Content Management Systems in Libraries: Opportunities and Lessons Learned

Jonathan Blackburn, Eli Neiburger, Karen Coombs (absent due to illness)

Jonathan Blackburn
Jonathan Blackburn

Jonathan Blackburn was formerly employed as the “web guy” at Florida State University (FSU). He currently is the Product Analyst at OCLC. Blackburn explained why a content management system (CMS) would be useful to create library websites: They’re good for collaboration and efficiency, though they can result in an incoherent representation due to collaborative work. CMSs matter to libraries because they can leverage library staff and potentially reduce costs.

Uses and applications of a CMS include a public-facing website, staff intranet, digital library (asset management), and one-off projects (events, programs). If your library wants to try out a CMS for the first time, events or programs are a great excuse to see if a CMS is the right fit for your organization.

CMSs create unique challenges for libraries. They need to allow for different “types” of content (hours, events, databases), to be usable for people at different levels of expertise (different comfort levels in regards to technology), to be interoperable between systems (catalog, course management software, etc.), and to remain consistent for institutional branding or navigation (to follow guidelines set by the parent institution).

Jonathan Blackburn went on to illustrate FSU’s use of dynamic content on their website and their switch to content management systems.

  • 2005: Static HTML and custom PHP/MySQL
  • 2006: Drupal and custom PHP/MySQL
  • 2007: Redesign and MediaWiki subject guides
  • 2008: Staff intranet (Drupal)
  • 2009: Migration to Drupal (unfinished) and LibGuides

He offers 6 lessons from his experience with content management systems at FSU:

  1. Start with a content management plan: who does what, when, and how often (and how are they accountable)
  2. Get staff input: find out what your content creators want
  3. Secure support from administration: if they’re not behind it, it will never happen
  4. Choose right tool(s) for the job: if it doesn’t meet the organization needs, don’t use it, no matter how “cool” it is
  5. Be flexible and embrace workarounds
  6. Outsource when possible

Lastly, Blackburn offers future opportunities for content management systems.

  • Library “profiles”: CMSs built specifically for libraries and their needs
  • Hosted solutions: “putting stuff in the cloud”
  • Interoperability: “glue that can tie stuff together”

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