In a move that further consolidates the library automation industry, Innovative Interfaces, Inc. has purchased Polaris Library Systems. Innovative, one of the largest companies in the industry, with a presence in many international regions, and with customers from all types of libraries significantly strengthens its presence in the US public library arena by acquiring the company that has performed well in this sector, winning the majority of municipal library procurements in recent years. The acquisition marks further expansion of Innovative since it was sold by co-founder Jerry Kline to private equity investors. Previous expansion included opening international offices in Dublin, Ireland and Noida, India.
Innovative, employing 410 at the end of 2013, ranks as one of the largest companies in the industry. A mid-sized company, Polaris employs just under 100 total employees, but has seen strong momentum in the public library automation sector, primarily in the United States, with a growing presence in Canada. In addition to its key clientele of public libraries, Polaris has been selected by some smaller academic libraries. Even with the acquisition of Polaris, Ex Libris remains the largest in the industry when measured by personnel employed with its workforce of 536.
Through a mid-sized company, Polaris has been able to achieve a disproportionate impact in the public library automation sector. In recent years, Polaris has been selected by many major municipal libraries, including Boston Public Library, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Phoenix Public Library, and Miami-Dade Public Library. Last year both the Salt Lake City Public Library and the Salt Lake County Public Library separately selected Polaris. The Illinois Heartland Public Library System, the largest consortium in the United States selected Polaris and completed its implementation of Polaris in 2013.
The acquisition of Polaris Library Systems significantly strengthens Innovative’s position in the public library automation sector. By the end of 2013, there were over 400 installations of Polaris serving 1,225 libraries representing a total of 2,811 branches. Innovative reports over 1,300 libraries using Millennium and 336 using Sierra. While Polaris focuses primarily on public libraries, Innovative’s products are used by all types. Prior to the acquisition, the majority of Innovative’s customers were academic libraries. The addition of the libraries using Polaris results in roughly equal numbers of public and academic libraries within the company’s customer base.
Throughout its business history, Innovative has followed a pattern of organic growth by adding new customer libraries year-by-year rather than through business acquisitions. Its only previous acquisition took place in 1997 when it purchased SLS Information Systems, a UK-based company that developed the LIBERTAS ILS. The acquisition of Polaris as well as its international expansion confirms that under its new ownership Innovative has entered a new and more ambitious chapter of business development.
According to Kim Massana, President and CEO of Innovative, “Combining the two companies will have a positive impact for libraries. Both share key values, that of collaboration with customers, providing excellent service, and delivering high-quality products and services. Technologies from each company can work together to respond to key trends happening in libraries today, especially related to delivering library services through Web-based technologies.”
Products and Technology
Any business acquisition in the library automation industry raises concerns with libraries using the products of the companies involved regarding their ongoing support and development. Innovative asserts its commitment to continue to develop and support the products of Polaris as well as its own for the foreseeable future. It is in the company’s own interest to do so, since libraries are likely to move to the competition should their automation strategies see abrupt disruption. Rather, Innovative plans a longer term development agenda that will result in a new platform that will be advantageous for its library customers.
The long term strategy for the combined company will include the creation of a next-generation product that will eventually replace the strategic automation systems of both companies. Innovative has developed Sierra as the successor to its Millennium ILS and has seen enormous success in its adoption. The planned multi-phase development cycle for Sierra is still underway. Sierra, for example, still relies on graphical Java-based staff clients, with Web-based interfaces planned for a subsequent phase. Polaris has already initiated development on a new set of Web-based clients for Polaris, branded as LEAP. The design and development efforts that Polaris has devoted to LEAP will provide Innovative with technologies consistent with its own product roadmap. While Innovative mentions its intentions for a new unified platform, no specific technical details or development roadmap has been charted at this early date. In the interim, Sierra and Polaris will continue to be developed, supported, and marketed.
Polaris’ launched LEAP in February 2014 to provide Web-based staff interfaces in addition, or instead of, the Windows-based staff client software. LEAP was designed to operate with the server component of the Polaris ILS. Libraries will be able to use the Web-based LEAP modules in parallel with the traditional Windows-based Polaris staff modules.
In the shorter term, a first step of integration between the products of Polaris and innovative will involve making the LEAP circulation client operate with Sierra. Polaris is well underway with the development of the Web-based LEAP circulation module which remains on track for release in 2014 as previously scheduled. (See the December 2013 issue of SLN for more information on LEAP.) According to Bill Schickling, LEAP was designed to operate via the APIs of Polaris and can be extended to also work with Sierra APIs.
The two companies have historically built their products for different operating environments: Innovative has built Millennium and Sierra for Linux and other variants of Unix while Polaris has relied on Microsoft technologies. The Polaris ILS, launched in 1997, is based on the Microsoft components, including the Microsoft SQL Server as its relational database and the .NET services-oriented architecture. The staff client interfaces have also been deployed for the Microsoft Windows family of desktop operating systems.
The companies have both recently implemented similar development methodologies, having both moved to Agile, where software is developed in short well defined sprints rather than building large blocks of functionality in what is often called the waterfall method. Both companies have also implemented the same framework, called Scrum, and Jira for tracking and managing software development tasks.
Transition of Ownership
Through a transaction that closed on March 31, 2014, ownership of Polaris changed hands from its Syracuse-based private investors to Innovative Interfaces, which is in turn owned by private equity investors, HGGC (formerly Huntsman Gay Global Capital) and JMI Equity. Financing for the purchase of Polaris was executed by Innovative Interfaces without additional investment from its private equity owners.
Polaris was previously majority owned by Jim Carrick and Andy Gorelik, with current and former Polaris executives holding partial equity. Polaris executives with minority stake in Polaris included Bill Schickling, Jim Mieczkowski, and Kevin Bryans. This group of investors gained ownership of the company in December 2009 from The Croydon Company, an entity that retained ownership of the library automation division of Gaylord Bros. after it was sold to Demco.
Carrick and Gorelik exit their involvement with the company following this transaction. Prior to their investment in Polaris, Carrick and Gorelik were CEO and COO, respectively, of Syracuse-based Strategic Computer Solutions which was acquired in September 2007 by Sirius Computer Solutions, Inc. Kevin Bryans was also associated with Strategic Computer Solutions as its Chief Financial Officer.
Going forward, Polaris will no longer operate as an independent company, but its executives, personnel, products, and services will become part of Innovative. Administrative functions such as finance and personnel will be subsumed shortly after the sale, as is common with any business acquisition. Product development, support, and sales will be integrated over a longer period.
Bill Schickling, President and CEO pf Polaris Library Systems, will join Innovative’s executive management team as Vice President, Public Library Products. Schickling has been with the company since 1987. Scott McCausland, VP of Sales for Polaris will now report to Christopher Le Blanc, Innovative’s Senior Vice President of Global Sales. Other Polaris executives will also continue, including Jim Mieczkowski, and Jodi Bellinger, though their specific roles for Innovative have not been announced. Andy Gorelik, Polaris Vice President responsible for business operations will depart from the company. Neil Block, a former Innovative executive that joined Polaris in January 2013, has recently left Polaris to join EBSCO Information Services as Vice President of Discovery Innovation, Academic Libraries, USA & Canada.
The workforce for Polaris, including sales, marketing, and development are expected to remain largely in place. The Syracuse, NY office that served as the headquarters for Polaris will function as the east coast operations center for Innovative. At least for the near term, customer support for Polaris products will continue to be provided by the company’s personnel in Syracuse. How development, sales, and support are integrated into Innovative’s processes in the longer term has not yet been finalized.
One of the key strengths of Polaris lays in its customer support capabilities. The company has consistently been ranked at the top performer in the mid-sized to large public library category by its customers in the annual “Library Automation Perceptions Report” conducted through Library Technology Guides (http://www.librarytechnology.org/perceptions2013.pl).
Polaris Company Background
Polaris ranks as one of the pioneers of the library automation industry, founded in 1974 as a business of Gaylord Bros. a large company that manufactured and sold library furniture and supplies. Gaylord Bros., founded in 1896, created in the 1930s one of the earliest automation devices for library circulation, the Model C Book Charger, a mechanical date stamping system. The company’s computer-based automation division, Gaylord Information Systems, was established in 1974 by Morris Bergreen.
Gaylord Information Systems became established as a major provider of computerized library automation systems for public libraries, beginning with the Gaylord System 100. This product included computer equipment installed on site in the library for managing real-time circulation transactions supplemented by a mainframe computer housed at Gaylord’s headquarters that handled daily batch processes.
The company introduced its first fully integrated library system, called Galaxy, in 1989. Development of Galaxy was led by Bill Schickling. Galaxy operated on the VAX/VMS platform, a mid-range computing environment offered by Digital Equipment Corporation commonly used for business applications from the mid-1970-s through the late 1990’s. Interest in VAX/VMS declined as Unix rose to become a the dominant operating environment.
With the demise of VAX/VMS, Gaylord launched the development of an entirely new system rather than port its existing Galaxy ILS to a new operating environment. Launched in 1997, the Polaris ILS was developed using the client/server architecture which was emerging as the preferred computing environment to succeed the terminal-based systems of the previous generation. Gaylord chose to develop Polaris using Microsoft Windows technologies, which had become a preferred platform in the mid-sized business sector, rather than Unix which as favored for larger-scale business and academic computing at that time. Polaris has been continually enhanced over its 17 years of subsequent development and has proven able to sustain the transaction load of some of the largest and busiest public libraries in the United States. Recent developments include the integration of the discovery and lending of e-books into its online catalog interfaces.
On the business front, Gaylord Information Systems saw a major change in May 2003 when its parent company, Gaylord Bros. was sold to Demco, a competing library furniture and supplies company. The library automation division was not included as part of the sale, but remained under the ownership of The Croydon Company, a holding company owned by the families of Martin Blackman and Morris Bergreen. Since the Gaylord brand was transferred to Demco, the automation company was renamed to GIS Information Systems. Shortly after this business transition, Bill Schickling, previously responsible for product development, was named President and CEO. In May 2005, the company began doing business as Polaris Library Systems, tapping the strength of the brand of its flagship product.
Polaris Library Systems saw its next business transition in December 2009 when a group of private investors, led by Jim Carrick, acquired the company from Croydon Company. Positioned as an employee buy-out, Schickling and other Polaris executives also participated in the acquisition and became minor shareholders in the company. (For additional information on this acquisition, see the April 2010 issue of SLN.)
Innovative Corporate Background
Innovative Interfaces was founded in 1978 by Jerry Kline and Steve Silberstein to develop technology-based products for libraries. The company’s initial product was developed to transfer records from OCLC to the LIBS100 circulation system from CLSI, a major library automation product of that era. Innovate continually expanded the product to include additional capabilities. In 1982 the company launched INNOVAQ System 100 to handle the acquisitions of library materials. INNOPAC was launched in 1997, initially providing an online catalog and expanding over time to become a full-fledged integrated library system.
With the advent of the era of the client/server architecture, Innovative interfaces launched Millennium in 1997, which included a new set of Java-based graphical clients to replace the terminal interfaces of INNOPAC. Innovative launched Sierra in May 2011, providing the company’s next-generation flagship automation system with the mature functionality of Millennium through a new technology platform based on the services-oriented architecture.
In addition to its flagship automation products, Innovative has developed the INN-Reach resource sharing environment (launched in 1991), the Encore discovery interface (2006), Content Pro digital collections management system (2008), and Decision Center collection development application (2012). SkyRiver, was launched as a separate company in 2009 to provide bibliographic services and was folded into Innovative in 2013.
Innovative operated under the ownership of its co-founders Jerry Kline and Steve Silberstein from 1978 through 2001. That year Kline gained full ownership acquiring Silberstein’s shares of the company.
In March 2012 two private equity firms, Huntsman Gay Global Capital and JMI Equity acquired majority ownership of the company with Kline retaining a minority stake. In a subsequent transaction, Kline divested his remaining interest in the company in February 2013, ending his involvement with the company he co-founded.
Innovative Interfaces now operates under the leadership of Kim Massana, appointed in August 2012 as President and CEO, reporting to a board of directors representing the interests of HCCG and JMI Equity.
John Dove’s article in the eContent Quarterly December 2013 issue “Online Reference Systems: Putting the User at the Center of Design” includes the list of resources below, for which he shares credit with Terry Winograd, Erin McKean, Jodi Wing, and Josh Orum. Though compiled with reference systems in mind, the list includes resources helpful for any Web interface.(Subscribe to eContent Quarterly in the ALA Store. )
Classics of Reference Content and Reference Librarianship
Green, Samuel. 1876. “Personal Relations between Librarians and Readers.” Library Journal 1 (October 1876): 74–81.
Green’s article never really mentions the word “reference,” but it clearly visualizes a set of a dozen or more library patrons and identifies the right service interaction to have with each. In some cases, these imagined patrons learn a skill for future self-service at the library; in others, it’s about quickly pointing out the one book in the library that will delight them or be useful in their research.
Janes, Joseph. 2003. Introduction to Reference Work in the Digital Age. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Before describing the challenges and opportunities that the digital world offers to implementation of good reference services, Janes provides an extensive survey of the history and theory of reference and user services. Especially valuable for the design of online reference systems is his description of the work of Robert Taylor from the 1960s, identifying five elements of context surrounding the reference interview. These are just as relevant to today as they were in the predigital age.
McArthur, Tom. 1988. Worlds of Reference. Boston: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
This book covers the history of reference content over the past 2,000 years. Ever wonder who came up with the importance of multiple learning styles and applied those principles to a reference book in the mid 1600s? Ever wonder why people at the pinnacle of their careers often put their great effort into writing a subject encyclopedia that ends up being a seminal work for the next couple of generations of researchers in that field? McArthur’s vision of the future comes from the vantage point of 1988, so it is not distracted by the specifics of Second Life or other fads. Instead, it is based on human principles relevant at any age.
Ranganathan, S. R. 1961. Reference Services. London: Asia Publishing House.
Ranganathan is most famous for his Five Laws of Library Science and is featured in the first chapter of almost any introduction to library science textbooks. After all, he apparently coined the term “Library Science.” Worldwide he is most recognized for his unique classification scheme based on facets. This scheme has had a rebirth of importance since it is the same approach that underlies most “faceted-based” search models of many modern websites and online tools. In this book, Ranganathan says that as he looked forward in his career he knew his success required three things: coming up with a new classification system, implementing such a scheme in a real library, and creating a library with an effective set of reference services. Reference Services was so important to him that he purposely hid it from view in his first several budgets so he wouldn’t have to advocate for it before stakeholders had experienced first-hand how important it was in the functioning of the library.
Classics of User-Experience and User-Centered Design
Cooper, Alan. 2004. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How To Restore the Sanity, 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: SAMS.
This classic shows why it takes an organizational commitment right from the top of the organization to effectively embrace user-centered approaches to design.
Kelley, Tom, and Jonathan Littman. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. New York: Currency/Doubleday.
Kelley is one of the top industrial designers in our time, who previously authored the bestselling The Art of Innovation. Here he shows that design is a team effort bringing together a diversity of talents (e.g., the “anthropologist”).
Krug, Steve. 2005. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
If you read and truly implement what Krug suggests in chapter 9 (“Usability Testing on 10 Cents a Day”) of this book, you will make a big difference in the user-centered development process at your organization—and with very little cost. According to Krug, “User testing—done simply enough—is the cure for all your site’s ills.”
Moore, Geoffrey A., and Regis McKenna. 2006. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. New York, NY: Collins Business Essentials.
This book shows that many innovative products fail to make it into the mainstream because they don’t embrace solving 100 percent of their users’ needs. Moore’s section on Scenarios, aka “Target Customer Characterization,” shows how taking on “whole product management” requires looking at factors beyond the software, including wrapping the tools inside a set of services so that the buyer gets their problem solved.
Morville, Peter. 2005. Ambient Findability. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Morville, the author of the influential Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, here addresses what has to be a concern of anyone building an online reference resource today: how is a prospective user going to find your wonderful resource? Those who blindly follow the hope of “if we build it, they will come” are almost always cruelly disappointed.
Norman, Donald A. 2002. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.
This classic in designing products that have the user in mind has enduring value. Using metaphors like “the handle and the blade,” Norman’s principles are memorable. Readers will be continually amazed to learn from this book that apparently those who have designed such things as a TV remote and many other gadgets in our lives have never read a book on product design.
Tufte, Edward R. 1990. Envisioning Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
———. 1997. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
———. 2001. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd ed. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
———. 2006. Beautiful Evidence. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
Tufte is a towering figure in the field of graphical display of information. His examples transcend media. All four of these books need to be on your shelf and referred to frequently if you are in the business of designing reference products for libraries. Tufte’s one-day course, offered every year or so on the east and west coasts, is also well worth the time and money— and these four books are provided to every attendee.
Winograd, Terry. 1996. Bringing Design to Software. Boston: Addison-Wesley / New York, NY: ACM Press.
This compendium has essays by many of the early leaders in applying principles of design to software including, among others, David Kelley, Don Norman, Sarah Kuhn, Paul Saffo, John Seely Brown, and Mitch Kapor.
Modern Textbooks on User-Centered Design
Goodman, Elizabeth, et al. 2012. Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research, 2nd ed. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Looking for research to back up the principles of design for usability? This is the bible on the subject.
Klein, Laura. 2013. UX for Lean Startups: Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Klein, an experienced engineer and designer, focuses on helping startups learn more about their customers, providing an introductory overview of user experience (UX) and discussing ways in which to design an easy-touse, effective product.
Preece, Jenny, et al. 2011. Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
This is the standard text Terry Winograd uses in the introduction to his popular user-centered design course.
Saffer, Dan. 2009. Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Offering perspectives from an expert on the subject of interaction design, this book shows how to use design research to understand behaviors and motivations and create a design strategy that makes a product stand out.
———. 2013. Microinteractions: Designing with Details. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Saffer shows readers how to design effective microinteractions (the small details that exist inside features), learn the triggers that initiative a microinteraction, and help users understand the rules with feedback by using graphics and sounds.
Hot Studio: http://www.hotstudio.com/thoughts/experience-design
Creative Good: http://creativegood.com/blog
37 Signals: http://37signals.com/svn
NN Group: http://www.nngroup.com/articles
A List Apart: http://alistapart.com/topics/user-experience
Smashing Magazine: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com
From the RMG press release
RMG Town Hall 2: Discovery, e-Books, Demand-Driven Acquisitions at RMG’s Annual Presidents' Seminar: The View from the Top
Friday January 24, 2014, 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
ALA Midwinter Conference, Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Convention Center Room PCC-117
Leading library industry companies/executives expected at RMG's 2014 Town Hall 2 to address a Vision for an emerging “Library Content Services Model” fulfilled by cross-industry interoperability among
- Library Management Services platforms and other ILSs
- Content Providers
- Discovery Services
to help libraries — especially public libraries — adapt and leverage new models for improved ROI on content, technology, and HR. Expected panelists include:
Auto-Graphics (Paul Cope), Baker&Taylor (George Coe), BiblioCommons (Patrick Kennedy), BiblioLabs (Mitchell Davis), Bilbary (Tim Coates), EBSCO (Brian Duncan), Ex Libris, Infor (Ann Melaerts), Ingram (Joyce Kokut), Innovative Interfaces (Satyadeep Prasanna), OCLC (Robin Murray), Overdrive (Steve Potash), Polaris (Bill Schickling), ProQuest (Kevin Sayar), LibLime (Patrick Jones), SirsiDynix (Bill Davison), The Library Corporation (Gar Sydnor), 3M Cloud Library (Matt Tempelis), Random House (Skip Dye), VTLS (Vinod Chachra).
Skip Dye, Random House's Vice President of Library and Academic Marketing, will make kick-off comments on Town Hall themes.
NYPL’s James English will explain "Library Simplified" — an ILMS-funded project involving 10 U.S.public library systems that "… will use its grant to collect and analyze data on user experiences; identify opportunities for improvements; and design, test, and employ new tools, which will be made available to other libraries."
Continuing last year's RMG 2013 Town Hall focus on the transformational impact of e-Books on libraries, RMG once again announces a roundup of key ILS, Discovery, and e-Book vendors from the global library industry for a big tent discussion on the urgent need for libraries to provide customers with easier, simpler, and satisfying user experiences to find and use licensed and open e- and p- content.
See more, including a vision statement and extensive list of ebook strategy questions for public libraries on the RMG website.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts profiling library websites developed on the WordPress platform, excerpted from The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries, a forthcoming LITA Guide to be published this week. Goodman, along with Polly-Alida Farrington, will be teaching the ecourse "WordPress to Build Library Websites" in February.
Madison Library Local History
Community archives consist of materials that are of local historical significance. The Prairienet article "Community Archives Approach" discusses how they represent underserved populations and serve as the
collective memory of the community. Materials may already be within the
library's collection in the case of academic libraries, or the library
may actively solicit the community for new items. Digital archives
produced by academic libraries often rely on expensive software such as
CONTENTdm. Using Wordpress, however,
you can build an attractive and useful community archive when you lack a
budget for specialized archival software, as the Madison Library Local
History Project proves.
With limited resources but a rich local history collection, the Madison Library Local History Project was built in house as a community digital archive. The project consists of high-quality
images, downloadable yearbooks, oral history transcripts, and local
written materials. Each record item has metadata attached to its entry.
WordPress's native category and tagging system is used for the site's
information architecture. Access to the collection is through top-level
categories based on material type. The items can also be browsed by
decade or descriptive tags. Nonimage files can be viewed via links to
the resource. The archive's strengths lie in its clear navigation and
easy access to the materials.
Mary Cronin, director of the Madison Library located in Madison, New Hampshire, answered the survey about her library's usage of WordPress.
The Library and Its Users
The Madison Library is a rural public library located on the eastern side of New Hampshire. The library has a service population of 2,500 people. While patrons have access to broadband, many prefer to
use their mobile devices. Popular mobile activities include accessing
e-mail and using social media. As far as technical skills, the patrons
have a range of abilities and interest from the early adopters to those
who have yet to use a computer. In Cronin's assessment, the diversity of
technical knowledge is spread throughout the population. The residents
voiced support when the library discussed displaying their local history
online. As well, the library trustees and historical society also backed
the archive initiative.
Why They Chose WordPress
The purpose of the Madison Library Local History Project was to create an accessible site that could display Madison's unique historical items. After receiving a Moose Plate Conservation Grant in
2007, a specialist from the Northeast Document Conversation Center
visited the Madison Library. While looking through the library's vault,
Cronin writes, staff realized "that Madison's 20th century history was
not being collected in any organized way, but was quickly being lost as
longtime residents passed away and their heirs cleaned out houses and
barns that had been in the same family for generations." The library
held public meetings to gain support for the initiative.
Cronin viewed other New Hampshire archives such as Beyond Brown Paper, another WordPress website, for guidance and inspiration. WordPress's intuitive interface and Cronin's previous experience in building the
library's website in WordPress were the reasons she chose it as her CMS
over Joomla and Omeka. Cronin's educational background in using
WordPress was developed through attending a state library workshop on
WordPress led by Bobbi Slosser, the NH State Library's technology
resources librarian. Slosser and the NH WordPress Users Google Group
have offered Cronin support in overcoming technical challenges.
Building with WordPress
The library had wanted to create an online archive for years but lacked the staff and funding to do so. Therefore, once the project was approved by stakeholders, Cronin built the website by
working unpaid hours on the weekends and in the evenings. Cronin's
background in graphic and book design helped her design the attractive
website. The project is hosted on a subdomain of the library's website;
the WordPress software is installed on the library's own server.
The launch of the project marked the end of a two year process. The first major milestone of the project was obtaining a grant to purchase ABBYY FineReader software, an optical character recognition
program. This software allows text in PDFs to be searched, which assists
the accessibility of the document as a whole. Cronin notes that ABBYY
FineReader can even read "some of the unusual typefaces found in
100-year old booklets." The next milestone was launching the website in
the summer of 2012. Before going live with the site, Cronin spent months
experimenting with different content management platforms, themes, and
plugins, and setting up the navigational scheme. (Slosser gave Cronin
the idea to make the content browsable by decade.)
Site maintenance is done by Cronin. Content is digitized by three volunteers, who submit it to Cronin to be uploaded to the website. Backups of the website and digital files are saved onto two
large 2 terabyte (TB) hard drives. The hard drives which were obtained
through a local history grant.
The project launched just two months before the time of this writing, so no historical data on the website usage was available. Cronin notes that
"the site is [already] meeting the goals of providing better access to
Madison's local history." She expects that promotion of the website will
be done primarily through word of mouth—especially in such a small
town! The volunteers have been enthusiastic supporters, with one of the
ladies in particular spreading word about the website and her
contributions to it.
Site traffic is being examined through the use of Google Analytics. Cronin is interested in finding out how people are finding the project (i.e., where site traffic originates from) and which
pages get the most views. By looking at the popularity of the pages, she
is able to judge which items are of the most interest. In the future,
she plans to do a user survey or feedback session to gain insight on
what features need to be improved.
The standout features for this website include the high-quality images, metadata, navigation, and searchable transcripts of scanned files.
First, the yearbook files are scanned in at an archival quality of 600
dpi, making them too large to be uploaded through WordPress's Media
Library. Thus the yearbooks are uploaded to Cronin's own server, and
links to the files are provided on the yearbook's entry on the website.
While these files are very large, the ability to link to files easily
within WordPress makes it easy in turn to keep materials connected to
Next, Cronin admired how Omeka detects, collects, and displays uploaded file data (e.g. file size) automatically. Therefore, for the project, each object's metadata description fields are a
simplified form of Dublin Core,
which is entered manually. The fields currently in use include
information from the file type, a link to the field, a physical item
description, and any identifying information, such as a title page. This
information is entered into each post's body text box. Eventually,
Cronin would like "to develop a simplified version of Omeka's upload
form in WordPress so that people can add their own items to our site and
provide the descriptive elements we need to fit the navigation scheme
and to add searchability."
Cronin makes clever use of WordPress default categories and tags, allowing for further discoverability by material type, decade of creation, and subject. In WordPress's category settings, she set up a
category for each material type and decade pairing. When she adds a new
object, she then selects a category to identify the material type and
date created. In the tag field, keyword terms, such as a person's name,
are added to better describe the item.
Finally, the original handwritten news columns of Alice Ward have provided an in-depth look into Madison's history. However, the paper's fragility has rendered that unsuitable as accessible materials.
Instead the library's volunteers have transcribed the columns. The ABBYY
FineReader software makes the transcripts searchable for residents
seeking information about relatives.
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of posts profiling library websites developed on the WordPress platform, excerpted from The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries, a forthcoming LITA Guide to be published in December.
Belchertown High School Library
For a school library, the natural target audience is the student body. In research for my book, I visited hundreds of school websites, usually not seeing even a passing nod to the other users of the library—the school’s faculty and staff. At the Belchertown High School Library, however, the librarian has built a website that supports teachers as well. He provides resources about lesson planning, the state’s standards, and more on a link clearly marked "Teachers." While the website also shines for its collection of study guides and encouragement of mobile databases, the attention paid to the whole service population makes this school library website shine.
The library relies on WordPress.com to host their website and currently uses the beautiful Oxygen theme by DevPress. This theme is responsive, which means the website will look great no matter what device is used to access it . Another showstopper of the theme is the featured images that appear on the front page’s slideshow, as seen in the screen shot. The library uses this slideshow to feature new posts, including suggestions for newer technologies such as Google Drive. Content on the home page is always fresh, and the eye-catching images draw interest to these new posts. Navigation runs horizontally across the top and down the side. The top navigation is the website’s pages and include links to the study guides, teacher’s section, library polices, and so on. The left sidebar includes catalog and database links. The sidebar also includes quick links to frequently asked topics such as MLA Citation Help, a calendar, and an RSS feed to the New York Times News. The left sidebar is a widget from Goodreads that displays six covers of books the librarian has recently reviewed. The center content on the home page is the aforementioned slider as well as links to other recent articles. The newer articles have images, while further down the page, the older articles do not display an accompanying picture. In the footer is a statement of who owns the website and who is responsible for the site’s maintenance. Individual posts and pages keep the left and right sidebars but gain a social sharing footer. However, comments are not allowed on the website.
Brennan Murray, library media specialist at the Belchertown High School Library in Massachusetts, answered the survey about his library’s usage of WordPress.
The Library and Its User
Belchertown High School Library is located in Belchertown, Massachusetts, which is just south of the state’s center. The school’s service population consists of approximately 800 students and 70 faculty and staff. Each school’s website provides ways to report bullying incidents, an important concern of schools. Murray notes that student access to Internet at home and tech savviness is mixed. Belchertown is close to Amherst, and the students come from both rural and upper-middle-class demographics, which creates a diverse range of tech access and familiarity across the student body.
Why they Choose WordPress
Murray was hired as the school’s library media specialist in 2009. The website needed a redesign to include better “flexibility and Web 2.0 integration for the site to keep it relevant and timely,” Murray states. He consulted with the school’s technology department to get the all-clear on using WordPress. Once approved, Murray built the site entirely by himself. His experience with WordPress was earned while doing projects in graduate school. He writes that he loves “how user-friendly the platform is, while allowing the users a wide range of powerful options.” During seminars with teachers, he also advocates the ease of creating websites in WordPress for anyone who can write e-mail messages and who is familiar with Microsoft Word.
Building with WordPress
It took Murray only a month to put the site together. His choice for using the hosted WordPress was a decision based upon needing a reliable server. The local school district had run into some server issues, so the library needed a better option. Of course, the ability to put together a website without adding to the library’s finances was a great selling point.
The website is completely managed by Murray. While he trusts WordPress.com’s servers, he does a periodic backup of his website’s database. Murray does not worry about updates, because they are managed by WordPress.com as part of being a hosted website.
As far as the website’s milestones, the successful launch of the new website was the biggest moment. Murray web design philosophy is that the website is “never fully complete, and should always be improved and added to in order to keep content fresh.” So his job is never-ending. (During the writing of my book, he completely revamped the site’s design—further proof that he takes his job as librarian/webmaster very seriously.)
Murray uses statistical analysis and gathers feedback to see how well the library is doing in meeting its goal to “serve the information needs of our student and faculty population.” When he looks over the reports and responses, he then adjusts the website as needed for an improved experience. For example, Murray checks what keywords are being searched for on the website. If the website has no information on that topic, the library will then update the website to add the sought-for content. This attention and analysis also tips the library off on what new resources students are looking for as they choose their research topics. Murray also notes that the site is visited when school is out, which means his library is competitive against big search engines for their local patron base.
Content rules the Belchertown High School Library website. Students have easy access to the project help guides for different teachers. Each guide is a page, which is divided into sections that match the teacher’s needs. Then each resource is a link either to the open Web or a library-provided database. A few of these guides include relevant images. By posting these guides online, the school can save on printing costs (and students pulling a last-minute all-nighter can get the quality resources for their project straight from their library).
Second, the library’s website recognizes that students are using mobile devices to access content. The website’s new theme is attractive and adjusts according to the viewport of the device that is accessing the website. While a visually appealing website may sound minor, a responsive website that adjusts its appearance for the user’s device is an accessibility issue. Pinching and zooming to see a full-sized, desktop-optimized website on a tiny screen can be physically and visually difficult for some users. The library promotes the use of mobile apps to their students by placing the link to mobile apps second in their navigation. Students are encouraged to use apps to easily access the catalog, databases, and Overdrive’s e-books and audiobooks.