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Bookin’ Librarians had a great weekend

This past weekend, the Bookin’ Librarians completed the MS Challenge, a 74 mile ride from Hope to Seward on Saturday and then 74 mile ride back to Hope on Sunday. The ride is a fund raiser for the National MS Society. I hed done the ride in 2008 and 2009 as an indivdual, but this year was joined by some fellow librarians and friends.

There were six of us riding–Drew, Judy, Megan, Mike, Paul and Scott–plus my wife Ruth came along to provide moral support and a cold beer at the finish line each day. Unlike previous years, we had wonderful blue skies and sunshine on both days. As usual, the race volunteers were great and there was plenty of good food and variety at the rest stops–pancakes, soups, grill cheese sandwiches, pizza, etc. I think I gained 5 pounds during the ride.

The really neat thing is how many people made donations to the MS Society on behalf of the team. We raised over $5300 which put us in second place among the friends and family teams and Scott was the second place fundraiser overall.  Many thanks to our generous colleagues, friends, and family!

More Mobile (and text)

Last week we debuted a mobile version of the library website using the techniques we developed for the mobile library catalog.  We automatically redirect to the mobile site for a selection of mobile browsers  (iPhone/iTouch, Android, Palm WebOS, Blackberry, Mobile Opera, Mobile Firefox, and Symbian s60) that covers a broad segment of the smartphone and high-end feature phones.  In addition, we have a link to the mobile site on the front page so users of mobile browsers we may have missed can make their own choice.  Also, low bandwidth users might prefer the mobile site.

The mobile home page is laid out with a set of icons to selected resources on the library website with an emphasis on those that might be more useful for mobile users.  However, we took a different approach than some web developers which only make a selection of pages available via the mobile version.  Instead we make every page on the main website available in the mobile version.  Mobile users also have the ability to toggle to the full website if needed.

Another nice feature is that we link to the mobile version of  library resources when possible.  For example, we link to the mobile version of the Ebsco databases like Academic Search Premier.  We will keep our eye on other vendors and link to their mobile versions when they become available.

Finally, the work we did to make a mobile version of the website allowed us to easily add a text version for screen readers and non-graphical browsers.  We had  text version before but only for the home page, now the entire website is available in a text version.  A link to the text version displays at the top of the page for screen readers and non-graphical browsers but is hidden from regular web browsers.

Mobile version of Library Catalog

We just debuted a mobile version of our library catalog optimized for display on the iPhone.  Our library system vendor is working on an iPhone application which we are investigating.  But developing html pages optimized for a mobile browser has a number of advantages over a dedicated application:

  • Catalog displays automatically when mobile users visit the web site, no need to download and set up an application.
  • Mobile html pages can be easily tweaked to display on other devices like Android, BlackBerry, etc.  No need to develop applications on multiple platforms.
  • Techniques learned to make the catalog mobile-friendly can be used for other library web services.
  • It’s free in terms of no additional licensing fees.  Its not clear what library vendors plan to charge their customers for applications they develop for the iPhone and other devices.

Our library catalog runs on SirsiDynix Web2 (not to be confused with Web 2.0) but the customization could probably be made to most web-based catalogs. We borrowed design ideas  from the great folks at NCSU Libraries. They’ve done some great work on providing library content to mobile devices. Thanks guys!

iPad in the Library

Yesterday I saw a student with an iPad in the library for the first time.  It looked like he was actually unboxing it.  It’s interesting because it took a while to see iPhone’s around Anchorage when they first came out (admittedly AT&T was not here yet) or netbooks for that matter.

In my view, students aren’t usually early adopters at least in terms of gadgets and devices, i.e. not a lot of disposable income.  I got a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet when they first came out in late 2005.  The 770 was like an iTouch, a media player with wifi for Internet browsing but no celluar. But it could  tether via bluetooth to a phone with data and was extremely hackable (based on Debian Linux). I was so excited when I saw a student with a 770 a few months later.  Over the years, the iPhone and other comsumer “smart” phones have become standard equipment and herald the growth of the mobile web.

I also bought a OLPC XO when they first came out in late 2007, mainly to support the project (you actually had to buy two, the second one was sent to a child in a developing country).  They look like Fisher Price toys and students had no idea what they were.  But netbooks came out in the following months and finally last fall I started to see students on campus with them.

So back to the iPad.  I was pretty shocked to see a student with one so soon.  Will we see a good number of them on campus next Fall?  Will it replace a laptop or netbook as the device to carry to campus?

The other interesting challenge posed by the iPad (or maybe just brought into sharper focus) is the implications of widespread adoption of dedicated e-content devices (ebook readers, media players, etc) for libraries.  Traditionally libraries bought physical media that was borrowed by users.  While the shift to electronic content via the Internet posed some challenges, libraries have adopted fairly well, i.e. we buy subscriptions to content that our patrons can then access using their web browser.

But mobile devices pose two challenges:

  1. Can libraries offer content in the multitude of DRM restricted formats offered by the device vendors?
  2. Will publishers use this shift in the market to squeeze libraries out of the equation?

I think libraries can handle challenge # 1, it’s challenge # 2 that has me worried.  Where does the library fit into the iTunes equation?

Open Atrium – or why I might finally like Drupal

It’s interesting to see all the positive articles and blog posts about Drupal and libraries.  Three years ago, we were looking for a solution to provide an intranet portal for our library and choose Drupal for several reasons–LAMP, free, strong community, flexible, etc.  We setup a portal for library staff, offered training on content creation, and made many customizations, including an extensive taxonomy of categories to control access based on group membership.  We even migrated the content of our main public website into Drupal as a first step to providing a “MyLibrary” level of personalization.

Then we started to have second thoughts.  Performance on the web server plummeted because of Drupal’s inefficiency.  We had to turn on caching for the public website, compress css and javascript files, move MySQL to another server, and finally upgrade to a new server.   In addition, library staff were avoiding the intranet portal, primarily because the extensive taxonomy made finding and creating content difficult .  As the new system administrator (my colleague who set up and customized our Drupal installation had left for another job),  I was having a hard time maintaining updates for the numerous Drupal modules and core.  Trying to change customizations was difficult.  It was a very steep learning curve.

A year ago, we surveyed library staff about communication methods within the library, with some focus on Drupal as the intranet portal.  We identified what worked (incident reports, pre-authenticated links to other web applications, rss feeds) and what did not (finding content, creating content).  In addition, we identified several areas where the intranet portal competed with more traditional forms of information sharing in the organization–mailing lists for discussion and network drives for sharing files.  People were unsure what was the most appropriate venue for a given piece of information.

We also identified a need for some library staff to have  a public web presence (their “own” space) as well as a more flexible way to create path finders or research guides.  The thought of try to get our Drupal installation to do this was daunting.  So instead, we began adopting “best-of-bred” solutions–WordPressMU for individual or group websites and LibGuides for research guides.  Library staff adoption of WordPressMU and LibGuides has been relatively painless, sometimes even bordering on enthusiastic.

In addition, we migrated the main public website to MODx, a very flexible CMS/CMF that allows considerable freedom in terms of design and functionality with an easy to use in-line editor for library staff.  We plan to move several ancillary websites into MODx during the coming year.

So where does that leave us with Drupal and our library intranet?  For many months I had been convinced that we had to abandoned Drupal and migrate to another platform–(Sharepoint, Liferay Social Office, Elgg, OpenGoo…).  But along came Open Atrium, an “intranet-in-a-box” based on Drupal.  Open Atrium provides workspaces which are places for teams to collaborate.  This “sense of place” was a major element missing from our Drupal intranet portal.

We are in the process of upgrading our intranet to Open Atrium, moving content into separate workspaces.  We will start with very basic features and then add enhancements.  In addition, we will be using Drush, powerful command line tool, to manage the underlying Drupal installation. I can’t believe we are sticking with Drupal for now.  The ultimate goal is a tool that improves communication and information sharing within the library. We’ll see how it goes.