wordpress

Wow! WordPress really is that easy to use! It took me about ten minutes to set it up on my server with an appropriate theme. Over the past 48 hours, I have added 80+ entries, three static pages, two plugins, and tweaked almost all of the templates for the Chartreuse Girls archive. I know nothing … Continue reading “wordpress”

Wow! WordPress really is that easy to use! It took me about ten minutes to set it up on my server with an appropriate theme. Over the past 48 hours, I have added 80+ entries, three static pages, two plugins, and tweaked almost all of the templates for the Chartreuse Girls archive. I know nothing of PHP, but my experience with Perl and MovableType coding informed me enough to know what to look for. It’s not quite to where I want it, but leaps and bounds ahead of where it would be if I had been using MT. I don’t plan to convert this blog over to WP. While it is tempting, there are too many tweaks and hacks that make this blog what it is. However, I will strongly recommend it to any new blogger looking to host a CMS on their own site.

what’s wrong with a little enthusiasm?

Rory Litwin thinks blogs are over-rated.

Rory Litwin has some pretty harsh words about librarians who are still excited about the web and new web-related technologies in the latest issue of Library Juice. I’m beginning to suspect that he likes picking virtual fights.

“As an example I would like to cite the blogging craze – and it is a craze in its current form – because so many people, librarians included, have started their own blogs for no discernible reason and through blogs have renewed their irrational excitement about the Web in general.”

This statement might very well apply to my blog, since I don’t have any particular focus other than my own interests. Possibly, my comments would be better served in the form of a private off-line journal, or as email messages sent to certain friends. However, in the past year I have approached my blog with the mentality of being a part of a wider community of my peers, much like the way other scholarly communication has been done for centuries. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point where my little essays and opinions will be quoted and passed around, but I’m working my way there. I see this as a tool to contribute to the wider conversation in the profession.

There are other blogs that are more focused and in many ways are the best supplements to officially recognized professional literature that I have found. Jessamyn West and the LISNews collaborative blog are my two main sources of recent news about library-related issues. I’m finding out about things well before they show up in any of the traditionally recognized mediums. Jenny Levine and Sarah Houghton keep me up to speed on the latest technology that may impact my work. Half the stuff they write about will likely never show up in the professional literature, even if it should.

There are other blogs out there that are less insightful or informative than those I mentioned above. In fact, as was the case when personal web pages were the new fad, there are quite a few blogs out there that are little more than public diaries. However, I think that Litwin is throwing the baby out with the bath water when he chastises librarians for their excitement about the blog medium.

“Many people are now using the blog format where a chronological organization is not appropriate to the content they are putting up, for no other reason than that blogs are hot and there are services supporting them. This is irrational. I feel that librarians should be a little more mature and less inclined to fall for Internet crazes like this. That is not to say that a blog is never a useful thing, only that blogs – as everything on the web – should be seen for what they are and not in terms of a pre-existing enthusiasm.”

As with any new toy, eventually the shine will wear off and those folks will realize that the blog medium, regardless of its simplicity or fashion, does not fit their needs. Since Litwin does not provide specific examples of these inappropriate uses of blogs, I cannot address them. My experience with librarian blogs has been such that the chronological format works well. There is only one instance that I know of in which the blog format may not fit. The reference team at my library has replaced their frequently asked questions notebook and miscellaneous announcements notes with a Blogger weblog. The advantage of this format is that the contents are easily searchable. The disadvantage is that several workarounds have been used to organize the entries. I suspect that what they really need is a blog for the announcement bits and a separate wiki for the “this is a good resource for (fill in the blank)” type entries. I am confident that eventually they will move on to some other format that better serves their needs, and in the meantime, they will have become familiar with yet another piece of modern technology.

Quite a few of the new blogs that are created daily by librarians never make it out of their infancy. For the most part, they’re too busy or uninterested or have nothing to write about. Still, I think it’s important for librarians to try new things, and if blogs are the latest internet fad, then at least librarians should play with them long enough to evaluate them. My first blog was called “because everyone else is doing it” and was basically a public forum for occasional rants, links, commentary, and some library-related information. It was a good experiment, and as I became more familiar with the tools, I began to see other uses for blogs. The chronological format works well for my radio playlists.

Blogs introduced me to RSS feeds, and from there I have been thinking of several different ways librarians could use RSS. It even instilled a desire to learn Perl and PHP so that I could know enough coding to hack a feed of our new acquisitions as they are added to the collection. If we’re going to put up new book lists, then why not also make a feed for them? The University of Louisville Library not only provides RSS feeds for their new books, they also have subject-specific feeds. Soon it may be possible to create feeds from saved searches in the catalog, much like what some online news sources provide. Those feeds would be even more specific and would alert faculty, graduate students, or anyone else interested, when new items are cataloged that fit the search terms. I digress.

All this is to say that weblogs are useful, and that librarians should be savvy enough to know when and where to make use of them. We all aren’t permanently dazzled by new shiny toys.

I look forward to reading responses to Litwin’s essay in the librarian blogosphere.

RSS application

Art Rhyno has created an RSS feed for his library’s new books list.

I had been attempting to puzzle out some coding to get an RSS feed automatically generated from our new books list, but time and a learning curve have prevented me from getting very far on it. I know what needs to be done, and I’m fairly certain that all I need is a little bit of Perl code. Since I have not really worked with Perl beyond tweaking the little bit I needed to tweak when setting up this blog, it would take me quite a bit of time to learn the language. In any case, it appears that Art Rhyno at the University of Windsor has already created an RSS feed for his library’s new books, and they use Endeavor Voyager, as well. I’m hoping he can help me out with a feed for my library. It would have been cool to do the programming myself, and I expect that even with Art’s help, I’ll still need to tweak it, but on the other hand, I don’t know if I’d ever get something programmed on my own.

Update:
Art responded to my comment with a link to the basic instructions on how to set this up. Cocoon? Modula-2? LISP? Maybe I need to re-think my desires to learn some programming. I suppose it will be good for me in the long run.

rss for opacs

Anna gets semi-techie about RSS and OPACs.

Yesterday, I was thinking some more about uses for RSS with library OPACs. The idea of having an RSS feed for new books continues to nag me, but without more technical knowledge, I know this is something that I couldn’t make work. Then something clicked, and I called up our library systems administrator to ask him a few questions. As I suspected, our new books list in the OPAC is a text file that is generated by a script that searches the catalog database once a week. I began to ponder what it would take to convert that flat file into XML, and if would it be possible to automate that process.

I grabbed a copy of the flat file from the server and took a look at it, just to see what was there. First off, I realized that there was quite a bit of extraneous information that will need to be stripped out. That could be done easily by hand with a few search & replace commands and some spreadsheet manipulation. So, the easy way out would be to do it all by hand every week. Here* is what I was able to do after some trial and error, working with books added in the previous week.

A harder route would be to put together a program that would take the cleaned up but still raw text file and convert each line into <item> entries, with appropriate fields for <title> (book title), <description> (publication information & location), <category> (collection), etc. This new XML file would replace the old one every week. If I knew any Perl or ColdFusion, I’m certain that I could whip something up fairly quickly.

The ideal option would be to write a program that goes into the catalog daily and pulls out information about new books added and generates the XML file from that. I suspect that it would work similarly to Michael Doran‘s New Books List program, but would go that extra step of converting the information in to RSS-friendly XML.

If anyone knows of some helper programs or if someone out there in library land is developing a program like this, please let me know.

* File is now missing. I think I may have delete it by accident. 1/13/05