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Your Website’s Got Tentacles!

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image cc on Flickr via brunkfordbraun

You have a library website. People go there, learn about your library, get help, and access your resources. But that’s not the only place where people should be able to do those things. The library website should be thought of as a larger critter, with tentacles that stretch out in lot of different directions, trying to scoop in unsuspecting patrons.

What do I mean by tentacles? Tentacles are other places, spread out on the web, where people can connect with the library. This could mean customizing your library Facebook page, to add a chat widget or links to library resources. It could also mean having notes on pictures in Flickr that link to a catalog record. It could mean a lot of things:

  • Library resources in your LMS (Angel, Blackboard, Moodle, etc)
  • Creating search alerts in Twitter to snag patrons who didn’t even know the library could help
  • Library blogs
  • Library videos on Youtube or Vimeo

Your official library website should be a sort of home base where people can learn everything about your library and what you have to offer. But having tentacles can be very useful in showing the value of the library and catching users who may never go to your website.

An LMS is a good example of a tentacle. Some users (especially distance users) may never even think about the library. But if you have a section or page in an LMS then the library may become more visible and get additional use. The same goes with Twitter. Users may not be following you library account, but if you set up alerts for a few library related words, you can contact them and make them realize that they have access to a library and that it could be of value to them.

Get bits of your content out to numerous places on the web. Don’t think of these things as watered down versions of your website. Think of them as tentacles stretching out across the web, extending your services and resources to unexplored nooks and crannies.

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Drupal4Lib recap

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Last Friday I went to the Drupal4Lib camp in Darien, CT.  It was a wonderful conference and I am very appreciative to the Darien Library for hosting it.

There were people in attendance from all over. I talked to one gentleman who was from Sweden. And the skill levels of everyone ran the gamut from expert Drupal hackers to newbies.  I was near that lower level, though I have played with Drupal a lot and have at least a basic knowledge.

Because of the range of skill levels there were a lot of breakout sessions where people could go to more advanced or more basic talks.  It was very relaxed and people could come and go as they pleased.

During one session I decided to go on a tour of the library, and I am glad I did.  I got to see their RFID-robo-book-sorter and their Microsoft “Surface.” The library was state of the art and beautiful. If it was my public library I would spend all my time there.

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I got a few pretty good lessons and ideas out of the conference.  I realized that you can do just about anything you want with Drupal.  If you see something else on another website, there is a chance there is a module in Drupal that can simulate it.

In addition, Drupal has very fine grained user controls which would allow other staff members to edit the website and create and change content that is in their purview. I think this is a great benefit of using a CMS. It makes it easy for people with zero or minimal HTML knowledge to contribute to a common website.

I also liked an idea that John Blyberg discussed about using external websites like Flickr or Blip.tv as hosting sites. Instead of advertising that you are on Blip.tv you just use it to embed videos on your site without making a big deal about it.  I think that this idea could be very useful.  Often it is bypassing the social nature of these sites, but I can see the value of it.

I have also realized that I should not rush into getting a new website up and running. I want it to be everyone’s website, not just something that I put together. Other librarians have to use the website as well and their input and ideas are going to be crucial to its success.  I know that I have very strong opinions about the current website and a new website, but mine is not going to be the only opinion during a redesign.

I am getting excited about starting the redesign process and seeing the new site start taking shape. I know it will be a lot of work, but it will be a lot of fun too.

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FBML and problem solving

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

I have risen to a new level of geekdom. The other day, as I was putting together a Facebook page for the library I ran into some problems, so I had to learn some FBML.

We recently switched from Meebo to Digsby for our IM reference widget. I wanted to put that same Digsby widget into our Facebook page so students would be able to connect with the library there as well. There is already a “Digsby widget” application  available in Facebook, but unfortunately when I tried adding it to the library page it kept failing and instead added itself to my personal profile.

Then, I decided I could just find an app that just allowed me to copy and paste the HTML to embed the Digsby widget, but none of those worked correctly either. Finally, as I was about to give up, I found an FBML app in this blog post. I googled FBML and found the Facebook developer’s wiki. It was easy enough to map FBML to the HTML that I already knew.  So I wrote a few lines of FBML including the location for the Digsby widget, and lo and behold it showed up there on my Facebook page.

This was one of those moments similar to when I first started writing HTML or CSS, when you just take a step back and say, “oh wow; I actually just created something.”  What amazes me is that is that I could actually understand enough about HTML to hack together something that worked in FBML, a totally new language to me. It is just a little over two years since I started learning HTML. Ever since then my curiosity and interest in technology in technology has been piqued.

I realized that there must be some solution to my problem, and kept trying different approaches to solve it.  That is the part I really love about technology. You are constantly learning and solving problems.  If something doesn’t work you have to keep trying until you find something that does. And with every problem you have to learn a little bit more.