Gracelyn Cassell-2008 LITA Forum Travel Grant Winner

Gracelyn Cassell, Librarian, Montserrat, West Indies
2008 Errol Hill LITA Forum Travel Grant Winner


I was indeed fortunate to have been the Librarian from the Caribbean who received the 2008 Errol Hill Travel Grant to attend the LITA National Forum that was held in Cincinnati October 15 to 20, 2008. The process of preparing this report on my attendance at the Forum had me spending quite some time reflecting on the journey that led to the LITA National Forum in Cincinnati where I attended three general sessions and six of the concurrent sessions.

It all started back in 1979 with my undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Jamaica when students there were still using punch cards. On graduation in 1982, I started my library career in the Montserrat Public Library which became the local hub for regional initiatives in the use of technology for information management. The software that was then widely in use in Caribbean libraries was CDS ISIS (DOS version) which was developed by UNESCO’s Giampaolo Del Bigio in whose training session, I once sat and whose jokes around the dinner table I enjoyed immensely.

From the mid-80s and right into the 90s, I was very much involved in such information systems and networks as:

CARISPLAN (Caribbean Information System for Social and Economic

CEIS (Caribbean Energy Information System)

CAGRIS (Caribbean Agricultural Information System

CARSTIN (Caribbean Science and Technology Information Network)

OECS INFONET (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Sub-regional Information Network)

MEDCARIB (Caribbean Health Sciences Information Network)

Those were the days when pioneering work was being done by change agents such as Wilma Primus who was Head of the Documentation Centre at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC) which is based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Her efforts were ably supported by the work of Carol Collins, who was then Director of Information and Communication for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Fay Durrant, now Professor and Head of the Department of Library and Information Studies (DLIS) at UWI, Mona and recently deceased librarian, Audrey Chambers whose last appointment was that of head of the Library at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) UWI, Mona.

These were people with whom I worked closely during those formative years. I was very impressed with their vision and their relentless thrust to get information technology into Caribbean Libraries, to ensure that as many persons as possible were trained in the use of CDS/ISIS and that all efforts were directed at having bibliographic control over information generated in the region.

I accepted unquestioningly their vision of Caribbean libraries working together to maximize on limited resources and when in 2007, I started the process of gathering data on the state of libraries in our region I became all too conscious that there had been a gradual erosion of that vision. I recognized that few of the early initiatives had been sustained and librarians were starved for dialogue with colleagues and missed the kind of networking that was prevalent in the 80s and 90s. There was some reassurance that all was not lost when Sandra John, another of my mentors, who before retiring as Chief, Caribbean Knowledge Management Centre at UNECLAC organized an “Information Specialists Expert Meeting and Content Management Workshop” from May 15 to 16, 2007 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This workshop covered digital content management, the impact of ICT on Caribbean people and knowledge management in the public sector. This was an attempt to “accelerate progress being made by the Caribbean sub-region towards an information society” and to provide “a practical opportunity for establishing a viable human network, supportive of knowledge sharing.” Workshop participants were also made aware of open source software such as Drupal, Joomla! and Plone that are available for content management.

Since that 2007 survey of libraries, I have been pondering long and hard on the most efficient and effective approach to developing dialogue with persons who have the technical skills so badly needed to assist Caribbean libraries to make far better use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Alongside the dialogue would be the networking that would sustain the deployment of information systems and services that would take our libraries into the 21st century. To a large extent, these concerns determined my choice of sessions at the LITA National Forum. It was difficult but personal interests in institutional repositories and information literacy had to take second place to issues that had wider implications for the region.

The theme of the 2008 Forum “Technology and Community: Building the Techno Community Library” and the presentations that I attended provided a wealth of information as to low cost solutions that could be utilized by libraries in the region to improve their operations. During the 4 days, I experienced a number of Eureka moments as I recognized potential solutions to some of the issues with which I had been concerned.

The Pre-Conference “Innovations in Next Generation Library Management Systems” by Tim Daniels (PINES Programme Manager), Diana Weaver (Northeast Kansas Library System) and Andrew Nagy (Villanova University) showed how open source applications are already being used to deliver integrated library services comparable to those afforded by proprietory systems. Tim spoke about Evergreen which is a library management system for cataloguing and circulation. Diana discussed Koha another open source ILS while Andrew dealt with VuFind an open-source OPAC replacement/Library portal. They were quite convincing about the benefits of this kind of software, benefits that libraries without the financial resources could very well exploit.

The Opening General Session “What is Social Cataloguing and Where is it Going” by Tim Spalding who created was welcome information for a number of reasons. Many of the libraries in our region have been trying to get their catalogues online. Not only does LibraryThing provide functionalities for quickly getting library collections on the internet, it also simplifies the whole process of cataloguing and provides an application programming interface (API) for developing social networks. I personally feel that far too many libraries are still doing original cataloguing and while this may be necessary for local publications, it is incomprehensible for material already in other online catalogues. LibraryThing pulls cataloguing data from over 600 library catalogues, including the Library of Congress and could easily eliminate duplication of effort allowing time to be better spent on other information services.

Annette Bailey’s presentation “LiBX: Enhancing User Access to Library Resources” brought yet another award winning piece of open source software to my attention. LiBX is a plug-in that can be used with the Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers. It allows for direct access to the various library resources eg, the online public access catalogue, e-journals, and digital collections without having to change interfaces. Some libraries require users to search through various databases to find information while LiBX apparently allows for federated searches across databases.

The second Concurrent Session that I attended was “Re-Swizzling the IT Enterprise for the Next Generation: Creating a Strategic and Organizational Model for Effective IT Management” presented by Maurice York of North Carolina State University Libraries. He spoke about the various layers of services including security, authentication, licensing, web authoring which systems departments within libraries can provide. Unfortunately, very few Caribbean libraries have a systems librarian much less a systems department. Too often the foundational pillars of support, operations, products and applications about which Maurice spoke are the responsibility of the sole individual, not necessarily trained, with an interest in using IT for the delivery of library services. We will need to find a way to get such persons the kind of exposure and ultimately training that will re-swizzle their libraries.

Having gone to Michael Porter’s web site before his GENERAL SESSION: “Hi-Fi-Sci-Fi-Library: Technology, Convergence, Content Community, Ubiquity and Library” I was able to join in singing the “Hi-Fi-Sci-Fi-Library” song. I also accepted the notion of libraries as providing access to content and spaces for people to be part of a community. While laser keyboards, and photo pen phones may not yet be widely available in the Caribbean, we are all too conscious of how the technology is developing particularly after witnessing flexible screens and the holograph during the coverage of the recent elections in the US. Will we ever be able to catch up or will the digital divide remain?

I was able to participate in the “Five Minute Madness” session with my presentation “Incorporating ICT and a New Vision for Caribbean Libraries.” I was rather pleased with the response to my plea for assistance. Several persons provided cards and wanted further information. Discussions have since been held with the Head of the Library School at Mona who is willing to partner in a project to get IT skills into the region to assist with developing information services. The details of this project will soon be shared with those persons who indicated their interest in assisting.

Rachel Vacek from the University of Houston Libraries made a very pertinent presentation entitled “Putting the Library Website in Their Hands: The Advantages and Challenges of a Homegrown Content Management System.” She provided information on the various content management systems eg. Drupal, IGOOGLE, and NetVibes, and brought other open source software for federated searching such as LIBRARYFIND, and sources of copyright free images such as FLICKR to my attention. This sort of information is very valuable to the library operating with scare resources. I also hope that the system she created will be made available as Open Source.

The panel discussion on “Web Site Redesign: Perspectives for the Field Panel Discussion” with Robin Leech (Oklahoma State University Libraries); Amelia Brunskill (Dickinson College), Edward M. Corrado (Binghamton University), Elizabeth Black (Ohio State University Libraries) and Russell Schelby (Ohio State University Libraries) highlighted a variety of research methods used to get feedback from users about web site design. I have an enduring interest in simple but effective web sites and realize that too often designers forget their audience and get carried away with the available technologies.

Nina McHale’s presentation “Optimizing Library Resources for screen Readers” provided an important reminder that library users may have visual impairments and their needs have to be considered when developing web sites and providing access to library resources. JAWS was in use at the Main Library at UWI Mona where I worked up to 2005 but I never thought about the impact of problems in the online catalogue being read by the software and the difficulties that this would present for the visually impaired.

David Lankes presentation “Obligation of Leadership” provided the right note on which to end the Forum. He presented a number of challenges which I took seriously. As leaders we have to be willing to fight for change and stick to the following core principles:

* Service to improve the community in which we find ourselves
* Sharing knowledge since it does not reside in things but in people
* Encourage learning
* Intellectual Freedom
* Access
* Intellectual honesty

I thank David for reminding us that libraries have to be active participants in the conversation which is part of the knowledge business. Too many of us sit and wait rather than being proactive taking the conversation forward. If there is anything that was drummed home at the 2008 LITA National Forum it is that the mission of the Library is to make the world a better place.

Without the generosity of Mrs. Grace Hope Hill in providing the grant for Caribbean librarians to experience the LITA National Forum, the kind of exposure that I had over the period would not have been possible. This kind of assistance speaks of a vision for the Caribbean which I recognized in the region’s library pioneers. Needless to say, there were additional benefits to the visit as well. Thanks to Betsy Salt, Catalog Librarian at the Courtright Memorial Library, Otterbein College in Ohio, I was able to visit her library where head of the Library, Lois Szudy, allowed me to select materials for the small collection at the UWI Open Campus in Montserrat. Betsy also took me to sales at bookshops so that I was able to acquire material for the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme and the Parenting Programme in Montserrat.

Gracelyn Cassell, B.A. Library Studies (UWI), M.A. Archives (Lond), and M Sc Computer Assisted Management Information Systems (UWI) worked in the Montserrat Public Library from 1982 to 1997 and in the Main Library at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica from 1997 to 2005. In August 2005, she returned to Montserrat to take up the post of Head of the University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies, now the UWI Open Campus Montserrat.

The Obligation of Leadership by R. David Lankes

The final keynote of the LITA National Forum 2008 “The Obligation of Leadership” can be found at Virutal Dave … Real Blog. If you missed it do check it out. You can choose how you want to experience it. David posted his slides, audio and video versions of the keynote on his website. If you were lucky enough to be there to experience it in person you may want to listen to it again. It was just as good the second time around.

Course Management Systems: Integrating Library Content, Panel Discussion

Elizabeth Black, Ohio State University

Don Kim, Murray State University

Kim Duckett and Jason Casden, North Carolina State University

Session Summary: A great sampling of creative tools and solutions! Anyone looking to find innovative ways to push library content through course management systems will find great ideas from these presentations. Note: any reference in this post to “CMS” indications “course management system,” NOT “content management system” (i.e., Drupal).

Elizabeth Black, Ohio State University:

The CMS in use at Ohio State is called Desire2Learn. It’s made by a Canadian vendor, and as at many institutions, the course management system is run by a University IT department (educational technologists).

It was important that the project was a true collaboration between campus IT and the library; commitment and maintenance were very important, with mutual authority and accountability given and expected from both parties. The project was designed by a cross-departmental team.

The team decided to create a suite of tools to achieve their goals; the biggest impression this left on me personally is how much integrating these resources could create significant efficiencies for staff in other areas of the library, particularly reference and reserves.

  1. eReserves: all course reserves were delivered in the CMS; access limited to students in that course, scanned files were put into learning object repositoty; ereserves branded Carmen this is great, as it is one less place for students to go to get course materials. For the library, it’s great advertising for reserves. Storing the articles in a learning repository greatly reduces workload for reserves staff!
  2. Creation of Librarian role in the CMS: named roll w/ certain “powers”; all the powers of an instructor, can email students, etc., just can’t see the gradebook—requires good working relationship; instructors give the role to the librarian; replacement for one-shot bib session: this is particularly useful for reference staff who are looking to increase the impact of instruction beyond; reduces teaching load by not requiring
  3. Seamless authentication: OSU fully Shibboleth! This makes linking to resources easier, as librarians know how to code proxy links; “library links”—library links in CMS: replacing static class guides: sends XML document to web service: for libraries (like mine) who still create static course web documents on the library server side, this is a much more efficient way of delivering info

Don Kim, Murray State University

Don’s institution uses Library on BlackBoard (Bb). The Virtual Library integration service is cleverly taglined: “Information: where you are, we are,” and it was designed with simplicity in mind.

Project timeline was short: a quick two-month development time; marketed to patrons. Groups involved were library systems and reference staff, as well as two focus groups of students and staff. Tools used: xhtml, css, js; Camtasia, Meebo, Google Custom Search Engine and Google Analytics.

The index page for the collection of resources developed lists everything by college and department, but with acknowledged limitations—students don’t know their colleges and departments—this got some laughs, but sadly, it’s true! The index page was therefore changed to subject list: will this be efficient as well? Students hate lists of subjects…but, it’s good to provide more than one point of access (by subject AND by college).

Great use of Google Custom Search to offer a metasearch of vetted resources, and Meebo for IM chat puts a lifeline to info experts when the students are. Essentially, this relocates traditional subject guide/pathfinder pages into a more useful space: a space where students already HAVE to go, if the CMS is required by instructors. Google Analytics provides usage patterns so that staff have hard evidence about what’s getting used (or not). Don provided very impressive use statistics that show much higher use than we’ve seen of “traditional” pathfinder/guide resources.

Don and his colleagues recognized the importance of marketing, knowing that not all faculty use BlackBoard. Overall, it’s great to see that we, professionally speaking, are getting better at marketing all of this great stuff that we’re creating! Don and his colleagues are also pondering allowing instructors to customize their own links/content. Would they be able to do it? Or should librarians maintain control of this aspect of the product?

Kim Duckett and Jason Casden, North Carolina State University

Product=Courseviews: a combination of BlackBoard Vista; Moodle Pilots; “WolfWare” locker system (plays on the school’s “Wolfpack” mascot)

“Course pages”: reference and instruction staff put great care into these, but the audience is limited; how many students do you actually reach? How to best redirect this staff effort to make it more efficient: 6,000 courses, but only 200 pages—pages that go outdated unless the course is requested again.

How to create a scalable, sustainable solution? A “distillation of the most student-centric stuff”? Goals: course view for every course: scalable, sustainable, content customized. Campus partners, like at Ohio State, were the learning technologists.

What went into this CMS-bound content? Lots: Widgets: course reserves, citation tools, project tools, technology lending; Quick article search/metasearch (EBSCO) available; highlights databases by subject; tabs for catalog and Google Scholar, too.

Library staff wanted also to provide a basic “default” set of links/info for instructors who have not yet created a set of tools resources in the CMS. This could perhaps also work very well for 101 level-courses?

Like at Don’s institution, a chat widget was used to provide the lifeline to help, but they used Libraryh3lp rather than Meebo.


The widgets that populate page are very impressive; “cascading selection” creates content dynamically in a much better, more efficient presentation of this kind of info than in static guides. The whole project was creaed as a stand-alone system, but integrated into Bb; Moodle trial (PHP-based) easier to integrate into, however.

Usage analysis in custom logs and log analysis of widget shows that reserves are more than half of usage; other two types of content in the top three accessed are “search” and “recommended.”

Institutional Repositories: Design and Development, Panel Discussion

Developing and Institutional Repository: Implementation of DigiTool at Colorado State University Libraries

Shu Liu, Colorado State University

Yongli Zhou, Colorado State University

The first panelists, Shu Liu and Yongli Zhou, describe implementing a IR through DigiTool, exLibris’s Digital Repository software and their talk focuses on using an out of the box product. Colorado State used contentdm from 01-present, but will migrate to digitool (which they’ve also been using since 07) by 09.

Digitool has a series of web based client for the user and staff to interface with the the database. There are also access and maintenance components.Aspects of the digitool product can be customized, the icons, menu, header and footer, etc. They also did do some work customizing the metadata display and there were automated and manual ways to do these functions. They also implemented handles for their documents, though it was a bit difficult to implement and took time working with digitool directly. Colorado state purposely chose to limit their customization and wanted it done by experienced programmers.

DigiTool offered a lot of sophisticated tools for metadata including using DC, batching .csv files and using native XML files. In addition to this descriptive metadata, METS was used for structural metadata. This has allowed them to handle different types of complex objects.

The panelists stress the importance of collaboration in a project like this. They appreciate the relatively short and easy implementation (although they think CONTENTdm is easier) and that less tech support is needed once established. Tools for batch upload, the handle, and API are quite useful.

The repository can be found at:

EPrints as the Cardinal Scholar Institutional Repository at Ball State University — Bringing and Institutional Repository to the Ball State University Community through Cardinal Scholar (CS)

Bradley D. Faust, Ball State University

The second panelist, Bradley Faust from Ball State spoke about using EPrints to create “Cardinal Scholar”, their IR ( Ball State originally thought CONTENTdm would be their solution but ultimately decided against it due to a lock of open deposit, difficulties integrating IR objects with existing collections and the need for too much customization.

After reviewing a few other options, Ball State eventually settled on ePrints because it used PERL, Apache web server and mysql, accessible code, and had an active community for development. The cost considerations were also good for this product.

They successfully implemented on fedora core for several months for development. Then built the production on Windows EPrints server in Nov 07. After testing in the first 3 weeks of december, they made a soft release. With feedback they continued to tweak from December to January.

Issues with implementing ePrints mostly involved coordination with the campus computing center. The system needed: a domain name for the system (; a system security scan to evalute server config; internet access to the CS server through the campus firewall; an SSL certificate for system; and they needed their informational pages reviewed for consistency with other computing policies.

They did do some customization like modifying informational and deposit pages (for easier use), changing the defaults for new accounts and adding left hand navigation column.

They would like to customize it further especially reordering the deposit fields in, implement LDAP authentication, further develop their strategy for supporting small group access (i.e. shared user accounts); put in some more reporting and tracking functions.

Cardinal Scholar has been running for 10 months in production. The library has uploaded some university archives documents and special collections material. Some personnel issues slowed down development of the project, but they were able to add about 150 digital assets so far.

Libraries as publishers: Using the Open Journal System in a Smaller Academic Library

Tabatha Becker, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

David Hodgins, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Tabitha opened by clarifying that this presentation focused on the creation of an open access journal at UC Colorado Springs. It does have some IR qualities, but is not really an IR project.

UC@CS, as a smaller institution works closely with campus IT for technology projects.When Tabitha started in 2007, she sent out a brief web survey to her faculty about their attitudes to open access. She found that it was misunderstood and not viewed favorably for their own work, but felt it was important for their students. This caused a change in the library’s focus. The switched from faculty work to undergraduate research and created a journal on the topic. Their goals were to promote and showcase student research and collect previously uncollected items. They considered this a precursor to developing an IR, since they were beginning to collect some of these objects before an IR was in place. Ultimately, they also wanted to be more involved in campus research and scholarship.

They felt that they would be successful if:

  • they could efficiently host the journal it couldn’t be too much of a stressor to the library.
  • They also felt they should be able to get content regularly so that they could put this product out.
  • Lastly, they felt they needed to have the faculty and students involved as editors. The library would only play the role of publisher, they would not be involved in the vetting process.

Next they needed to determine how to get the system built. Eventually, they decided to go with OJS and open source, out of the box service, that does allow for easy customization if neeed. They also liked the features of the software for metadata handling, user registration, and statistics. They feel that it will play well with an IR when they develop it. The system can create roles for active participants who interact with the system through the web, so they do not need to coordinate with their editors, reviewers, etc. within the library.

Due to the relationship with the campus IT, the installation of the software was done by campus IT, but collaboration was relatively easy. The library does have complete control of look and feel and navigation using HTML, CSS, and PHP. Content uploading happens through a GUI interface and does not require technical skills. The system comes with out of the box interface as well, so it can be mounted with no customization.

The first issue was released on August 22nd, 2008. Though the submissions were small, the quality was good. The scope has widened slightly to include faculty introductions to themed issues. After the soft release, there was not a lot of access, but usage has increased as it has been promoted.

In terms of their goals, they feel they have efficiently hosted the journal, but their ability to get content has been mixed. Some of the faculty are still uncomfortable with the concept. At first they had very little buyin from the campus, but she has found that the faculty and students are getting more on board. Tabitha feels that with more publicity, things will improve.

The next issue will come out in November and there are plans to work with the Colorado Spring Undergraduate Research Forum to do their proceedings. More publicity plans are in development and faculty collaborations are being sought. Tabitha hopes that this experience may convince faculty that open access for their own work.

questions were asked regarding use of CONTENTdm (the panelists said there are some good projects using it and it will probably develop more, but the first tool panelists found that it was not the bets for them. Shu also mentioned that her institution would like to only support one repository and they felt that DigiTool offered them more sophisticated tools.

Bradley also clarified that the IR at Ball State will only collection materials from Ball State.

Shu said that many file types are ingested into DigiTool, there are not format limits. With many objects to migrate from CONTENTdm, they are hoping to also retain the same interface pages and just have them point to DigiTool rather than CONTENTdm.

Tabitha addressed the need to have technical support for the faculty/scholar collaboration. She feels that they will really only need to know how to learn the web tools and understand the architecture of the system. They have decided to use the DC scheme for OJS, which does create metadata. An audience member suggests working with cataloging to create records in the catalog

2008 National Forum: Don’t make me choose!

During the second concurrent session, Jean Rainwater and Bonnie Buzzell from Brown University talked about the challenges involved in borrowing materials not located in their own collections. In “Don’t Make Me Choose! (or, Just Get What I Need!),” they showed how it took 33 clicks to borrow an item from another library within the multiple consortia they belong to, which is 9-10 times the number of clicks the typical user will put up with. Rather than waiting for vendors to come up with a solution, they decided to develop one in-house, even if it was only a partial solution. When a new University Librarian (i.e., head of the library) was hired, this person made simplifying the borrowing process a priority, and put together a team with different, complementary skill sets to do the job.

The “guiding principles” for this project were that the system they developed had to be:

  1. Simplicity for the user.
  2. Work with what is.
  3. Release early and often.
  4. Expect change.

They called their system “easyBorrow,” and used WorldCat as their starting point for acquiring materials not in the collection. They placed a simple search box on the page that pops up when a search returns zero results, with three-step instructions on how to proceed. As they moved through the system, it did require an extra authentication step, but in the end, it took only 10 clicks to borrow the same item from the same source. It required a combination of open source tools (Java, Tomcat, Python, Django, PHP, MySQL), APIs and system components to do so, and resulted in a marked increase in ILL requests and user satisfaction.

In a time of shrinking budgets and other resources, this project clearly demonstrates the value of agile software development, and having the staff available to make this happen. Commercial software companies, despite devoting enormous resources and funds to design and development of library systems, cannot keep up with the changing and evolving needs of patrons. Libraries need effective teams with a complementary skill sets to “stitch together” disparate systems to make serving the public more efficient and effective. The presenters used a quilt analogy in presenting this topic, and it rings true: libraries have a patchwork of different services and systems, which will be more immediately and effectively utilized when someone can sew them together, a few squares at a time, into a coherent whole, instead of waiting for a vendor to assemble the machinery to turn out a software “blanket” system.

2008 National Forum: A Homegrown CMS

With all the commerical and open source content management systems on the market, why would a library still choose to build their own? In 2006, the University of Houston Libraries did just that. Rachel Vacek discussed their rationale and effort in Putting the Library Website in Their Hands: The Advantages and Challenges of a Homegrown Content Management System.

(Note: Rachel indicated her slides will be available on, but were not there as of this writing, or I didn’t go deep enough into her site.)

UHL chose to develop their own CMS primarily because they wanted a system based on their vision of what a CMS is and should do, rather than modifying someone else’s. UHL feels that the CMS should be a growing and changing system. They felt that by building their own system their staff would be able to fix problems and incorporate customer feedback more quickly. They felt that by building their own they could build more custom modules. They felt that by building their own they could make greater use of microformats and metadata then many of the existing solutions offered. Their current version took about a year to build.

Much of the presentation focused on the demo of the adminstrative backend.  (Note: the backend currently only works with Firefox) Rachel created a virtual library (subject guide) using an interface that had iGoogle / gadget functionality, including the ability to move content modules between the predefined three column format. One feature I liked was the ability to incorporate incoming RSS feeds into an aggregated subject/news feed. There was also in indication that there is the ability to  share the content out with other system through syndication, although specific examples were not demonstrated.

The system also allows content to be imported and integrated. Content currently and soon to be integrated include LibrayFind, Archon, Serials Solutions, Wordcat, Flickr, WordPress MU. and LibraryThing comments and reviews. Work is also being done to pull in Delicious. They also hope to use the Worldcat API, a metadata search engine, the ability to add media, making it easier to move modules, and creating a platform for customer contributed content.

Rachel indicated that efforts are under way to release their code as open source sometime in 2009. Having gone through the process of releasing an open source application at a University myself, I appreciate the challeneges in doing so. However, the concern I expressed to Rachel was the fact that they were using ColdFusion and not a more ‘open’ codebase such as PHP.  (Will not open the ColdFusion debate here…)

Lastly, Since Rachel came onboard in Houston after the project completed, she referred many questions back to Karen Coombs.

2008 National Forum: Using Library Labs to Shorten Service Lifecycle

Libraries expend a majority their limited human and financial resources to bring new products and services to their customers. However, libraries STILL have the tendency to wait until these products or services are ‘prefect’ ready before they are officially released. The rapid change in technology and the pressures of external ‘competition’ is requiring libraries to shorten their service lifecycles.

The number of libraries discussing the concepts of agile development, perpetual beta, and rapid prototyping is encouraging. The one thing that all of these approaches have in common is including customers as active participants in the development and/or testing of new products and services.

To that end, a growing number of libraries have been building “Library Labs,” which are based on the Google Labs concept.

This approach to service development was discussed in the presentation “Building a Web-Based Laboratory for Library Users” by Jason J. Battles and Joseph (Jody) Combs.

The project started out at Vanderbilt, but was replicated at Alabama when Jason took a position there. The Vanderbilt University’s Test Pilot site was launched July 2006. The University of Alabama’s Web Laboratory went live in November 2007.

A Library Lab creates an environment for users to experiment with new services. It is a showcase for projects under development or consideration. There is really no limit to what can be put on the site, nor is it limited to just technology solutions.

Jason and Jody emphasized the marketing potential of a Lab site and how it can be used to publicize the existence of new products and services and to demonstrate how they are useful. Their services provide feedback links on both the Lab pages and on the prototype pages as an easy way to gather, store and search user feedback and to solicit suggestions for new services.  Their Lab services are also used to identify and recruit for usability studies and focus groups.

They also reiterated several times that a Library Lab allows academic libraries to introduce new services at any time, not just during the three week window between semesters or when the services are ‘perfected.’

In short, the creation of a Library Lab allows a library to invest just enough resources to see if the idea is worth investing in. It also allows a library to let go of unused services in a dignified manner.

Weiling Liu, Building Collaborative Web Applications with Drupal

Weiling Liu, University of Louisville (Kentucky)

Session summary: An excellent demonstration of the modular and flexible nature of Drupal, an open-source web content management system. Drupal has featured prominently in library conferences recently; however, one of the strengths of Liu’s presentation was in the two project examples she used: managing news and events web content that comes from a variety of library staff; and creating a library conference application that collected conference proposals, turned the accepted proposals into a conference schedule, and provided a place to link to conference presentations after the conference. Also useful are her “Lessons Learned the Hard Way” (near the end of this post).

Liu began by describing Drupal and showing examples of Kentucky-area library sites that use Drupal. She then described two projects that used Drupal to solve what were complicated projects with poor workflows: enabling library staff to post content about library news and events : enablinposting library news and events to the library’s web presence

Example 1: Library News & Events

Before using Drupal, library staff posted information about library news and events in static web pages. Disadvantages of static pages include low visibility and difficulty in managing them. Static pages become outdated and need to be weeded; often, it’s not clear to the person maintaining web files when news-y types of information should be removed from the web site. Some items are relevant to users for only a day, while an exhibit announcement should remain present until the exhibit is removed.

Desired features for a new means of posting this important content to the library web presence included ease of use for library staff; maintain a separate presence for multiple libraries adn departments; RSS feed to get users to subscribe; Drupal’s built-in features satisfied these requirements.

Liu also created help files for staff who were using Drupal to post this kind of content

Example 2: Online Proposal Submission Form for a local Kentucky conference

Previously, proposals were emailed to committee organizers, who then had to coordinate distribution of the proposals, their review, and then creation of a conference schedule–clunky to say the least.

Goals for a project that would streamline this workflow included a system that would: collect and review proposals and then turn the proposals into both an online conference schedule and a place to link presentation repository come conference time

Users of this system could also manage their own contact information, relieving the conference organizers of maintaining email addresses and other contact information.

Technical Information: How did Liu build the system?

1. Define needs/needs assessment

2. Install/configure application–“the cool part” (design, modules, permissions)

3. Testing

Notes: Liu stated that configuring and testing were the most time-consuming phases of the project;

If more customization is required, PHP programming knowledge is necessary

Liu described Drupal as a highly modular system; there is a good deal of flexibility offered for those who do NOT have programming (PHP) skills, yet is is scalable/extensible with a number of add-on modules, and it can be developed further by those with programming skills.

Drupal terminology: pages are called “nodes;” nodes have types that describe the type of content contained in them; “teaser” is a short form display; “roles” are groups in the sense of permissions, etc. (See Liu’s slides for a more complete list)

Design: Themes can be assigned to people in different roles, easily offering control of design elements in a flexible manner.

Access control: there is an add-on module that allows much finer control over permissions than the default admin module. User experience can be customized to direct users directly where they need to go to create their content, preventing them from getting “lost” in the CMS.

Module tips (Lessons learned the hard way):

-If you can do what you need to do with the core module, stick to the core module. Add-ons are kewl, but when you use them, it can make upgrading Drupal to a new version more difficult.l

-When installing add-on modules, put them all in the same directory so that they can easily be located and upgraded all at once. This allows you to keep better track of them.

-Read the README file. Pay attention to the warnings and recommendations about modules.

-Always BACK UP your system before adding a new add-on module so that you can restore if something bad happens during the addition/upgrade

-Add modules one at a time, test, and check them before adding another. Allows for easier troubleshooting if there are problems. Avoid impulse shopping: “Ooh, I want this module…and this module…”

Be sure to view Liu’s slides of Drupal site examples and interal Drupal screen shots, which demonstrate many of the concepts covered and offer a glimpse into the administrative side of things. Her slides are available on the conference USB drive and will be posted in the LITA site after the conference.

2008 LITA Forum: Library 2.0 PDQ

“Library 2.0 PDQ: Meeting the Challenges of the Rapid Growth of Distance Learning and Off-site Courses at a University Regional Campus” was presented by John J. Burke and Beth E. Tumbleson from Miami University Middletown in Miami, OH.

Miami U’s regional campuses are at the forefront of its distance learning push. During 2007 and 2008, the state of Ohio and the Miami U main campus issued new challenges for its regional campuses for delivering education. As a result, the Middletown library has faced many changes.

Middletown is a commuter campus which has been offering courses for 40 years. They offer courses primarily to nontraditional students; the average age of students is 24, and most of them work at least part time.

In 2007, Ohio announced a New University System which aimed to increase the number of degrees among Ohioans, and to expand the role of regional campuses to help meet this goal. Regional campuses would now partner with community colleges to focus on completion of degrees. In response, Miami University has changed the focus of their regional campuses. Before, each campus had its own individual focus. Now there is one course schedule and one marketing plan. The Middletown campus has decided to be more innovative when it comes to distance learning, offering online and hybrid courses and offering bachelor’s completion degrees. They also now offer a Bachelor of Integrative Studies, and an online nursing bachelor’s degree.

This new focus on distance learning was a challenge to the Middletown campus library—they now had to adapt their services to students who might not ever see the campus. Already there was a good relationship with the other two campuses through which students could get electronic reserves, walk-in reference services, customized instructional sessions, and remote access to the library. Now they had to increase their support for remote access and web-based courses, provide library services at a new Learning Center, and rework existing library services for more upper division courses, all with a small staff.

In order to figure out what they should do to promote their services and what services to provide online, librarians corresponded with the online nursing faculty and administrators, surveyed students about what services would be most helpful to them, and held focus groups. Eventually they identified 4 major goals: to improve and promote their instant-messaging reference service, redesign the library site to feature distance learning services, create tutorials, and get services embedded in Blackboard courses.

One major hurdle was the dearth of library staff—there were only 2! Staff responsibilities had to be realigned. Cataloging had to be outsourced to the main campus. Librarians had to learn to use various Library 2.0 tools. Finally, they hired a new public services librarian. Burke and Tumbleson joined several groups on campus so that the library would have a voice in designing and implementing distance courses.

The tools that the library used to gather and share information include PBWiki, a free wiki program; the Animated Tutorial Sharing Project; and tutorial software like Wink, CamStudio, Captivate, Audacity, and iTunes U. They also attended the Off-Campus Library Services Conference, and joined several library associations that focused on academic libraries, technology, and distance learning.

Campus surveys revealed that most students had readily available Internet access, were comfortable using the library website, knew that they could email reference librarians for help, and supported the idea of an embedded librarian in their online courses. Fewer knew that reference help was available via IM, and many would rather use Google than library databases. So the problem was mainly that the library needed to promote the lesser-used and lesser-known services. They promoted the library’s blog, began a library newsletter, held an open house, made many class presentations, and began featuring resources on the library’s website.

The library’s website has been transformed. The blog and IM reference are prominently featured. Library resources are almost all listed on the main page. The site links to a 24/7 statewide chat reference services. Google resources are used to help students find the library and to create custom search pages. The library makes use of many outside tools and resources, rather than trying to create them themselves. Several Captivate screencasts are offered—searching databases and dealing with copyright are a few of the topics.

Technical difficulties plague any new technological initiative. In this case, learning new software was time-consuming, database interfaces changed and so they had to redo the Captivate screencasts, they lost several staff members and had a hiring freeze on top of that, money was tight, and as always, there was resistance to the changes that had to be made. In the end, though, the experience has been rewarding, and the library has learned a lot. Burke recommends that similar libraries in similar situations learn to say “no” to non-priority tasks, make time to experiment with new tools, rely on third-party tools and resources, and act as a visionary to faculty and students of what library service might become.

Optimizing Library Resources for Screen Readers

LITA National Forum 2008
Presenter: Nina McHale, Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver.

The speaker started her presentation by sharing her experience navigating a website with a user with visual disability. She pointed out that even though the information structure on a website makes sense for us (the visual users), it does not necessarily make sense for users with screen readers. Making your website accessible is very important because the goal of a library is providing access and not providing barriers.

Accessibility matters because:

  • 10 million people in the US are blind or visually impaired; 1.3 million people are legally blind due to age or other health issues.
  • screen readers are used by blind users as well as people with learning and physical disabilities.
  • writing good code is good practice and makes the web pages more accessible to all.

Nina pointed out why accessibility is an issue:

  • proliferation use of graphics makes it more difficult for people with visual disabilities to use the website.
  • typical web browsers tend to be too forgiving for bad code.
  • a lot of library web pages tend to be home grown or don’t have a dedicated group to create and maintain the web pages.

Two governing standards for web accessibility:

Section 508 is mostly based on the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) from the W3C, with the addition of 8 more standards. Federal agencies are required to comply with the Section 508 standards.

Putting web standards to work:
– check that the code behind the web pages is standards compliant and accessible
– use free web-based validation tools available to check different kinds of web content. For example:

  • from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • css validator:
  • html validator:
  • Cynthia Says ( to validate for accessibility
  • Fangs FireFox extension ( that produces a print transcript similar to the voice output of screen readers. This browser extenstion also allows to check the document structure (headings) and text used for links makes sense when it’s read without the context.
  • The reports from these validation tools can be difficult to interpret at first, but they usually include the link numbers to help pin-point the exact location of the problematic codes. Most of the errors tend to be simple and easy to fix.

    Typical problems in web design, their corresponding standards, and solutions to those problems:

    1. No alternative for visual elements (photos, images, etc.)
    2. Poor document structure (internal html structure)
    3. Repetitive navigation

    1. Visual elements
    A lot of library websites use images and photos to increase the visual appeal of their web pages or to support document structure. However, users of screen reader might not have access to the information conveyed by those images. Solutions to this is by using the alt or the longdesc tag

    2. Poor document structure:
    Use appropriate header (h1 – h6), meaningful hyperlink text, and correct label forms (including search boxes) would really help users with screen reader to “scan” the web page and get the appropriate information.

    3. Repetitive navigation:
    Good web site requires a consistent design, but we end up having a repetitive navigation. Although, experienced screen reader users could just “hop along” and ignore the repetitive navigation. However, it’s better if we also provide a “skip navigation” link or, by the magic of CSS, have the navigation links be read as the last part of the document on the screen reader.

    One of the proposed agenda is a demo of JAWS screen reader. Unfortunately, there was a technical issue and the demo has to be canceled. A discussion followed about what other libraries are doing to make their website accessible, the accessibility of AJAX (see ), and keystroke behavior (combining ‘onmouse’ with ‘onclick’).

    Other resource mentioned: World Usability Day (

    Nina’s presentation can be found at