Collaborative Coding on the Web


Of course I’m all about open programming and any tool that makes programming with others easier gets an ‘A+’ in my book. Koding sounds like just the right tool (but I haven’t had a chance to play with it first hand yet):

Koding is supposed to make the development process both easier and more social. Users build their projects in the browser, with a free development server that supports Java, NodeJS, Perl, Python, Ruby, C, C++, Go, and other languages. The company compares its features to Facebook or Yammer, allowing developers to share their code with each other, ask each other questions, and collaborate on projects that can be public or private.

The site was in private beta until now and is slowly opening its doors by giving each member a few invite to share with friends. Learn more at TechCrunch and if you get an invite let me know what you think!

7 Essential Elements to an Awesome Library Website

First up this morning was David Lee King sharing library website tips with us. I’m not working in this field so much anymore (web design) but I still wanted to see what cool tips David had for us all so here I am.

David started by blaming Ned Potter, author of The Library Marketing Toolkit ( for this presentation because Ned asked him for some tips for elements every website should have. It started David thinking and he went where we all go – hours, directions, etc. But that’s not we should all be thinking.

#1 Customers want something to read, watch and listen to when they visit the library

At least that’s what it’s like in our buildings, but not so much on our websites. An example is a blog post on your website that talks about a neat art exhibit at the library – writing/reading about it is not the real goal. We all have a link to our catalog, using the catalog is not the goal of the patrons – the goal is to read!

So some examples of giving patrons something to “do” on your library website is to include steaming videos, provide downloadable ebooks, and download free (or subscription) music.

Ebooks for example are perfect for your ‘digital branch’ or website. It’s not easy to download ebooks once in your physical building. They’re meant to be downloaded on mobile devices.

Another way to interact with patrons is to use social media and ask questions and promote discussion – an example from Topeka Shawnee was that they asked patrons what books kept them up late at night. You could also sign up for sites like GoodReads and LibraryThing and then embed a group’s activity right on your library website.

You could also do videos of book discussions or interviews and once again people can watch them on your website.

The Goal? These are all things that people can ‘do.’

#2 Customers have questions and ask at the library

We all answer questions in person when patrons come up to us. How about our digital branch? Do we make it friendly and easy to use?

Add an ‘Ask Now’ or ‘Ask a Librarian’ button that is big and colorful and easy to find. David pointed out a cool tool for this (and an open source one at that!) called Spark. You can use this to communicate with your patrons. For text messaging you can use Google Voice. These two tools are both free to use (but Spark does take some time to set up).

Another way for patrons to contact you is to allow for emailing questions

Arapahoe Library has a nice ask us page where they list all the ways to contact them including Twitter, Facebook, Email, Texting, etc.

The Goal? Answering questions!

#3 Customers need to know the normal stuff too

Patrons need to know things like your address and phone number. Don’t make your patrons dig for this!!

A footer is a common place for people to look for this info. Include hours, phone numbers, address, contact us link, etc. Also include on every page of the website a way to ask a librarian, get a library card, contact the library. These are the normal things people come to the library site to find.

When it comes to directions to your library site, make sure you get in your car and try out the directions you’re providing! David has worked in two libraries where this info on the website was actually wrong.

Make it easy to find frequently asked questions like circulation policies, fine policies, etc. And don’t make these PDFs filled with Library Jargon.

The Goal? Tell people the normal stuff!

#4 Library’s need actual staff

David asked how many of us hire volunteers to design our library buildings? People who just kind of think they know how to catalog to catalog your books? Why do that for your website?

Websites = Actual Work

Hire someone to do your website! Don’t just ask the most tech savvy person in your library and hope that it turns out right. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need an IT person, there are many content management systems such as WordPress and free themes you can get. This allows the staff to focus on the important stuff – updating the content!

Website = Real Staff

Include a staff directory on your website! Many libraries don’t include contact info for specific people at the library. It makes it really difficult to contact someone specific. At Topeka Shawnee they not only have a directory, but a photo of the staff member. So many libraries are about hiding the staff when it comes to the website. This is not good customer service!

Every blog author at David’s library also have an author bio page. There is a picture and short bio for each of them. They also include links to social networks for the blog authors which is a nice way to connect with the librarian in the digital world.

Shockingly at David’s library they want people to contact them!

The Goal? Staff the website

#5 Have Goals!

A lot of us strategic plans in our libraries, sometimes also a technology plan and other goals. Our websites need to be in these kinds of plans as well! There should be overlap between the library’s plan and the website plans. So if you have a collection development policy include things in there like writing blog posts about the new titles.

Keep statistics to see what tools are successful.

#6 Reach beyond your webbish boundaries

Go where people gather! Find out where you patrons are and then make sure you’re there. If a new one pops up – like Pinterest – do a pilot project. Ask patrons if they’re there and if they want the library to be there too. Topeka Library is on Pinterest now because their patrons asked them to be and they told their patrons to test it. They’re keeping stats and watching patrons usage to decide if it’s worth staying on there.

You can also turn these online gatherings in to in person gatherings like Tweetups or the PodCamp Topeka.

This is a way to meet your digital branch patrons.

The Goal? Be where people are.

#7 Be mobile friendly

A way to do this is use Boopsie to create a library mobile app.

You could create a mobile website using examples like this.

Make sure you brainstorm first though. Don’t just jump in to creating a mobile site. Think about how your patrons are going to want to quickly interact with the library website while on the go.

Also once you go live, ask for suggestions. What else do your patrons want to see on the mobile site or app? The whole point of providing this mobile site is for your patrons to use it!

The Goal? Be Mobile Friendly!


At the Disney Store there is a sign that says to visit the store online to get the full experience. Maybe we should do the same thing on our library websites. Use the website to provide the full library experience.

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Coding Potpourri at AALL

This week I was on a panel at AALL (my first time at this conference) that discussed coding in libraries. There were four of us and four languages to discuss. I started with MySQL (and an introduction as the Koha Goddess who helped bring Koha to law libraries). I showed some of the MySQL tables in Koha and explained how they were created and how to query data out of them. My slides can be found on Slideshare.

More important to me is what I learned from my colleagues. First I learned about Python from Ted Lawless. I have never used Python but it was very simple to figure out what was going on on the screen based on my experience with other languages. Ted showed us how he used Python to get around the limitations of reporting in his proprietary ILS (pointing out that my talk was a good segway to this since I was showing how easy it was get data out of an open source system). Ted has shared his slides and his code examples on his site.

Next was Jason Eisman talking about HTML5. HTML has come a long way! Jason had be excited to hand code a webpage again … well maybe not an entire webpage, but certain parts. One of the things that stuck with me was the fact that HTML5 can validate forms without Jacascript! You can create a field type of email and HTML5 will make sure it’s a valid email address. Jason shared his slides on Slideshare.

Up last was Tom Boone introducing us to CSS. When I learned HTML we did all the formatting using HTML, there was no CSS, and for a person who talks about changing being necessary … this is one area that I am still being stubborn about. I have tried and tried to understand CSS and how it can be used to format pages, but I just can’t wrap my head around it. Tom’s talk did a great job of at least explaining to be the difference between classes and IDs (both in CSS and how they look embedded in the HTML). I’m going to come back to Tom’s slides and see if I can gleam a bit more about CSS to help me down the road.

Overall a great panel and a lot of fun to share and learn with fellow library programmers.

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CIL11: Building Great Websites

First up this morning (for me) Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches-Johnson.

  • Disclaimer 1: That pesky catalog problem – we really don’t have any control over this in most of our systems
  • Disclaimer 2: Like the catalog we don’t really have a lot of control over what all the other systems we subscribe to look like

0% of searchers start their research at library websites (according to perceptions survey). Aaron and Amanda think that there are are certainly things we can do to improve our websites to get a better percentage here.

Introducing a new concept: Useful, Usable, Desirable – library websites need a balance of these three things.


What is the #1 thing people want to do on our library sites? This is where we need to address our content strategy (plan for the creation delivery and governance of useful content). One way to find out what people want on your site is to ask them! This is a good place for me to put in a plug for LimeSurvey (an open source survey application that lets you create and manage web based surveys – a great way to ask your patrons what they want/expect/hope to see).

Content on library websites is pretty much like our spice cabinets at home. You don’t know how things got there, where things are, if they’re good anymore, etc. One way to handle this is a content audit (a great task for a cataloger). The first part of a content audit is the quantitative listing of all the pages (create an id for each page and include other info about the page itself). The second part of the audit is the qualitative portion. This is the most useful bit of the audit. Here you ask is this info accurate, useful, used, on message and updated recently? Using that data you then rank those pages (don’t use a scale of 1-10 – that’s too granular, do something like a scale of 0-2).


Amanda and Aaron believe that less is more when it comes to library websites. Library websites are kind of like the junk drawer! A lot of library sites take the ‘just in case’ approach to design and put things on there ‘just in case’ someone might need it one day. Instead you should be focusing all of your development goals on the majority of your users and what they want. There is way more value in delighting 50% of your users than having 100% of your users feel kind of blah about your website.

They have come up with a template they can use to create a simple library website at A great way for libraries to create a completely useable site that helps patrons find what they really want at your library. If you do decide to try this out Aaron and Amanda would like you to let them know about it.

To make your site useable you want to make sure you are writing for the web. When on the web, people don’t really ‘read’ they ‘skim.’ Conversational tone is very important for writing on the web. Instead of saying “A library card is required to check out items” say “You can check out all sorts of stuff once you have a library card.” What we were taught in school is not appropriate for the web .. a page that has a lot of paragraphs (an intro, a body, a thesis) is not going to work on the web. Instead use conversational language and break things out in to bullet points for easy skimming and making the important points findable. Another way to make your page useable is to add headings so people can find the area they are most interested in – also putting extra white space in there to make the content more scannable. Along those lines, par down your URLs! Don’t have super long addresses that aren’t easy to remember or type.

Use friendly words. Instead of ‘the library’ say ‘we,’ instead of ‘the patron’ say ‘you.’ Instead of ‘how you reset your pin’ say ‘how do i reset my pin’ – make it more personal and friendly. Also (and this has been said forever and ever now) do no use ‘click here.’ Instead of ‘click here to access your account’ say ‘access my account.’

Finally make sure you do usability testing!!


First tip – you can’t just choose random colors! Find a professional or use one of the many color pallet websites out there to find colors that work together. Next (and I whole-heartedly agree with this one) skip the clipart!!

Another way to make our sites desirable is to make them convenient and that means making them work on mobile devices. If you design for mobile first you’ll probably create a better website simply because you’re designing for a device with a smaller screen it will force you to follow a lot of the instructions already mentioned above (less is more).

The future:

There are four types of library website development that we need to focus on.

We need to start with the Basic – and many libraries don’t have even basically good sites. This site should have necessary info: how to pay fines, get a card, etc. If all of us got to just this state the library world would be much much better.

Next a Destination website. A site where librarians create the content and have conversations with their patrons.

The Participatory website is a lot less common, but this is the site where the patrons are very involved in content creation. Providing patrons tools in house to create that content and the librarians aggregating this content and making it available to all. An example would be Hennepin County Library’s BookSpace.

Moving beyond those sites would be a Community Portal. This is a place where the patrons go to help solve community problems. Kete might actually work to meet these needs.

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WordPress CE at SLA2011

This year at SLA I’ll be teaching librarians how to use WordPress (an open source content management system). If you’re in the Philadelphia area and/or attending SLA this year, consider joining me for “Designing Library Websites with WordPress.”

Date: Saturday, 11 June 2011
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Level: Introductory
Instructor: Nicole Engard

Description: Content management systems are making it easy for libraries to create their own websites with little or no web programming skills. Of the three popular open source content management systems, WordPress has become extremely popular in libraries. This workshop will walk librarians through the basics of using WordPress as a content management system. Attendees will learn how to use WordPress to design their complete website, from the pages to the events calendar to the optional blog. Each student will have their own WordPress install set up on the instructor’s servers before the workshop and will continue to have access to it for at least a month after the conference. Attendees will need to bring a laptop to use during the session.

Note: This workshop is appropriate for any SLA webmaster who will be participating in Operation Vitality and is unfamiliar with WordPress.

This CE is cosponsored by the IT Division of SLA.

Ticket Information:

  • SLA Member: $199.00
  • SLA Student Member: $99.00
  • Non-Member: $299.00

Register at

If you are already registered for the conference, you can modify your registration to add CEs. You may register for a continuing education workshop without registering for the entire conference.

WordPress is for more than blogging

When people approach me about content management systems such as Drupal and Joomla I ask if they have considered WordPress – I almost always get a blank stare. This is because WordPress has a reputation of being for blogging – and just for blogging.

I use WordPress for my book sites and for any other sites I’m asked to work on. I love using WordPress as a CMS, it’s so much less clunky than some of the other options – and doesn’t take a lot to learn (even when they upgrade and move things around). This fall I’ll be teaching a few classes on how to use WordPress for your entire library website – but for now I found this awesome list that can help you get started if you want to go it alone. The post entitled 300+ Resources to Help You Become a WordPress Expert has so many awesome resources – including a section on using WordPress as your CMS.

If you’re using WordPress for your library site already, let me know and I’ll be sure to feature you in my class :)

Joomla v. Drupal Survey

If your library is using Drupal or Joomla you might want to help another librarian by answering these 5 questions about why you chose the system you chose.

I was going to answer the survey, but it assumes that I’m talking about my experience in a library – and I never used either in a library, but have used both. My preference (if I can only pick between those two) is Joomla – but neither is really perfect.

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Why WordPress?

I taught a class earlier this week where I told the participants that we were going to use WordPress to create a website. One question I got way why WordPress over Blogger? My answer was personal preference – but now I have some really great reasons for why WordPress over Blogger.

If you’re using a blogging package to create your entire website – then you can’t use Blogger because Blogger doesn’t have the ability to add pages. Blogger is purely for blogging and nothing else. WordPress on the other hand has a lot of CMS functionality and can easily be used to create a website around a blog.

The other reason I like WordPress is because you can switch from a hosted version to a version on your own server with minimal effort.

And the last and most important reason … WordPress is open source!!

I have just one problem with the site – I wanted to use it in my class where we were creating websites with mashups – and we couldn’t use JavaScript :( I understand the reasoning and appreciate that the people at WordPress are just trying to keep their sites secure, but it means that I had to use Blogger in my class and we couldn’t create a website – but just a blog with a bunch of posts by the attendees with snippets of JS from various sites we used to create our mashups.

Overall, I’m still recommending WordPress to students in my classes – and to everyone I talk to – but I have to find a viable alternative for my hands-on mashups class.

Uses for WordPress

I am a huge WordPress fan. I use it for all of my blogs (except SLA-IT – which I have no control over) and I use it for all of my friends who want to set up their own websites. So, when I saw this post for 11 Non-Traditional Uses of WordPress I had to share it with you all.

Check it out and see if you can use WordPress to help improve services to your patrons – or just for your own personal use :)

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