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”

Eli Neiburger
Eli Neiburger

Eli Neiburger is the Associate Director, IT and Product Development at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL). The AADL website first adopted Drupal in 2005, and in 2007, the library added SOPAC (Social Online Public Access Catalog) to their CMS.

During the presentation, we delved into the website, exploring all the neat things it can do. Because of SOPAC, their catalog allows the users to search as well as tag, rate, and review the items displayed (among other things). It’s completely customizable, unlike traditional catalog interfaces.

AADL’s Drupal implementation allows the library employees to make “rich posts” that display automatically resized images and linked text on the library website without having to know how to use HTML or CSS.

The library has a collection of recipes, Ann Arbor Cooks, that is fully searchable and browsable. It also has a blog that is seamlessly integrated into the collection (if you scroll down the main page).

Additionally, they have scanned 100 years of Ann Arbor City Council Minutes that is also fully searchable and browsable.

They even have an AADL Image Gallery where library users can upload their pictures of the town, new or old. If a patron would like to contribute a photo but does not have a way to digitize it, the library will scan it and upload it for them.

AADL uses the CMS to keep a Video Collection (an alternative URL for this is aadl.tv) of library events and programs.

As if all that isn’t awesome enough, AADL keeps a Game Tournament Leaderboard that allows users to create profiles and link to their stats. They also have a site devoted to the game tournament events at gtsystem.org.

The usability and richness of the site creates extended value for the items therein. For instance, the programs and events that were recorded at the library and uploaded to their video collection are continually viewed long after it took place.

Neiburger stressed that AADL would not have been able to do all they did with Drupal if they didn’t have programmers to make it work.

Last but not least, Eli Neiburger presented for Karen Coombs, Head of Web Services at the University of Houston Libraries. Through her presentation, she demonstrated that there is no perfect CMS. The CMSs that are currently available tend to require difficult tradeoffs:

  • flexibility vs simplicity
  • customization vs staff resources
  • staff skill set vs ease of use
  • empowerment vs responsibility
  • support vs functionality
  • one tool vs many tools

As an example, she offered that WordPress is a simple tool that is easy to use, whereas Drupal is extremely flexible and complicated.

There is also the option of building a custom CMS, but it would not have a support base like Drupal or WordPress.

There are many questions to ask when choosing a CMS.

  • What tech resources do you have in house?
  • What programming languages do you know?
  • What systems do you already support?
  • Who is going to maintain the content?
  • How tech savvy are your content creators?
  • What kind of content is part of your site?

The takeaway of these presentations is that there is no one-size-fits-all CMS appropriate to every library. Each library’s personnel and patron requirements will influence the choice of which CMS to use, if any. While CMSs can be powerful tools for institutions that want to support them, they may have hidden costs.


  1. Jonathan Blackburn

    Wow – what a fantastic overview of this panel (I would know I was part of it)…. Thanks, Melissa – honestly, you put everything worth telling out there!

  2. mhoulroyd

    Thanks for the compliment and for the great presentation! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Content Management » Blog Archive » Drupal, NYPL and AADL

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