Thomas Ford – Study tour 07

Wow, my last visit and I spent a lovely day at Thomas Ford Memorial Library (TFML) in the outer Chicago suburbs. Thomas Ford is a single branch service with 7 librarians plus support staff. However, besides the number of branches and staff, our respective library services have a lot in common – more on that soon.

Thomas Ford’s ILS is part of the 81 (correction, it should be 96) library SWAN consortia which shares the same ILS and has reciprocal borrowing rights. They are looking to try a new module on their ILS which has more of an Amazon-like interface, which will incorporate reviews etc.

They offer downloadable audio for iPods, with content from iTunes. They also used to get MP3 content from a statewide consortia, but wasn’t getting the use. Their iPod content started well, tailed off but use is picking up again, with classics and scifi moving better than bestsellers. Process is manually intensive, so is usually done at the reference. Only limits are 3 week loan periods and 1 simultaneous user – most they have ever downloaded for a user is 4 titles (they offer 67 titles).

Their website was created 3 years ago (correction, it was 2002 – current iteration is from 2005) , by Aaron Schmidt (Walking Paper blogger – now Director at Northern Plains Public Library) using Moveable Type. Their site is hosted at LIS News. It runs the website, with some blog content and fixed template content, as well as a staff blog where they share notes, news and more. Comments are not enabled due to overwhelming spam. The blog entries can feed to different pages on the website. Very nice. Have a slight problem with uploading files, as Movable Type disallows the upload of large files, including images.

They are about to do a redesign of the website, keeping Movable Type for blogs and use another form for the rest of the website, using Dreamweaver as their editor. They want the website to do more to promote the services and collections of the library – at present this content is down too deep in the site and is rarely accessed.

They would like to have the public contributing book reviews via a public blog and will invite some early contributions so that they launch it with some content already available. They will use a Google Co-op facility to search their reviews (cool!). In the new website they want more staff collaboration, to make it easier for staff to contribute, have more community involvement, and be interactive. It will be interesting to watch it all develop over the coming months.

Their Staff exchange blog for staff news is supplemented by their new staff intranet, which uses Media Wiki and is well populated with great content. Its very comprehensive and more content is added nearly daily. They also have a Flickr page and MySpace and Facebook profiles.

They have some “listen to a story” podcasts and are looking to do some screencasting at some stage. They have created a blog, using Word Press for their Big Read 2007 program which involved 8 public libraries in the area. They would like to do more with their patron picks, staff picks and blurbs about new stock.

I felt really at home here, because like my work, we have no programmers on staff and our website is hosted offsite. Yet Thomas Ford have done some marvellous things with mainly the desire to learn and try new things. Very motivational for me, showing that its possible, even when you don’t have many technical resources available to you.

Their local history wiki came out of inspiration at the 2004 PLA Conference. It is blog based and came out of grant money which was used to pay Aaron to set up the website and Nancy, other TFML staffer, to do the digitisation and metadata. They already had a high quality scanner/copier for their central printing and for digitisation of the historic photos. At the time, a blog was the easiest option – the content has been duplicated at the Illinois Digital Archive, but took a year to get it uploaded.

The Western Springs History blog, using Word Press, has over 100 photos of local houses with accompanying info. It was supposed to be a starting point, but has not developed much beyond that at this stage. However, they are meeting with the Western Springs Historical Society in the next month to investigate further collaboration efforts.

Wow, such cool, achievable stuff. Thanks to Rick and Kristin for taking time out to share their achievements and future plans and to Thomas Ford Memorial Library for making me welcome, I really appreciate it.


    • ricklibrarian on May 1, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Hi, Michelle. Thanks for the great report. We had a great time and leanred much from your visit.

    I was a little careless with some numbers. There are actually 96 libraries with some involvement with SWAN I find on actually counting. I also was not clear on when Aaron first designed our website. Schmidt design #1 was in 2002. It was reworked some in 2003 and 2004. The current look goes back to late autumn 2005.

    It will be exciting to watch the changes our websites will reveal in the next few months. Good luck. Come back any time.

    • Michelle McLean on May 3, 2007 at 7:38 pm


    Thanks for the corrections and for your time on TFML, I really appreciated and was encouraged by it.

    • Michelle McLean on May 18, 2007 at 7:52 am


    Thanks for stopping by and for the update. I look forward to seeing what new things TFML will be doing in future.

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