weblogs, they work

28 Jul 06 in web stuff | 5 comments

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.

western springs history synchronicity

22 Apr 06 in web stuff | 1 comment

Wow. Something really neat happened on the TFML’s Western Springs History website. I recently posted an essay titled “Memories of Western Springs” by long-time resident Don Kennedy. Half coincidence, and half the power of using weblogs to get community input, a librarian from Ohio added an amazing comment to the post:

Mr. Kennedy & librarians at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library,

I arrived at your website as I contemplated attendance at a program in Columbus, OH where Mr. Aaron Schmidt was to be a featured speaker. (I am an academic librarian and an adjunct library school instructor.)

A “small world” event happened this evening as I browsed the library web site. I was looking for links that would give me information about that speaker when I stumbled upon a name so very familiar to me in the history of a town where I’ve never been but a person and a place that my very existence depends upon: Mr. Kennedy, you have “made my day”!

Western Springs did ring a very distant bell with me. I have longed to visit there (even though I had no idea where “it” was) ever since we drove to the area with our oldest son as he began his studies at The University of Chicago back in 1988.

My parents have been gone many years but I have wonderful photos of them on their wedding day (after they eloped from Marion, Ohio). The pictures were taken at the church in Western Springs, with Mom’s cousin, Rev. Stubbs, who married them. I have always wondered if I could ever find that church just to see it.

Now, the next time I come to Chicago I will be able to find the church for sure. I’ll just go to the library where they have so wonderfully preserved the history of the town and I am sure I’ll get help to find what I’m looking for.

So, thanks Mr. Kennedy. And thanks in advance to the librarians who I know I’ll be able to count on.

Susan D. Scott
Pataskala, Ohio

What are the chances of that, right? And it’s unlikely we would have heard about this if the website wasn’t as two-way as it is.

simple google map “hack”

28 Nov 05 in tech in libraries, web stuff | 1 comment

Many moons ago I posted about some library fun with google maps API. I’ve finally made some time to add data into the map I had for the Western Springs History (for which I also chose a new WordPress theme). Take a look at the Western Springs History interactive map, and if you like it, here some code. Libraries could use something like this to display the location of the building/s, or maybe just map out the best places to eat around the library.

The code for the map calls in an XML file named “data.xml” which should reside in the same directory as your HTML file. You’ll need to change one thing in the code before you try load it into a brower. Sign up for a google maps api key and paste it in where the code instructs towards the top of the document. You’ll likely also want to Ctrl-F to find “map.centerAndZoom(new GPoint(-87.899300, 41.812600), 3).” The first two numbers are the latitude and longitude that will be displayed when your map is loaded. The third number is the level of zoom. Unlike Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps doesn’t do any geocoding, so you can’t simply enter an address for your new GPoint. Fear not, you can use the free geocoder.us to get the lat/long data of an address.

There are all kinds of fancy things you can do with the XML, but here’s what I chose for my map:


Add in as many points are you like.

Once you have an HTML file with the altered code and a data.xml file in a folder, open it up and see what happens. You can easily customize your map further by reading the Google Maps API Documentation. Also take a look at EZ Maps and the list of map projects from Mapki.

library fun with google maps api

1 Jul 05 in tech in libraries | 2 comments

You may have heard that google released its google maps api. This means that you can now do all sorts of fun things with plotting your own points on google maps.

There are a number of ways you can get the google maps code to display points. One way is including coordinates directly in the code:

example of plain, basic google maps api implementation

And the other is nifty, because you can get the code to read an XML file:

example of google maps with XML

Now, neither of the above are rather exciting, although the first has a handy box with the address info and a link. My goals are to use something like this on my library’s site for directional info.

The second example has all kinds of potential. For my own geeky pleasure I’m going to look into using GPX (GPS Exchange) to plot out the waypoints of climbs/hikes/rides I’ve done.

A more practical purpose will be finally be creating a (reliable) map interface to our Western Springs History website, giving users a spatial representation of where the houses are.

blogs create community dialog

1 Jun 05 in meta | 2 comments

I haven’t been writing much on walking paper lately because of competing projects. One of the neat things I’ve been working on is westernspringshistory.org If you visit the site, you’ll learn that the TFML got a grant to work in conjunction with the local historical society to digitize a portion of its historic home collection. Like everything, it isn’t perfect, and like many things, it is a work in progress, but I’d like to point out that the site is run by WordPress, so it was a no brainer to have (moderated) commenting available for each house. We were hoping that people would add data to the project by sharing their knowledge and questions. After everyone in town received a nice brochure about the project, our hopes came true. Take this comment from 4350 Lawn:

This was our first house in Western Springs. The year was 1976 – Memorial Day weekend. A parade marching by woke us our first morning – it was then we fell in love with this wonderful town!

We lived on the North side of this two family house. The beautiful high ceilings, carved fireplace and large rooms were very unique. Only spent 3 years in this house – welcomed our first born child and decided this was the place to raise our family.

The comment on 619 47threquests more information, and invites us to take an updated photo of the house.

The library has yet to reply to the comments, but when we do we’ll be sure to email the people, and post our reply on the website. This interaction is amazing, and leaves me wanting more. The moderation process is quite simple (alerts are sent to our email address when a comments is awaiting moderation, where we can approve – or deny if it happens to be spam). The ease of this leads me to believe we should venture into some things I’ve thought about doing for quite some time, like enabling comments on our Readers Advisory pages, or creating a special section on the website for discussion. These things seem like a can of worms that could be well worth opening. Imagine a library gathering their community virtually and creating a library based web community!

Anyone else have experience with user generated content on a library website?