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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

b(ook)log--a virtual library!

So for my final project in my web 2.0 class, I created a virtual e-branch, and put it up online! I think it's pretty cool! Check it out:

b(ook)log url and features:

* http://trevorcalvert.com
* WordPress blogging software
* Scriblio plugin which allows a OPAC to rest on the WP platform
* RSS (1 for general feeds and one using Feeder for event-specific posts)
* A vidcast, podcast, and transcript for how to use the site
* Meebo for chatting
* Teen MySpace

I was very interested in creating an e-branch as I enjoy creating and using web-based tools, and was interested in learning how to host an Online Public Access Catalog (henceforth referred to as OPAC) on a blog. Hosting an OPAC on a blog is useful for a number of reasons: many web2.0 tools can come into play easily through plugins, add-ons, and site-specific open source software; blogs allow patron interaction—something vital to online spaces; hosting a library catalog on a blog is free—something very useful for smaller libraries that lack sufficient funding.

Creating this was certainly a beneficial experience. I had some free server space on GoDaddy, a popular and inexpensive web-hosting company, so I initially decided to host b(ook)log there, as I wanted it to sit on a non-SJSU server so that I could include it in future employment-application-packages. Briefly b(ook)log’s creation consisted of the following stages:

1. Deciding what I wanted to include, and researching necessary software.

2. Downloading all the appropriate software: WordPress, Scriblio, bSuite, and a new file transfer protocol application called CyberDuck.

3. Uploading and configuring the above on GoDaddy (by far the most complex step!).

4. Organizing and designing the WordPress blog and learning more about uploading MAchine-Readable Cataloguing (MARC) records to the site.

5. Creating various features: a teen MySpace page, a secondary RSS feed, a podcast, and a screencast.

This report will go over each step in greater detail.

I had heard of OPACs resting on WordPress blogging software and knew that I wanted to try and create one. So I followed Debbie Faires’ advice to research Scriblio (http://about.scriblio.net/about). After looking at some of the libraries using Scriblio (http://tamworthlibrary.org/ and http://www.plymouth.edu/library/read/223702), I was a little intimidated—could I create a well-designed, functional, e-branch too? The only way to find out was to try.

After downloading the appropriate software, I began uploading it to the free space I had on GoDaddy. Unfortunately, the FTP software I had been using, Fugu, proved overly difficult in uploading the software, so I chose to try another application—CyberDuck. CyberDuck was easy: just type in ftp.trevorcalvert.com, and then the appropriate name and password, and, voila, my files were uploaded!

First, I loaded WordPress on to the server, which was not difficult—I just followed the directions included on WordPress’ website. More complex was getting an aspect of Scriblio to work. WordPress plugins first must be uploaded to the server, and then must be activated from the plugins page in the Dashboard. For some reason the Scriblio Catalog Importer plug-in would not activate.
It turns out that your web host’s database has to be running on Apache (which mine is), and also has to have PHP5 set as the default language. This was not evident at first, and I spent quite a bit of time investigating the error message. I found the answer on a blog, and then emailed GoDaddy tech service, who sent me a reply walking me through how to set up the language of the database. Afterward, everything activated normally and I was able to import over 300 MARC records donated in a file available at: http://remainingrelevant.net/relevant/240.

After uploading the MARC records file, I began designing the site so that it would be easily navigated and interesting for the potential patron. That meant that I had to play quite a bit with the site in order to better understand its structure. I stuck to the default theme, as that way I had one less variable to worry about, but changed the header to one that was more individual. For this new header, I chose a picture taken by my wife, and using Photoshop adjusted the size and created a border. Next, I just found the header file in the WP-Contents file, and saved the new header image under the same name, and replaced the original file with the newly created one.

Facets are vital to Scriblio—they allow users to narrow the search and they are found in the widgets menu from WP’s dashboard. So I used several scripts included for “narrow by subject,” “author,” “title,” and “isbn.” To use these, each has to be not only added from the widgets menu, but also needs to be set up from the option‡Scriblio menu.

After the facets were set up and functioning on the site, I knew their utility would not be self-explanatory to most patrons, so I decided to add a screencast, a podcast, and a “How to use this site” page. First, though, I had to solve one last riddle: I was receiving an error-message whenever I tried clicking the RSS link in the url field.

Initially, I decided to use a work-around, and include a separate RSS feed using Feeder (a feed-generator application found at: reinventedsoftware.com/feeder/). After creating a post, however, Feeder could not upload it to the server, so I took the xml file, and manually uploaded it to the WordPress file, and then added a link to the file, along with a button, to a widget. This worked, but I was still troubled why the general WordPress RSS would not work.

As earlier mentioned in the report, b(ook)log was hosted for free at GoDaddy, which means that scrolling advertisements infest the top of the site. These advertisements constantly change—which means they probably interfere with RSS updates. This was easy to investigate: I upgraded the site for very little money, and as expected, the RSS worked.

All this had taken quite a bit longer than expected, and I was ready to take a break. Creating a MySpace profile for b(ook)log’s teens’ space seemed like just the next step. I created the site, found some music from the Yoshida Brothers (whose neo-classical Japanese music is heard every time anyone hears an advertisement for Nintendo’s popular Wii gaming system). I found a theme for the background, edited out all the advertising code, and added it to the site. (On a brief side note, I hope to add a catalog search to the MySpace site, but was not able to add this and still make this project’s deadline.) I then added the MySpace address to a widget, and called this section of the project finished.

Also simple and fun (and important!) was adding the Meebo widget with a descriptive enough title so as to be self-explanatory (I just used my existing Meebo account).

Next, I added a tag cloud so that book-reviews (which are important because customer services are important to any library) could be found easily on the site, wrote two book-review posts, and tagged them. The last step was the creation of different ‘casts to help teach how to navigate and utilize b(ook)log. I linked to each (which exist on my server) on the “how to use this site page,” and then created and uploaded a screencast of using b(ook)log to blip.tv and embedded it in b(ook)log’s welcome page. Initially, I had thought about only adding it to the “how to use this site” page, but then reconsidered—how many people would even acknowledge they needed that page, how many would notice it? Better to have a bit of redundancy: have the embedded video on the home page, and link to it on the “how to use this site” page.

Creating b(ook)log was useful on a variety of levels: it taught me a lot about different online resources and free applications (plus, there is nothing like experience and problem-solving to learn how to use them!). On a design-based level, I had to really look at the site as a new patron, and evaluate the interface: could I navigate the site effeciently? Was it pleasing to view? Were the search function and the facets comprehensible? For these questions, I pestered my wife and my friends, and observed their use of the site.

Today, I looked once more at the Scriblio-based online libraries listed in this report’s introduction, and while each site may be a bit more polished, b(ook)log stacks up well against them. b(ook)log’s search engine works as well as any, the site is well-organized for ease-of-use, and includes a variety of tutorials. All said and done, b(ook)log is a challenging, successful project that not only taught me a lot about design, scope, and implementation, but also serves as an important aspect of my educational-career portfolio.

1 comment:

Mark said...

You lost me at "So".

Fwooosh! That was the sound of all that going over this librarian's head.