Submitted by Amanda L. Goodman on December 9, 2013 - 12:14pm
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts profiling library websites developed on the WordPress platform, excerpted from The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries, a forthcoming LITA Guide to be published this week. Goodman, along with Polly-Alida Farrington, will be teaching the ecourse "WordPress to Build Library Websites" in February.
Madison Library Local History
Community archives consist of materials that are of
local historical significance. The Prairienet article "Community Archives Approach"
discusses how they represent underserved populations and serve as the
collective memory of the community. Materials may already be within the
library's collection in the case of academic libraries, or the library
may actively solicit the community for new items. Digital archives
produced by academic libraries often rely on expensive software such as
CONTENTdm. Using Wordpress, however,
you can build an attractive and useful community archive when you lack a
budget for specialized archival software, as the Madison Library Local
History Project proves.
With limited resources but a rich local history
collection, the Madison Library Local History Project was built in house
as a community digital archive. The project consists of high-quality
images, downloadable yearbooks, oral history transcripts, and local
written materials. Each record item has metadata attached to its entry.
WordPress's native category and tagging system is used for the site's
information architecture. Access to the collection is through top-level
categories based on material type. The items can also be browsed by
decade or descriptive tags. Nonimage files can be viewed via links to
the resource. The archive's strengths lie in its clear navigation and
easy access to the materials.
Mary Cronin, director of the Madison Library located in
Madison, New Hampshire, answered the survey about her library's usage of
The Library and Its Users
The Madison Library is a rural public library located on
the eastern side of New Hampshire. The library has a service population
of 2,500 people. While patrons have access to broadband, many prefer to
use their mobile devices. Popular mobile activities include accessing
e-mail and using social media. As far as technical skills, the patrons
have a range of abilities and interest from the early adopters to those
who have yet to use a computer. In Cronin's assessment, the diversity of
technical knowledge is spread throughout the population. The residents
voiced support when the library discussed displaying their local history
online. As well, the library trustees and historical society also backed
the archive initiative.
Why They Chose WordPress
The purpose of the Madison Library Local History Project
was to create an accessible site that could display Madison's unique
historical items. After receiving a Moose Plate Conservation Grant in
2007, a specialist from the Northeast Document Conversation Center
visited the Madison Library. While looking through the library's vault,
Cronin writes, staff realized "that Madison's 20th century history was
not being collected in any organized way, but was quickly being lost as
longtime residents passed away and their heirs cleaned out houses and
barns that had been in the same family for generations." The library
held public meetings to gain support for the initiative.
Cronin viewed other New Hampshire archives such as Beyond Brown Paper,
another WordPress website, for guidance and inspiration. WordPress's
intuitive interface and Cronin's previous experience in building the
library's website in WordPress were the reasons she chose it as her CMS
over Joomla and Omeka. Cronin's educational background in using
WordPress was developed through attending a state library workshop on
WordPress led by Bobbi Slosser, the NH State Library's technology
resources librarian. Slosser and the NH WordPress Users Google Group
have offered Cronin support in overcoming technical challenges.
Building with WordPress
The library had wanted to create an online archive for
years but lacked the staff and funding to do so. Therefore, once the
project was approved by stakeholders, Cronin built the website by
working unpaid hours on the weekends and in the evenings. Cronin's
background in graphic and book design helped her design the attractive
website. The project is hosted on a subdomain of the library's website;
the WordPress software is installed on the library's own server.
The launch of the project marked the end of a two year
process. The first major milestone of the project was obtaining a grant
to purchase ABBYY FineReader software, an optical character recognition
program. This software allows text in PDFs to be searched, which assists
the accessibility of the document as a whole. Cronin notes that ABBYY
FineReader can even read "some of the unusual typefaces found in
100-year old booklets." The next milestone was launching the website in
the summer of 2012. Before going live with the site, Cronin spent months
experimenting with different content management platforms, themes, and
plugins, and setting up the navigational scheme. (Slosser gave Cronin
the idea to make the content browsable by decade.)
Site maintenance is done by Cronin. Content is
digitized by three volunteers, who submit it to Cronin to be uploaded to
the website. Backups of the website and digital files are saved onto two
large 2 terabyte (TB) hard drives. The hard drives which were obtained
through a local history grant.
project launched just two months before the time of this writing, so no
historical data on the website usage was available. Cronin notes that
"the site is [already] meeting the goals of providing better access to
Madison's local history." She expects that promotion of the website will
be done primarily through word of mouth—especially in such a small
town! The volunteers have been enthusiastic supporters, with one of the
ladies in particular spreading word about the website and her
contributions to it.
Site traffic is being examined through the use of
Google Analytics. Cronin is interested in finding out how people are
finding the project (i.e., where site traffic originates from) and which
pages get the most views. By looking at the popularity of the pages, she
is able to judge which items are of the most interest. In the future,
she plans to do a user survey or feedback session to gain insight on
what features need to be improved.
The standout features for this website include the high-quality images,
metadata, navigation, and searchable transcripts of scanned files.
First, the yearbook files are scanned in at an archival quality of 600
dpi, making them too large to be uploaded through WordPress's Media
Library. Thus the yearbooks are uploaded to Cronin's own server, and
links to the files are provided on the yearbook's entry on the website.
While these files are very large, the ability to link to files easily
within WordPress makes it easy in turn to keep materials connected to
Next, Cronin admired how Omeka detects, collects, and
displays uploaded file data (e.g. file size) automatically. Therefore,
for the project, each object's metadata description fields are a
simplified form of Dublin Core,
which is entered manually. The fields currently in use include
information from the file type, a link to the field, a physical item
description, and any identifying information, such as a title page. This
information is entered into each post's body text box. Eventually,
Cronin would like "to develop a simplified version of Omeka's upload
form in WordPress so that people can add their own items to our site and
provide the descriptive elements we need to fit the navigation scheme
and to add searchability."
Cronin makes clever use of WordPress default categories
and tags, allowing for further discoverability by material type, decade
of creation, and subject. In WordPress's category settings, she set up a
category for each material type and decade pairing. When she adds a new
object, she then selects a category to identify the material type and
date created. In the tag field, keyword terms, such as a person's name,
are added to better describe the item.
Finally, the original handwritten news columns of Alice
Ward have provided an in-depth look into Madison's history. However, the
paper's fragility has rendered that unsuitable as accessible materials.
Instead the library's volunteers have transcribed the columns. The ABBYY
FineReader software makes the transcripts searchable for residents
seeking information about relatives.