Saturday, August 26, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Cracking the Code or a Fix-it Friday Fix

I did not post my weekly Fix-it Friday yesterday and not because I have run out of problems, far from it. I was just not feeling well so I didn't post. So today you just get me bragging about myself with the absence of putting myself down. If I do that too often my ego may get out of hand.

Anyway, last week I spoke about problems with my library's ILS. I had problems writing code into the system because there was complicated code to learn on top of proprietary code that I did not understand. To resolve this problem I went to a larger county system that had the same ILS and asked their advice. They provided it, but recommended that I do not touch any of the systems unless I have a training server. That way if I screw something up, I am not putting it out there live and breaking something. Right now, we are in the process of purchasing and installing one. After playing with the technology and having some good results and some bad results, I was going to take his advice and not try anything.

However, one of our server's crashed while we were in the process of creating a back-up server. So now we just have the server that replaced it with no hopes of getting a real live back-up for a little while. I decided that instead of waiting for the new installation, I would try a few new things I was playing with. The fun thing about technology these days is that to solve a problem, all you just have to do is to search for a solution on the Internet and people have already posted their free code solution. If I couldn't create code to do what I wanted, I could embed the code of others to get what I wanted.

So I made three significant changes right away. I changed the theme of the page to a modern theme. This is one of the easy features in the ILS, just pick one of five themes and you can make your page different from the others. I had made a change a few months ago just so my page would not look so generic, but it still did not help. The modern theme I chose this time was very plain, just white with very little color, but it worked well if I was going to make changes and it matched with our city webpage. The next thing I changed was placing the library's name on our catalog (no we could not do that before!). We were able to manipulate the system by creating a new image, then saving and naming that image the same as file that already exists. That way, I was able to change the vendor's label on my page to the library's name, plus I added a little background for color. As long as the pictures size was similar in size, it works great.

The change to white and the image change had an immediate effect. It made the site cleaner and we finally owned the site. The next steps were to put a calendar of events and possibly a photo slideshow on the site. I had been playing with Google Calendar for some time and created an account just for the library. I set up a Gmail account with the library's name, then created the calendar. The new features in Gmail are great and you can set up a calendar, excel spreadsheets, and put other files online so that you can share them with others. I set up a calendar and placed all of the library's events in the calendar, plus included all third party programs that were not library endorsed, but were held at the library. Originally, I had thought of just creating a link to the site on the library's catalog page. The problem with that is that it would take users away from the page instead of searching for books. However, Google Calendar has an embed feature when you go to the manage calendars feature. I just went to my calendar, clicked on manage calendars, clicked on my calendar, and then clicked on calendar address for html. This would have created a link to the calendar site. However, I also so a configuration tool in which it would provide a embed code you can place on your website. I copied the code and then pasted it in the portal page. IT WORKED! I was able to see the library's entire calendar of events on the catalog page. I also copied this in the events page. The training from the county library helped me find what file to place it in.
The calendar of events was a big problem for us for many reasons. One, many library staff did not have access to a live calendar because we are on different systems. They could see the calendar on the library's city webpage, but it is difficult to navigate (mostly because we can't control the content that much, but that is changing). We had to provide a paper copy and then they posted it downstairs to see it. Now, they can go online like everyone else and see the calendar in real time. They can even print it out!

After cracking the placement code, I was able to do even more with the page. I added a Flickr slideshow. I used this code here to embed a flickr slideshow on the portal page. It is really neat because it has the same functionality as going to flickr and playing a slideshow. It does all the same things, plus it does not say flickr on it. It just has the show. This works particularly well when you get into trouble placing company names on your site. It also does not link to your flickr, but keeps you on the webpage. Now we have a nice library tour on the portal page. I will probably add this to our events section and show all the library events in the loop. You can point to a particular set in flickr for your loop. Very neat!

Lastly, what is the library's catalog portal without books? One of the problems we had with the portal was the rotating book image. It was a nice feature, but we had absolutely no control over it. The problem was that is showed images from BookSense's bestsellers, but it showed hardcover, paperback, and mass market paperback. Since it just does an ISBN search, we could have that book, just not in paperback and it would not reveal that we had the book simply because we did not have that edition! This caused many problems as patrons sending in requests for books we already had. So we had to create our own links using another trick borrowed from the county library.

Our library subscribes to Syndetics Solutions enhanced content, which provides book images, book reviews, and many other items that searchers find useful when selecting material. Very nice! We found that we could manipulate the data that was in the catalog code for the book image. When you go to the catalog, you can right click on the book image, this will give you the image location and by adding a src img= (insert syndetics tag here) and then place html for the search for the book around the image, you can get the image with it tagged so when you click on it, you search the catalog for that book. So we could control the book image! Each week we put out a top ten list in the local paper. This week was top ten mystery and we could place the image for each book in a row at the top of the page. I was very boisterous so I added a row for top ten fiction, juvenile fiction, young adult, and more. I tried to do DVDs, but many of the catalog records don't have images for the DVD records. Even stealing the images from other sites would not yield an image in the system. It must be tied just to their code. I will probably figure that out and I am very excited about the prospects of controlling the site. Think of all the possibilities, we could now link a webcast, podcast, even sample music from the site! Now that we have control and I have cracked the code, there are a million things I could think of doing to the site now, it is only a matter of time, how exciting!

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