CIL 2011: In Pursuit of Library Elegance

Speaker: Erica Reynolds

Elegant solutions/designs are often invisible to the user. Observe what is happening, and look at what could be removed (distractions/barriers), rather than what needs to be added.

Simple rules create effective order. The more complexity in an equation, the more doubtful that it is true.

Another aspect of elegance is seduction. Limiting information creates intrigue. Libraries could play more on curiosity to draw users to information. Play hard to get, in a way. Don’t be so eager to dump information in response to user questions.

Restraint and removal can increase impact and value. Encourage people to use their brains. Why do we act like they are so stupid that they need signs everywhere in the library?

Limited resources spark creativity and innovation. The creative tension at the center of elegance: achieving the maximum effect with the minimum of effort.

The path to elegance begins with: resisting the urge to act; observe; ensure a diversity of opinions and expertise are heard; carve out time to think and not think; get away from your devices; get some sleep; and get outside.

Speaker: John Blyberg

The primary intent of our website may not be about getting you from point A to point B. It could be about building community and connection.

They found that when they removed the fortress that was the old reference desk, it was much more popular and approachable. Like Apple not including a manual with the iPhone, your library should be intuitive enough to use with minimal signage or instruction. Digital signage can evolve and be interactive, which will spark curiosity and inquiry.

ER&L: Evolving Organizational Structures — are we keeping up?

Speaker: Glenn Bunton

He’s not a eresource person, and he doesn’t have the answers, but he hopes this will provoke some thinking. Users drive the libraries, not the other way around.

Organizations can’t change on a dime. You have to plan long term.

We are changing from the keeper of the materials to a service organization. Our organizational structure needs to change to match that. We still have the same old technical services and public services. [I disagree. The titles may be the same, but what we do is vastly different in many ways. He did not appear to have looked very closely at functions beyond titles.]

The paradigm is shifting. First with the advent of the iPhone, and now with the increase in ebook readers. Paper books are going away, like it or not.

He definitely doesn’t know anything about what he’s talking about. He’s observing the changes, but doesn’t understand or respect them.

WordCamp Richmond: Starting From Scratch – Introduction to Building Custom Themes

presenter: Wren Lanier

Why use WordPress as a CMS for a small website? It’s flexible enough to build all sorts of kinds of sites. It’s free as in beer and there is a huge support community. It has a beautiful admin (particularly compared to other CMS like Drupal) that clients like to use, which means it is more likely to succeed and make them happy repeat clients.

First things first. Set up a local development server (MAMP or XAMPP) or use a web host. This allows you to develop on a desktop machine as if it were a web server.

Next, download dummy content like posts and comments. There are plugins (WP Dummy Content, Demo Data Creator) or imports in XML form.

Start with a blank theme. You could start from scratch, but nobody needs to reinvent the wheel. Really good ones: Starkers (semantic, thorough, and functional), Naked (created for adding your own XHTML), Blank (now with HTML5), and more.

A blank theme will come with several php files for pages/components and a css file. To create a theme, you really only need an index.php, screenshot.png, and style.css files. Lanier begs you to name your theme (i.e. sign your work).

Now that you have a theme name, start with the header and navigation. Next, take advantage of WPs dynamic tags. Don’t use an absolute path to your style sheet, home page, or anywhere else on your site if possible.

Make things even more awesome with some if/then statements. You can do that in PHP. [I should probably dig out my PHP for Dummies reference type books and read up on this.] This allows you to code elements different depending on what type of page you use.

Once you have your header file, build your footer file, making sure to close any tags you have in your header. Code the copyright year to be dynamic.

It doesn’t have to be a blog!

If you’re going to create a static homepage, make sure you name the custom template. If you don’t do this, the WP admin can’t see it. Go into Reading Settings to select the page you created using the homepage template.

Now that you have all that, what goes into the custom template? Well, you have the header and footer already, so now you put THE LOOP in between a div wrapper. The loop is where WP magic happens. It will display the content depending on the template of the page type. It will limit the number of posts shown on a page, include/exclude categories, list posts by author/category/tag, offset posts, order posts, etc.

Once you have your home page, you’ll want to build the interior pages. There are several strategies. You could let page.php power them, but if you have different interior page designs, then you’ll want to create custom page templates for each. But, that can become inefficient, so Lanier recommends using if/then statements for things like custom sidebars. A technique of awesomeness is using dynamic body IDs, which allows you to target content to specific pages using the body_class tag depending on any number of variables. Or, once again you can use an if/then statement. Other options for body classes.

Finish off your theme with the power of plugins. Basics: Akismet, All-In-One SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Fast Secure Contact Form (or other contact form plugin), WPtouch iPhone theme. For blogs, you’ll want plugins like Author Highlight, Comment Timeout, SEO Slugs (shortens the URL to SEO-friendly), Thank Me Later (first-timer comments will get an email thanking them and links to other content), and WordPress Related Posts. For a CMS, these are good: Custom Excerpts, Search Permalink, Search Unleashed (or Better Search, since the default search is  bit lacking), WP-PageNavi (instead of older/newer it creates page numbering), and WP Super Cache (caches content pages as static HTML and reduces server load).

Questions:

What about multi-user installations? She used Daren Hoyt’s Mimbo theme because it was primarily a magazine site.

At what point do you have too many conditional statements in a template? It’s a balancing act between which is more efficient: conditional statements or lots of PHP files.

How do you keep track of new plugins and the reliability of programmers? Daren Hoyt & Elliot J. Stock are two designers she follows and will check out their recommendations.

What is your opinions of premium themes? For most people, that’s all they need. She would rather spend her time developing niche things that can’t be handled by standard themes.

How do you know when plugins don’t mesh well with each other? Hard to keep up with this as patches are released and updates to WP code.

Where can you find out how to do what you want to do? The codex can be confusing. It’s often easier to find a theme that does the element you are wanting to do, and then figure out how they designed the loop to handle it.

Are parent templates still necessary? Lanier hasn’t really used them.

Leave WP auto-P on or off? She turns them off. Essentially, WP automatically wraps paragraphs with a p tag, which can mess with your theme.

librarian day in the life #5

Electronic Resources Librarian, Academic Library

iced teaArrived, turned on my computer, and while it booted up, I went and got an iced tea from the café.

Processed new email and scanned a document that I don’t need to retain in paper.

Attended weekly department meeting. We were extra chatty today and went 15-20 min longer than normal.

Worked my way through the action item email messages due today, including updating a resource description on the website and responding to a few inquiries.

Discussed with a co-worker ways we could use GoodReads for the library staff book discussion.

Discussed QR codes and their usefulness/popularity with a co-worker. Used the opportunity to yet again show off how my Android phone is as spiffy (if not spiffier) than his iPhone. I reserve this for Apple fanboys only.

Remembered again that this is DILO librarian day and began this entry.

calendarCaught up on journaling accomplishments from the past three weeks. I’ll thank myself next year when I have to write my annual review. I normally try to do this at the end of each day (I use Memiary), but I’ve been lazy about it, and then overwhelmed by the backlog.

Continued working through today’s action items while chatting with a colleague via IM about the online resource renewal decision workflow/tool that I stole from her. Well, stole the concept, anyway. Learned about something else I can steal, too.

Planned out my project schedule for the week. Then left for lunch with a friend in the dining hall..

view from the deskBack from lunch and on the Main Service Desk for two hours. Tried to track down a phone number of someone in rural Virginia. Answered an IM question from a law student about borrowing a netbook. Notified building manager that a copier is out of paper. Directed a software question to the Help Desk. Directed a product trainer to the conference room. Directed users to the bound journals. Referred a business student to the business librarian. Checked out a netbook to a user. Looked up a book for an IM user. Read some RSS feeds. Smiled at people passing by the desk.

Back to my cube and sorting through the email that has come in since before lunch. Only one new action item out of the pile. Whee!

Played around with some wiki software options for a departmental intranet. Still haven’t found the right combination of features and function.

Was about to start in on a project when I noticed that there wasn’t a Technorati tag description for librarydayinthelife, so I pulled something together and submitted it. Rewarded myself with peanut butter crackers and a Coke Zero.

Finally got into my current project, which involves pulling together information about our database subscriptions so that we can easily review upcoming renewals well in advance of the deadlines. Tweaked the Access tables, queries, and reports, and then set to adding more data. Worked on this until it was time to go home.

NASIG 2010: Publishing 2.0: How the Internet Changes Publications in Society

Presenter: Kent Anderson, JBJS, Inc

Medicine 0.1: in dealing with the influenza outbreak of 1837, a physician administered leeches to the chest, James’s powder, and mucilaginous drinks, and it worked (much like take two aspirin and call in the morning). All of this was written up in a medical journal as a way to share information with peers. Journals have been the primary source of communicating scholarship, but what the journal is has become more abstract with the addition of non-text content and metadata. Add in indexes and other portals to access the information, and readers have changed the way they access and share information in journals. “Non-linear” access of information is increasing exponentially.

Even as technology made publishing easier and more widespread, it was still producers delivering content to consumers. But, with the advent of Web 2.0 tools, consumers now have tools that in many cases are more nimble and accessible than the communication tools that producers are using.

Web 1.0 was a destination. Documents simply moved to a new home, and “going online” was a process separate from anything else you did. However, as broadband access increases, the web becomes more pervasive and less a destination. The web becomes a platform that brings people, not documents, online to share information, consume information, and use it like any other tool.

Heterarchy: a system of organization replete with overlap, multiplicity, mixed ascendandacy and/or divergent but coextistent patterns of relation

Apomediation: mediation by agents not interposed between users and resources, who stand by to guide a consumer to high quality information without a role in the acquisition of the resources (i.e. Amazon product reviewers)

NEJM uses terms by users to add related searches to article search results. They also bump popular articles from searches up in the results as more people click on them. These tools improved their search results and reputation, all by using the people power of experts. In addition, they created a series of “results in” publications that highlight the popular articles.

It took a little over a year to get to a million Twitter authors, and about 600 years to get to the same number of book authors. And, these are literate, savvy users. Twitter & Facebook count for 1.45 million views of the New York Times (and this is a number from several years ago) — imagine what it can do for your scholarly publication. Oh, and NYT has a social media editor now.

Blogs are growing four times as fast as traditional media. The top ten media sites include blogs and the traditional media sources use blogs now as well. Blogs can be diverse or narrow, their coverage varies (and does not have to be immediate), they are verifiably accurate, and they are interactive. Blogs level that media playing field, in part by watching the watchdogs. Blogs tend to investigate more than the mainstream media.

It took AOL five times as long to get to twenty million users than it did for the iPhone. Consumers are increasingly adding “toys” to their collection of ways to get to digital/online content. When the NEJM went on the Kindle, more than just physicians subscribed. Getting content into easy to access places and on the “toys” that consumers use will increase your reach.

Print digests are struggling because they teeter on the brink of the daily divide. Why wait for the news to get stale, collected, and delivered a week/month/quarter/year later? People are transforming. Our audiences don’t think of information as analogue, delayed, isolated, tethered, etc. It has to evolve to something digital, immediate, integrated, and mobile.

From the Q&A session:

The article container will be here for a long time. Academics use the HTML version of the article, but the PDF (static) version is their security blanket and archival copy.

Where does the library as source of funds when the focus is more on the end users? Publishers are looking for other sources of income as library budgets are decreasing (i.e. Kindle, product differentiation, etc.). They are looking to other purchasing centers at institutions.

How do publishers establish the cost of these 2.0 products? It’s essentially what the market will bear, with some adjustments. Sustainability is a grim perspective. Flourishing is much more positive, and not necessarily any less realistic. Equity is not a concept that comes into pricing.

The people who bring the tremendous flow of information under control (i.e. offer filters) will be successful. One of our tasks is to make filters to help our users manage the flow of information.