be living in the future or something.