ER&L 2012: ERM Workflow and Communications Panel

218/365 - communication problems?
photo by Josh Fassbind

Speakers: Annie Wu & Jeannie Castro

They used a HelpDesk Ticket for new subscriptions to manage the flow of information and tasks through several departments. Sadly, it’s not designed for ejournals management, and not enough information could be included in the ticket, or was inconsistently added. So, they needed to make some changes.

A self-initiated team decided a new workflow using a spreadsheet to keep the info and set up status alerts in SerialsSolutions. The alerts and spreadsheets facilitated the workflow through all departments.

A lengthy description of the process, spreadsheets, action logs, email alerts, and I’ve concluded that my paper checklist is still the best solution for my small library.

Challenges with their system included the use of color to indicate status (one staff is color blind, which is why the also use an action log), there is some overlap of work, and tracking unsolved problems is difficult. Despite that, they feel it is better than the old system. It’s a shared and transparent process, with decent tracking of subscriptions, and it’s easy to integrate additional changes in the process.

Speaker: Kate Montgomery

They initially had Meridian, and while it was great that they followed the ERMI standard, they didn’t need everything, so it was a sea of bits of data with lots of blank fields. Meridian is dead, so they had to look for alternatives. Considered Verde, but sensed that it was to be replaced by Alma. So, they had to decide whether to build their own tool, using an open source product, or purchasing something. They were limited by time, staffing, and money.

Ultimately, they decided to go with CORAL. They didn’t have to learn a lot of new skills (MySQL & PHP) to set it up and get it to work. Rather than looking at this as a whole lot of work, they took the opportunity to make a product that works for them. They reviewed and documented their workflows and set some standards.

CORAL can create workflows that trigger actions for each individual or group, depending on the item or situation. Hopes to use this to create buy-in from library departments and other small libraries around campus.

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.

women in digital librarianship

In the August 2006 issue of Library Journal, Roy Tennant writes about the gender gap in digital librarianship. It’s a concern that I have been pondering on a more personal level for quite some time. I totally geek out over the shiny toys being pumped out by the Library 2.0 geniuses, but when it comes … Continue reading “women in digital librarianship”

In the August 2006 issue of Library Journal, Roy Tennant writes about the gender gap in digital librarianship. It’s a concern that I have been pondering on a more personal level for quite some time. I totally geek out over the shiny toys being pumped out by the Library 2.0 geniuses, but when it comes to creating my own contributions, I falter. Even just writing about them makes me nervous. Who am I to pretend to know something about these things? I’m just the person who pays the bills.

This is not entirely an accurate picture of my work, but a great deal of it does involve managing budgets, as well as staff. Occasionally my Dean will discuss my scholarship direction and interest in library technology, and inevitably the phrase, “but I’m not an expert on that!” will come out of my mouth. He wants me to publish, and I find myself floundering around trying to find something – anything – that I might know more about than the average librarian. The problem is that I am the average librarian.

I’m not Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine, jetting off to here and there to bring the wonders of Library 2.0 to the commoners. I’m not Sarah Houghton with my hands buried up to my elbows in library technology. I’m just a normal person with some HTML skills and an interest in technology. I’ll never be a Mover and Shaker.

This is the mental block that gets thrown up every time I think about my role in digital librarianship. I’m always going to be on the second or third wave of folks implementing new technology in libraries.

What I need are the tools to become more technologically savvy. I’ve looked into some of the options offered at my university, but aside from seeming rather intimidating, I worry that they will be too broad for my needs. What I would really like to see are some training sessions like what Michael and Jenny have been doing, but at a higher level. For example, how about something for folks who already know about RSS feeds but don’t have the skills or tools to use them in more creative ways? That would be very useful. Or maybe a crash course in MySQL databases with PHP interfaces. I can think of a lot of uses for that just in my daily job.

Some of us are lucky enough to live relatively close to Library Science programs. If the iSchool at the University of Washington offered a day or two long continuing education course on MySQL and PHP in the library setting, I would attend.

Maybe that’s something that Tennant and his posse should consider. We can’t wait for a new generation of women to grow up encouraged to be interested in technology. We need to do something for the women who are currently in the profession, as well.

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.

php

I’m taking a class next fall on PHP.

The computer science department is offering a new course next fall called Web Programming with PHP. I’m signing up for it (if I can get the necessary over-rides) because I’ve wanted to learn PHP, but I don’t have enough discipline or programming experience to do it on my own from books. I have these ideas of things I want to do to enhance the user interface with our electronic resources, and I think that PHP will be a good first step towards gaining the knowledge I need to do implement those ideas.