Done in WordPress: Scholarly Publishing @ MIT Libraries

By Amanda L. Goodman |

Editor's Note: This is the first of 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 in December.


At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries, WordPress has been used to create an informational hub on open access Scholarly Publishing @ MIT Libraries. Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project, describes open-access literature as being free and accessible by anyone who has access to the Internet. Suber also writes that open-access literature may be collected in repositories for all content that is produced by that institution or be part of peer reviewed journals. MIT’s Scholarly Publishing website was built to assist faculty and “researchers who have questions about their options and rights in the world of scholarly publishing.”

The MIT Libraries uses WordPress to manage and promote many of their projects. For the Scholarly Publishing site, information about open access publishing is gathered together in a format that is easy for faculty and researchers to navigate while exploring their publication options. In addition to pages regarding MIT’s open access policies, content is aggregated from websites located outside of the website though the use of RSS feeds. The site also includes podcasts and videos about scholarly publishing. Across the top of the home page is a slider highlighting four aspects of the website: Home, Open Access, Copyright & Publishing, and About. Navigation is handled through links that run horizontally across the top of the website, and additional links are located in the right sidebar.

Remlee Green, user experience librarian at MIT Libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts, answered the survey about her library’s usage of WordPress.

The Library and Its Users
MIT Libraries is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. The libraries serve a total population of 23,407, including 10,894 students for the 2011–2012 academic year. During this same time period, the website saw 595,407 unique visitors, according to Green. Like many large academic institutions, MIT consists of multiple libraries for a total of six libraries. MIT Libraries also maintains smaller service locations. As part of a highly respected academic community, MIT users of the website are well educated and tech savvy. These users are faculty and graduate students who are writing articles for publications.

Why They Chose WordPress
Scholarly publishing is a vital part of academic research and professional growth for faculty and researchers. At MIT Libraries, the need to better support and educate their researchers resulted in the creation of the Scholarly Publishing website. With the website in place, the staff was then able to point researchers to a single location to find MIT’s policies regarding open access publishing. At MIT, faculty is required to give MIT permission to freely disseminate their research publications when the publications are not restricted by other licensing agreements.

WordPress was chosen for this website because MIT Libraries already use the software for other projects. These other WordPress websites include special projects about MIT history, individual library sites such as MIT Rotch Library, and a site that discusses 150 unique library items, among other websites. Thus, staff was already familiar with the platform and needed little additional training, if any. Green writes that “the option of adding widgets and plug-ins make WordPress an adaptable, low-barrier, low-cost tool for creating websites.”

Building with WordPress
Since library staff had already built other WordPress websites, it was decided that the Scholarly Publishing website would be created completely in-house as another aspect of a WordPress Multisite. The User Experience–User Interface Group modified a preexisting WordPress theme, the Station, purchased from WOO Themes for the website. Under this team, the site’s navigation was decided, as well as the overall design. The website’s content was written by Ellen Duranceau, the program manager for Scholarly Publishing & Licensing. Her guidance ensured that the website met the needs of the users. Altogether, the website took six months to create from the initial idea to launch.

The Scholarly Publishing website seems to be addressing the needs of the targeted user base. Statistics for site usage are tracked by Google Analytics. However, Green writes that “much [of the] assessment for this site is based on qualitative data and hunches about what is or isn’t working well.”

Special Features
Since the website covers the active and developing areas of open access and copyright, the content on the website cannot remain purely static. Therefore RSS feeds are used to pull in new entries in the right sidebar on the front page of the website. Green explains that the news items are pulled from the Scholarly Publishing category of the MIT Libraries news blog. Meanwhile the DSpace articles are harvested from the MIT Open Access Articles posted to Dspace@MIT.

To keep from coding the tables used on the “Podcasts & Videos” page, the WP-Table Reloaded plugin was used. Tables are used on the website for quick layout listings of the podcasts and videos. In modern web design, tables are frowned upon for layouts, but in this case this method is used correctly for data that is best displayed in tables. The WP-Table Reloaded plugin manages tables through the Tools navigation menu in the dashboard. Customization options allow you to choose colors, to export and import tables, and even to use Javascript libraries to sort your tables. For a staff member with minimal coding experience and little time to do the intensive work of coding tables, this plugin can quickly organize data on any website.