Before being interviewed for my job as a special collections librarian, I decided to do some research about my potential employer by taking a look at their website. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I was also not surprised. As a department in the local government, my library’s website (design and all) is in the hands of a few government-sponsored programmers.
The local history and genealogy department (where I was hired) had little more than an HTML page with in-page links describing our collections. When I asked about the possibility of updating our department’s webpage, I was told that getting any design injected into the website would be nearly impossible. Our department, like many others, had a static HTML document that listed popular reference links for librarians at the ref desk.
So I spoke to my coworkers about the possibility of creating a blog for our department, where we could share news, events, new acquisitions, and more. Most of my colleagues were lukewarm to the idea considering how many other “fancy new technologies” had come and gone; however, I promised this one would be more fun to use.
When I settled in on WordPress, I used a template to create what I thought would be a traditional repository blog. I quickly realized, however, that with the addition of pages, images, and other features, this could be much more. I started experimenting with pages describing the collections, as well as contact and request information. I could post PDFs, links, pages, images, news…why, it was basically a website!
After making the posts page secondary to my main page, I was able to create a “home page” for our new blog-as-website, the North Carolina Room. Because we are hosted by WordPress, we have search engine optimization so we are easily found in a Google (and other engine) search. I played around with our widgets and discovered how I could create a browse-able category list and search text box so that users can browse and search our blog’s content.
As for our reference links, I created a Del.icio.us for our department and added it as a link in our blog (another post will address Del.icio.us). I started finding other libraries that had created their web presence by taking advantage of free and/or open source web 2.0 applications like blogs and wikis, as well as a CiL session that focused on “Blogs as Websites”!
At this point, my coworkers and library administration were under the impression that I was creating a basic blog for the North Carolina Room. How could I get approval to create an entirely separate page that was inconsistent with the sterile county government “design”? I decided that the design would have to speak for itself. I sent an email to my supervisor and the library administrative board explaining the basic blog and mentioned that it included “additional information about our department, similar to a website.”
I sent the message and waited. About an hour later, a few administrators responded with glowing praise, citing the clean and appealing interface, the ease of browse and search, and the information given that was lacking in our former site. Pure joy — I was approved! The link was added to our existing department page through the county’s site by one of our government programmers and has since become essentially our new department website.
In this situation, it turns out that asking for a little was the best way to get a lot. Had I known about advanced design for blogs and creating a blog-as-website beforehand, I doubt that I would have been approved. I asked for a blog for a trial period and emerged with a department web presence to be proud of. We do use the website as a traditional blog, adding news and events — even our most technology-averse colleague gave it a try — but it is also a source of identity and creativity for our department.
I am not a web designer…but I used existing FREE tools to make something useful and beautiful for my department. So can you!