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 WordPress.
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.
The 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 one another.
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.