University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
As a new librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, one of my first efforts was to identify places where technology could assist, replace, or improve existing workflows or projects. The Reference librarians had been, for some time, holding book covers and manually creating displays for different departments on campus of the new books of interest that were recieved by the library. The service is definitely a needed one, and is a great method of outreach to different departments. The problem comes from the enormous time commitment necessary to implement, and the overall complexity of managing all that paper.
Enter: the Digital New Book display. A Wordpress driven solution that leverages a couple of specific plugins and makes distibution automatic, to anyone who wants our new book list, at any level of granularity. This presentation will be a walkthrough of the installation and configuration of a brand new Wordpress blog, complete with plugin installation and setup. After the setup, I’ll explore a couple of ways that this particular combination of technologies can be used at an academic library at a university to reach out to the campus, and talk about what I’d like to see this do on our campus here in Chattanooga.
First, the software needed:
- Webserver with PHP/MySQL support
- Account/database on MySQL server
- Latest version of Wordpress (as of the time of this presentation, 2.02)
- Structured Blogging plugin
- Exec-PHP plugin
- Browser (I highly recommend Firefox)
- FTP program to upload from your local machine to your server (Recommend:
The best thing about all of this? Completely free, open source software. Even the server could be running what is commonly referred to as the LAMP web setup, all of which is free and open software. This entire process can be accomplished with nothing more than the willingness to take the time to do it. Many librarians believe that Open Source software is the future of computing, especially in libraries, and I couldn’t agree more.
Step one will be to download and unzip all of the above software bundles. Filezilla can be installed if you don’t have another FTP program, while Wordpress and the plugins can simply be unzipped into a folder on your desktop.
Once everything is unzipped, we’ll need to edit one file inside of Wordpress before we upload it: wp-config-sample.php. It’s located in the root /wordpress folder, and can be opened with any text editor. I’ll use Notepad, since most of you are probably going to be doing this on a Windows based machine, but any basic text editor will do. I’ll suggest not using an actual word processor like Word, because it can sometimes introduce hidden characters that will make Wordpress very unhappy.
SCREENCAST ONE (800×600)
So after you’ve edited your config file to include the appropriate information, it’s time to upload Wordpress to your server. The username, password, and database name are self explanitory, but the Table Prefix may not be. The Table Prefix is literally that: a prefix that is used inside the database in order to set your blog apart from other things inside the databasee. You can have multiple Wordpress blogs all within the same database by using different prefixes for each.
The name of the folder you put it in doesn’t matter, so if you want the address of your new blog to be http://www.library.example.edu/newbooks/, then you just need to create your /newbooks folder in the appropriate place, and put the files there. For my purposes, I’ll use the above example and upload all of the files. After the files have been uploaded, to install the software (which creates the appropriate tables and everything for you), you visit the /wp-admin/install.php file in your browser of choice, and follow the prompts.
SCREENCAST TWO: UPLOAD AND INSTALLATION (800×600)
And just that fast, you have a working blog!
Now for the installation of the plugins. Using Filezilla once more, we’ll upload the plugin files to the /wp-content/plugins/ folder, and activate each of them. After activation, let’s look around the interface of Wordpress a bit, and get our bearings.
SCREENCAST THREE: PLUGIN ACTIVATION AND ADMIN TOUR (800×600)
Since we are going to use this blog for a specific purpose, there are a number of things that need to be customized, chief among them the categories structure. We’re going to use the categories as a shorthand way of identifying the areas and departments at the university that might be interested in each book that we enter. The bonus of using a blog system to do this is that by setting up our categories first, we can customize our RSS feeds and generate customized content for different departments by leveraging the categories. Here at UTC, we’ve decided to use the actual structure of the university deparments as our categories. Here’s a brief look at how to add categories, with a side trip on how to manipulate them after the fact if needed.
SCREENCAST FOUR: CATEGORIES, ADDING AND EDITTING (800×600)
Ok, so we’ve got a working blog, our categories set up, and our plugins installed and activated. Let’s take a look at the plugins and what they do for us.
Structured Blogging is a plugin that should warm the heart of any librarian…its sole purpose in life is to create meaningful metadata for entries. Since we are concerned about information relating to books, the “Review” function of the plugin is invaluable. It adds additional options to the “write” dialogue in Wordpress, and structures (hence the name) the data such that it makes it very easy for anyone to use, as well as makes the data itself more valuable to other systems. From my perspective the user-experience is the reason I find it valuable, and the metadata aspects are simply icing on the cake. Let’s see what it looks like, and do an entry for our first book.
SCREENCAST FIVE: STRUCTURED BLOGGING AND HOW TO ENTER A BOOK (800×600)
In entering a book, it is very easy to use Amazon to provide cover images, although any major online store could be used. It is my belief that said use qualifies under the Fair Use provisions of the US Copyright Law, however, including images is completely optional. If you felt more comfortable legally, you could certainly scan the book covers and host the images on your own servers.
If your PHP server is set up with the standard set of options, the “Lookup” function of Structured Blogging will automatically pull a cover image, ISBN, and other information from the Amazon database. For the more advance users, the PHP server must have the allow_url_fopen option turned on. Most server setups have this set by default, but some server administrators have this option off for security reasons.
SCREENCAST SIX: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER (800×600)
So once we have everything in place, we have an outreach engine on our hands. We can provide New Book selections via webpage or RSS at whatever level we desire, from all Fiction books to just books about Women’s Studies. We can leverage RSS to “push” these new books out to our patrons, and give them choices in what they want to see.
We can build an RSS feed group of links, and provide a built in method of getting the feeds people want directly from the sidebar of the blog, or we can simply provide people with the correct URL for the RSS feed of their choice upon request. Once we get more familiar with PHP, you can utilize the combination of Links and Pages to provide lists of feeds (or other resources).
SCREENCAST SEVEN: Exec-php and pages (800×600)
So we have now seen multiple ways of utilizing a Wordpress blog as an outreach tool, specifically one configured as a “new book” generator. This can function as both a standard web-based resource (with the advantage of being flexible enough to display the books at any level of organization you choose) and as an RSS generator, pushing the information to your patrons (again at any level of organization). The ability to use PHP within Wordpress Pages gives you the ability to leverage the Links functionality in order to create sets of resources for your patrons, and I didn’t even get to mention the benefits that can arise from having the ability for patrons to openly comment on the books you present. I believe this flexibility will serve nearly any library well, for low or no cost, and with the ability to distribute the work involved. There may come a time when this level of control and flexibility is available directly from an OPAC, but until then this system will work wonders for outreach.