PLCMC 2 – Study Tour 2007

An amazing service is provided from the lower area of ImaginOn. Storytimes to go (STG) provides pre-literacy kits for preschool teachers and carers. The kits are themed and aimed at getting children interested in reading. The kits have 8 to 12 picture books, a booklet of original activities written by the staff (of 4), flannelboard activities, recordings of activity songs, a puppet or educational toy and a family activity sheet. They also have art kits, adversity kits which explain cultural diversity, meet the author kids (including one on Mem Fox) and bilingual (English/Spanish kits). They have over 560 kits on over 100 themes.

The way it works: a teacher from the local county contacts them. They must first attend an orientation workshop where they learn the rules, about the kits and how to use them and how to care for the materials. Once they have completed orientation, they get the list of themes. The teacher calls and asks for a kit, STG sends the kit to their nearest PLCMC kit to collect. They have it for 4 weeks and all loans are managed from the STG office. There no overdues on the kits and late kits are returned after a follow up phone call. STG also offers workshops on storytelling and other skills.

They have now expanded their services to their website. Between 1000 and 2000 free activities are available online over 50 themes, with more being added which will eventually number between 150 and 200 themes. This is all the supporting material that is available within the kits. Teacher resources are also available.

I spent the afternoon talking with Chuck Rigney – Web Services Manager about PLCMC’s internet presence. If you haven’t checked out the PLCMC websites, you really should and allow some time to do so, as they have so much content online. They have 16 websites with their own domain names plus their intranet. Initially they got the domain names because they didn’t want people to know it was the library providing the content. They are considering leveraging the content back to the PLCMC website, but may keep the domain names.

Web Services comprises Chuck, with 2 developers and a graphic designer based in their Main Library. They have 5 active web teams who provide the content for their website, each with a different focus and comprising 6 to 8 people. They focus on book reviews, childrens, adults etc and meet monthly with someone from Web Services attending every meeting. Unlike other teams at PLCMC, these are not arbitrarily rotated – librarians move on when they want a change. When this happens, their position is internally advertised and potential members can be interviewed.

They use Active server pages and built the interface themselves, making it flexible and adaptable. It may take longer than off the shelf packages, but they get exactly what they want. The IT department maintains all their servers in-house, for the website they have 2 production servers and a development server. A recent access issue resulted in content being split between the 2 servers and a clean-up of superseded files which resolved the issue. Apart from the PLCMC website, the others use templates to call on the content from the database as required.

Some content has been developed off-site as it came for a grant – including the Smart Collection and Hands on Craft. StoryPlace is by far their biggest website, so now has its own T1 line to manage the traffic. They have considered hosting it out due to the bandwith requirements.

Looking at new options, such as creating content in a blog and then pulling content from the RSS feed into a HTML webpage.

Their Intranet was developed in-house and is 6 years old. They will be updating the look and functionality soon, getting complaints about not being able to find things. At present Chuck is the only one updating the intranet, they want to share the content management and are considering replacing it with a wiki.

They use a system-wide calendar, with the branches entering all their own data. Proprietary software then pulls this content from this and into the website. On their intranet they have a link on each page, “Does this need an update” and the equivalent on their webpages “Comment on this page” which is on the same level as the breadcrumbs, which enables their users to easily let them know of any problems on a Intranet or webpage.

Their latest website design, which was launched last year, was user tested. They took the 2 prototypes of the website which they designed in-house and a consultant user tested it with focus groups. The feedback included: patrons interested in their local branch, not the wider service, wanted to see people, not buildings. As a result, users can set their local branch and its info as their homepage, but as a result they can miss out on regional happenings as it appears further down the page. They have over 1600 individual webpages, although some were created for one off events and have yet to be removed from their servers. The main PLCMC is the biggest in terms of pages and management as the others use dynamically driven content.

They used to host external websites, but it became too expensive for them to do so. They may consider doing it again if it was revenue generating.

Chuck ensures that he and his team have time to play, learn and find out what’s out there on a daily basis. Its the best way to ensure that they stay current and are using the best means and options for their websites. They are looking to use more of the Library 2.0 tools to add more functionality to their website, particularly patron content, including patron comments on their catalogue (SirsiDynix’s Horizon ILS).