Open source on the web
More and more librarians are being asked to join the ranks of the information technology staff. When I started in libraries I was in charge of the library websites. It was unthinkable that a librarian would have the skills, the desire, or the time for such a task. Now, with the prevalence of technology and the ever-shrinking library budgets, more and more librarians are stepping into the role of webmaster and, to do the job right, you need the right tools.
Before you start your website, you need at least one tool to help you transfer files from your computer to the web server. This process is called FTP or file transfer protocol. For this process you will need an FTP program; FileZilla (http://filezilla-project.org) is one of the popular choices among libraries. It is a favorite because it installs on nearly every operating system, making it easy to find the right version for you environment.
FileZilla displays the content of your local machine and the web server side by side, making it easy for you to drag files from your computer onto the web server. Files on the server can be modified simply by clicking with your right mouse button on the title and choosing an option from the menu that appears. Often a web application will require that a folder has specific permissions, a process once reserved for the IT staff. Using the right click menu in FileZilla you can choose ‘change permissions’ and choose the options required by the software you are installing. You can also move files around and rename them using right click and drag and drop functionality within FileZilla; see Figure 8.1.
Like most of the applications mentioned so far, FileZilla has an active developer community, so there are lots of ways to find support, tips and documentation, many updates and improved functionality.
Now that you can upload files to the web, you need something to upload. Many libraries have been choosing to use a content management system to design their library sites. A content management system is almost like a website in a box; it has everything you need to build and maintain your website without having any formal training or web development skills. There are currently two popular open source content management systems in the library world: Joomla (http://www.joomla.org) and Drupal (http://www.drupal.org). Your basic content management system provides you with the necessary tools for creating pages for your site without having to know HTML or any other programming language.
With Drupal, the different areas of the site are broken into ‘tasks’ and ‘modules’ (see Figure 8.2). A task is essentially the function of the page, what the page does. A module is more a section of the site, for example ‘Events,’ ‘Blog,’ or ‘User.’ In Joomla content is sorted into ‘Menus,’ ‘Content,’ and ‘Components’ (see Figure 8.3). Each of these areas houses sections of the site that you are able to alter and customize. Of the two, I find the Joomla administration area a bit easier to navigate, but both could use a librarian’s touch. In the end, both have their strong points and their weak points; my recommendation is to try out both using the demos on the opensourceCMS website (http://opensourcecms.com) to find the one that works the best for your needs.
To see what these tools can do, both Joomla and Drupal maintain showcases of sites using their product (http://community.joomla.org/showcase/andhttp://drupal.org/cases).
A recent popular addition to the Drupal showcase is the official White House website (http://www.whitehouse .gov).11 A more obvious pairing is the use of Joomla by Linux.com (http://www.linux.com) because of its open source focus.
New on the library content management front is MaiaCMS (http://maiacms.org), designed by the Howard County Library system in Maryland, USA. MaiaCMS was designed by and for librarians making it a very promising option for library websites. I have worked with both Joomla and Drupal and my top complaint is that the administrative user interface seems more complicated than it needs to be. This is why MaiaCMS is so exciting to me; it is a tool designed by librarians for librarians, so the menu system is nicely organized and easy to navigate (see Figure 8.4), and modules that librarians need are part of the standard install instead of available solely as plugins.
The one drawback to MaiaCMS is that it is currently only being used at one library, so there is no active community to go to for support and no documentation available online. I would recommend that librarians keep MaiaCMS on their radar, but not make the leap to implementing it in their library until there is a bit more activity around it.
Often overlooked as a content management system is WordPress (http://wordpress.org). Originally used as a blogging platform, recent upgrades to WordPress have made it a viable alternative to the systems usually thought of as the top open source content management systems (see Table 8.1 for a basic CMS comparison). WordPress comes with all of the trademarks of an amazing open source application: active community, strong user base, extensive documentation and the ability to extend functionality with user-developed plugins. In fact, WordPress is found on nearly three times as many big sites22 as Drupal (which is used three times more than Joomla).33
One of the biggest selling points for WordPress to those who are unfamiliar with installing web applications is its five-second install. You are asked a few short questions, click submit and you have a WordPress site up and running. You can then walk through the easy-to-understand ‘Settings’ section and customize some of the ways people will interact with your new site. The thing that takes the most time is finding the theme you like best. When teaching WordPress to fellow librarians, this is the part of the class that always takes the longest, a true testament to how easy it is to learn (see Figure 8.5) and use WordPress to manage your entire library website.
Figure 8.5 The administration panel on the official book site (http://opensource.web2learning.net), powered by WordPress
When choosing to use a new or unfamiliar tool, it is always handy to have access to colleagues who have gone before you and been successful. This is why there are three communities you should be aware of before choosing a content management system.
If you are interested in Joomla, you might want to check out the Joomla in Libraries (http://www.joomlainlibrary.com) community. This site focuses on libraries that have or want to use Joomla to manage their library site or intranet. The amount of helpful content on this site is amazing. You can find tutorials, examples from other libraries, a discussion board and more.
For those wanting to learn more about Drupal, there is the Drupalib (http://drupalib.interoperating.info) community. This site is also a wealth of information for those using or wanting to use Drupal to manage sites within their library. From here you can access other Drupal libraries by participating in the mailing list or the forums, you can see other libraries that are using Drupal in the showcase and you can access tips and tricks by subscribing to the blog.
Finally, if you are interested in WordPress, the community for you is wp4lib (http://www.webjunction.org/706). This community consists of message boards, a wiki and a discussion list. With access to other libraries that have already implemented WordPress your migration will be that much easier.
Some libraries will forego a content management system in favor of a wiki. A wiki is simply a website that multiple people can edit. One of the most well known open source wiki applications is MediaWiki (http://www.mediawiki.org), the software that powers Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org). MediaWiki has a long established record for handling heavily trafficked websites with ease, which is why it is commonly used by librarians to power their intranets, subject guides and sometimes entire websites.
MediaWiki offers a series of settings to allow you to decide how you want people to interact with your website. It is a common misconception that all wikis are open for anyone to edit; as the site administrator you can decide if a password is required for editing. Since wikis keep a complete history of edits, a common practice is to give each staff member their own login so all their edits are recorded. This makes it easy to find the right person to contact if you have a question about a particular edit. Also, since a complete history is kept, it is always an option to revert to an older version of the page, making it less daunting to allow anyone on the staff access to edit pages; see Figure 8.6.
Figure 8.6 Editing the open source page on the Library Success Wiki44 powered by MediaWiki
One drawback of MediaWiki, and many other wikis as well, is that the interface can sometimes be less than intuitive. While a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor is available to make editing the pages simpler, the wiki syntax can sometimes still confuse people. It can also be difficult to know where to go to edit a page or to revert to a previous edit. That said, the documentation for MediaWiki is extensive and can easily be searched for the solution to your particular problem.
These web applications are simply a small sampling of the open source alternatives available to help with managing your library website. The key is to try out a few options before making a choice and always remember to contact your colleagues around the world to see how they are using the applications, why they chose them and if they are happy with their choice. Also remember that the opensourceCMS website (http://opensourcecms.com) and others like it allow you to test drive open source web applications before actually pitching them to your library staff or installing them yourself.
3.Geller, Tom. ‘Drupal Runs Three Times as Many Top Sites as the Next CMS.’ Tom Geller’s Latest Thing, January 18, 2010. http://tomgeller.com/content/drupal-runs-three-times-many-top-sites-next-cms.