Tech @ the Library

Getting social with our content

While we were busy waiting for the snow to melt, we kept pushing forward with other changes to our new catalog. As some of you may have noticed, we did a software update last week; some of the changes that came with the update included a Facebook "Like" button and fixes to several bugs that prevented patrons from emailing links or effectively using RSS feeds. Those were the easy changes.

Today, our catalog's integrated social services list looks like this:

And finally, you'll find that you can now view content from NoveList when looking at an item's detail view. This feature was available in our old "iBistro" catalog, but until this latest update, has been unavailable in our new catalog. We've now got this functionality back, so you can see Series Information, Similar Titles, and Similar Authors to help you more easily find your next good read!

We hope you enjoy our catalog's new features!

Cover art totally snowed!

Due to the massive snow storm in the northeast United States, the power has been lost to one of our content providers. This particular service is the source of a large quantity of the cover art we use in our catalog searches.

The net effect for you is that the search results you get will have broken cover art, and searches take a lot longer to load. We've experimented with turning the link to this particular provider off, but have found that other services are negatively impacted, making matters even worse.

So, while we await the delivery and connection of some very large generators to our content provider, you'll see noticably slower performance in our catalog searches. We apologize for the inconvenience, but hope you understand that there are millions who are even more negatively impacted by this weather event, and in this connected era, even we in Madison County can be affected by a nor'easter!

Watch this post for updates as we continue to monitor the situation for you.

Update: 1-Nov-2011 13:27

Performance has taken a drastic turn for the worse. We have turned off the cover art content at this time. Please excuse the ugly blue placeholder images, but you should find that your searches will work much faster now.

Update: 2-Nov-2011  10:13

And our provider is back on-line! All of our cover art should appear as normal. Thanks for your patience and understanding through this service interruption!

Moodle Learning Management System Presentation

For those of you who attended our presentation on open source software in libraries at the Alabama Library Association Convention, thanks for coming out to hear us!

During Tamara's portion of the presentation, she discussed Moodle ( a free course creation website) and talked about how she used Moodle to create a series of interactive courses for library staff:

In Fall 2009, the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Social Network Challenge was created as a way to introduce library staff to various Web 2.0 websites as well as other online resources held by our library which they may not have used before. The HMCPL Social Network Challenge was based on Learning 2.0, a program that was originally developed and launched for the staff at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in Charlotte, North Carolina during August 2006.

Moodle or Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment is a free learning management system for producing Internet-based course websites. The main power of this activity-based model comes in combining activities into sequences and groups, which can help guide participants through learning paths. Thus, each activity can build on the outcomes of the previous ones. There are a number of other tools that make it easier to build communities of learners, including blogs, messaging and participant lists as well useful tools for grading, creating reports and integrating with other systems.

Moodle also has a thriving online community at where Moodle users can ask questions, post to forums, download documents or Moodle Themes, read the latest Moodle news and get Moodle support.

Three resources that helped me out tremendously while setting up the HMCPL Social Network Challenge were Moodle Course Conversion by Ian Wild, Moodle 1.9 E-Learning Course Development by William H. Rice IV (the fourth) & the online book Using Moodle-Teaching with the Popular Open Source Course Management System by Jason Cole and Helen Foster.

Open Source software presentation

For those of you who attended our presentation on open source software in libraries, thank you for coming out to hear us!  Some of the high points from Amy's portion of the presentation:

A content management system (CMS, for short) is the logical next step for a site that's become too big for one person or one department to manage. While they aren't right for everyone, it was the right choice for us.  A few well-respected and well-known ones are:

If you are considering getting a CMS, you will want to look at

  1. whether or not you have a programmer on staff
  2. if you do, what language(s) can this person program in?
  3. each system's tradeoff between a) ease of use and b) configurability. 

If you don't have a programmer and your needs are relatively simple, you could err toward the side of ease of use; if you have a programmer and you know your needs are complex, you may be better off seeking a system that takes longer to set up but provides more flexibility in the end.

Django and Plone are both written in Python, while Drupal and Joomla! are both written in PHP.  While both Django and Plone are excellent systems with vibrant user bases and code availability, we ruled them out, as our webmaster was most conversant in PHP. The choice between Drupal and Joomla was difficult; both make excellent CMS choices for library sites, but HMCPL chose Drupal because of its excellent module system.  As long as you carefully evaluate both your resources and your needs, and pick something that fits both, there is no wrong answer. I'd rather see you choose a solution that balances your needs and resources, and is right for you, than necessarily choosing what Huntsville Public chose. Not all libraries will make the same choice we did, and they will have equally valid reasons for their choices. Our choice was not a choice 'against' something, but 'for' a platform that meshed well with our personnel resources and design goals.

What is Drupal? (The non-technical version)

The system I refer to as 'Drupal' here actually has two parts: Drupal 'core,' which is the basic framework of a site, and 'modules,' which are freely available modules written by the community and contributed back to Drupal. They can be as big as "build me a calendar of events!" or as small as "let me put this particular form field on a certain page."

How are we using Drupal in our sites?

We have a few modules that we consider critical to both sites:

  • the combination of the Rubik theme ( and Admin toolbar ( to simplify administration tasks for our users. My goal is to have our staffers ready to post content within just a couple of clicks.
  • Organic Groups ( is a workhorse module seeing vastly different uses internally and externally.  Externally, it serves as a way for our employees to contribute to our blogs.
  • Content Construction Kit ( is the bedrock of our sites. We have many different types of content that we need to present on our sites, and CCK lets us decide what types of content we want to make available for our users, instead of needing to shoehorn our content into someone else's predetermined ideas of what we might need.
  • Views ( Views is a graphical query builder; it lets you take your content that you've created with CCK, categorized with Organic Groups, and remix it and present it in whatever formats (lists, full pages, tables) suit our site best.

How are we using Drupal in our internal site?

  • We are using Ubercart ( to provide an internal supply store for employees to reorder supplies and provide them spreadsheet-friendly expense data for budgeting and planning.
  • A highly customized front page, allowing users to only see the news that is relevant to the branch they're working at, or the committees they're a part of.
  • Custom content types. Our needs were diverse; and we needed to track things that were both good and bad.  Good: we needed a centralized place to track the grants we were applying for, or had applied for in the past. Bad: we needed a database of patrons who had been banned from the library, and we needed to provide calendars showing when employees had been furloughed.
  • Collection of statistics. We needed a simple way for branches to provide attendance statistics from their events
  • Donor management. We're investigating the CiviCRM ( module for tracking donations and pledges.

How are we using Drupal in our public site?

  • We're using a multi-site install, which lets us run an unlimited number of sites (currently three) off of a single codebase, thus lessening the number of code updates we have to do behind the scenes.
  • We are using Ubercart ( so our library foundation can accept online donations and sell tickets to events.
  • Custom content types with CCK. ( We needed to distribute the ability to post multiple types of information to the public: not just events and blog posts, but what about posting press releases, equipment bids, entries in our community organizations database, or job postings?
  • Sections for kids and teens, with a different look and feel, but access to the same information.  We're using the Sections ( module to provide summer reading sections of our site for children and teens.

What are we considering for the future?

  • MERCI (Manage Equipment Reservation Checkout & Inventory, to track reservations of equipment, like projectors or laptops
  • CCK for online submissions of book reviews from teens, which will be part of this year's Summer Reading.
  • Online Reference: using taxonomy-related modules to provide an online subject guide.
  • Genealogy Research Guide: using Drupal's Book module, included in core, to provide an infinitely extensible guide to our genealogy resources, including not just tips and tricks, but lists of our holdings.

Is there a community I can go to for help?

Yes! Absolutely! There are two excellent resources for librarians and libraries using drupal.

One is the Libraries group on, of which I am the current manager.

The other is the Drupal4Lib email list, on which I am an active contributor. You can join the list at or by sending an email to LISTSERV [at] LISTSERV [dot] UIC [dot] EDU with 'SUBSCRIBE DRUPAL4LIB' (no quotes) in the subject.

Have more questions?

I'm also findable as as @amyqmc on twitter, or at amyq [at] hmcpl [dot] org. The Libraries group is currently busy planning a free pre-conference in June that will take place in Washington, DC right before ALA 2010. I intend to be in attendance, and will likely be leading sessions there.

New, simpler checkouts at Madison Public Library

How do I use the new RFID checkouts?Madison Public Library reopens with new RFID system to speed up checkouts. Work has been going on behind the scenes for some time to place RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags in every item in the Madison Public Library, and MPL was closed on Monday and Tuesday of this week (March 8-9) to finish the installation. As a result, checking out books at MPL is much simpler!

To check out a book, scan your library card, place your items on the platform, and take your receipt:

How do I use the new RFID checkouts?

There are new security gates set up at the entrance to Madison Public Library:

MPL's new RFID gates

If an item that hasn't been checked out goes through the gates, a buzzer will sound and the gates will light up, like this:

What happens if you don't check out a book?

(See the full flickr photoset here.)

Thank you for your patience while MPL was closed for two days. We hope you'll agree that the quicker, easier system was worth the wait.

Heritage Quest is back!

We've prepared a quick tutorial on how to access Heritage Quest at home using your library card number and PIN.

To access Heritage Quest at home, click "advanced search" in the Rocket Search area on the front page of our website,

Screenshot: click the 'advanced search' link in the RocketSearch box

Next, type in your library card number and PIN number:

Screenshot: type your library card number and PIN here.

Once you have logged in, scroll through the database list until you see the database labeled "Heritage Quest Online". Clicking the "Heritage Quest Online" button will provide you with access to all of the Heritage Quest databases offered by the library.

Screenshot: Where to click to access just the Heritage Quest databases.

Thank you for your understanding while we migrated from to!

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