Friday, December 27, 2013

Val's best books: 2013 edition

I decided I was going to keep track of my reading this year. Despite starting off strong, averaging 4/5 books a month, I ended up only finishing 26 books (including the one I'm reading now, which I promise to finish before the year's up! Still, a few were pretty heavy volumes (literally and/or metaphorically) so I'm pretty happy with my effort.

Last year I was wildly into historical romance, but this year was dominated by sci-fi/fantasy and non-fiction. You can see the whole list, with my comments, but I figured I'd just highlight my favorites for now.

This was a really good one. I liked the organization, there was a logical progression to it. I particularly liked the articles on quantum computing, bitcoin, and the Turing Test.
Every volume of this book is amazing. Like, literally. Science is amazing. Anyway... This edition did have 2 articles in common with the above compilation, but it's worth reading even if only for the fantastic forward by physicist Michio Kaku.
I realize pretty much everyone on the planet has read this book by now, but if you haven't: read it! I had some trouble getting into it at first, but I'm glad I stuck with it, because when it got going, it got GOOD. It could just be that I love love. And also, magic. The hero was a teensy bit douchey at points, but for some reason it didn't bother me much. Maybe because the heroine was awesome enough to make up for it.
I'm 2 books into the Sandman Slim series, and really enjoying it. Gritty, but not offensively so. Reminds me of a cross between Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris. It's meshing perfectly with my recent Supernatural binge-watching. I just wish Kadrey would embrace the concept of a chapter; deciding where to break for the night is a bitch.
Misfit children with special powers being hunted down is not a super original concept, but I couldn't put this book down. Looking forward to the sequel that's due out in January.
I found her writing awkward at first, but I loved the story. I love soul-matey historical fiction. That's totally a thing, right? This is the third in a trilogy though, so you may want to start with the first and second before reading this one. []

Thursday, December 5, 2013

CUNY IT Conference - Building Academic Websites (in the Real World)

I'm presenting tomorrow at the 2013 CUNY IT Conference, where Brian Farr (our Systems Manager) and I will be talking about the process of developing our new library website. If you'll be at the conference, consider coming to see our talk at 2:15pm. [Conference schedule]
I also have some fun slideshows of the site-building process, with screenshots and mockups and crazy marked up documents, which I'll add next week.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Zen and the art of the conference proposal

(This post originally appeared on Letters to a Young Librarian, and was edited by Jessica Olin.)

Your first year as tenure-track faculty is an odd one. You’re not expected to publish right away, but it’s encouraged that you keep your CV active by adding to it in one way or another. Given the amount of time you spend acclimating to a new workplace during your first year (anywhere, not just in academia), you don’t necessarily have the time or the connections to do anything major. Often you’re expected to spend that first year choosing future research projects, and starting to design your research studies and maybe collect some data if you’re lucky. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you were hired to work on a specific project, and will spend much of your time tackling minor practicalities like building a website from scratch and migrating the entire former site’s content to it. Pish posh.

This forces you to be a bit creative with adding lines to your CV. I’ve looked for limited time and energy-commitment obligations, like less formal writing projects and talks at local chapter meetings. One opportunity I stumbled across on one of the CFP blogs I follow was a call for conference proposal reviewers. I’ve acted as a peer reviewer in the past, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some professional service.

About halfway through the 20-or-so proposals assigned to me for review, I realized that this was much more than just a line on my CV. I’ve submitted many conference proposals in the past (a handful of which were actually accepted,) but being on the other side of the submission process gave me some useful insights for the future. (For the record, the conference was not library-focused, and it was a blind review process, so I feel ok about talking about it publicly.)

First, I shouldn’t have to say this, but based on many of the submissions I reviewed it warrants a mention: Follow. The. Instructions. You’ll read this advice a lot in posts about applying for jobs, but it goes for pretty much any official process in the professional world. Sometimes you think can skip steps. Maybe you know someone. Maybe you’re a big name in the field. Maybe you presented last year. Well, I can’t see your name and I wasn’t at last year’s conference, so do us all a favor and complete all the fields in the form. If I don’t need a certain piece of information I’ll skim over it. Better safe than sorry.

Here’s another piece of advice that comes directly from job application best practices: customize, customize, customize. Maybe you’re submitting a similar proposal to several similar conferences. I don’t care. Take the time to tweak your proposal to at least touch upon this specific conference’s mission and theme. I know you have to put out a lot of proposals just to get a few acceptances, but try to make it feel like this conference is one you actually *want* to present at.

GradHacker recently did a post on Killer Conference Proposals, and while all their tips are good ones, I think their final tip is of particular importance: “Explicitly state an audience takeaway.” Of course *you* find your research interesting and relevant (or at least I hope so). But take a step back and think like a marketer. What are you offering presentation/panel attendees? So many proposals I reviewed talked exclusively about their own experience without in any way addressing why that experience should matter to anyone else. Is the technology you used attainably-priced? Are your assessment standards widely accepted? What kind of implementation time/resources did it take? I’ve sat through many presentations where the project discussed was fabulous, but I came away frustrated because the presenters made no effort to tell me how I could replicate all or part of it, or apply the knowledge elsewhere. Give me something I can use, or reserve this talk for a showcase or project update event.

My last piece of advice doesn’t really apply to a blind review, but I’ll mention it anyway. When I’m participating in an event, I make sure to publicize it throughout my own networks. I like to think this gives a person a reputation as someone who will actively work to help draw in attendees, and thus be an asset to future events.

If anyone else has been part of the conference proposal review process, please leave some tips in the comments! What causes you to reject a proposal outright? What puts a presenter on your good side right away?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

this is not a work-related post

It's pretty obvious from my last few weeks of posts that I'm currently binge-watching and obsessed with the show Supernatural. A couple of people mentioned to me that it inspired them to watch/rewatch the show from the beginning, so I decided to feed the mania so you all can be as entrenched in fandom as I currently am. Scroll through the tweets from the bottom up; it will be like we're watching together! (If you can't get back to the very early tweets, which start on 10/13/13 fittingly enough, you should be able to get the full timeline here:

Oh! Also, you're gonna wanna check out all the amazing animated gifs from the show, which I've been dutifully curating on pinterest:
(or, for the even more obsessive of you, dive into this tumblr:

If you know of any fun #spn sites I should add, let me know!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hacking Google Forms

A few months back I pitched the idea of using Google forms for all the forms on the new website. Our current forms were created through a Joomla-specific add-on, and I'm not proficient enough in PHP or SQL to feel comfortable recreating them from scratch. Also, the forms on our current site turned into a pretty huge security risk as they aged, and I like the thought of using Google's servers to house the forms and resulting data. However, on their own, Google forms are pretty limited in their functionality, just dumping data into a Google spreadsheet document (which can be exported, but you still have to regularly log into your Google account to view the data.)

Forms do have the option of sending an email alert whenever someone fills out the form, but the alerting email doesn't include the actual form data, so you're still tied to constantly logging into that account to get the information. Enter: Google Apps Script. With a little knowledge of JavaScript, you can use their library of classes and methods to add functionality to basic Google forms.

I started out just wanting to be able to receive an email when someone submitted a form, with all the responses included. For this I found a really nice tutorial from Amit Agarwal ( If that's all you need your form to do, great! You got it, dude.

I needed a few extras though. First, some of the forms need to go to multiple people. You can easily do this with a slightly more advanced version of the sendEmail method. (You can find documentation on the MailApp class and various iterations of the sendEmail method here: Also helpful, their Understanding Events cheat sheet:

Essentially, you just need to find this line in the original code:

MailApp.sendEmail(email, subject, message);

and change it to:

MailApp.sendEmail(email, subject, message, {cc: email 
   of person you want to copy});

You can cc multiple people by just separating their email addresses with commas.

One of the librarians, however, wanted users to indicate what department they were affiliated with, and then have a copy of the form results go to the department liaison. This is where things start to get a little complicated, and it's helpful to know a little bit about programming languages. I wrote a simple switch statement (with some help from Babs, of course, my go-to programming guru.)

 var dept = e.values[array location 
    of dropdown].toString();
 var contact = toString("xx");

 switch (dept) {
   case "dropdown value 1": 
     contact = "email address 1";
   case "dropdown value 2": 
     contact = "email address 2";
     contact = "default email address";

The first line of code pulls whatever drop-down value the user selected (the associated Google spreadsheet stores these values as an array. 'e.values' accesses the values in this array. Position [0] of the array is the time-date stamp that gets put in automatically, so your array location is just the exact question number of the drop-down question.)

Your switch statement is then just comparing that value to values that you associate with email addresses, and then assigning the associated email address to the variable "contact", so now your method call looks like this:

MailApp.sendEmail(email, subject, message, {cc: contact});

Ok, if I haven't given you a headache yet, there's one more tweak you can do to increase the usability of the form submission email. Using 'e.values' again, you can pull the user's email address from their form submission, and set it as the reply-to on the resulting email. That way, if the person who gets the email has a question for the submitter, they can just hit reply (default reply-to is the gmail account that you're using to create the form.)

Again, since the time-date stamp is [0], you just need the question number where you ask for the user's email address, and now you've got:

var reply = e.values[array location of user’s 

MailApp.sendEmail(email, subject, message, {cc: 
   contact, replyTo: reply});

You can check out the whole script, as I use it, here.

If you've done any Google form hacking, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I've only just begun delving into the possibilities here!

5/23/14 - I just stumbled across this post about using Google Forms for leaderboards/summer reading programs. It's also another good example of hacking Google Forms with formulas and scripts.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

anatomy of a crash, part deux

So say your site gets hacked, and you try fixing the index and config files, as I mentioned in the last post. And you try checking the server logs to see what files were messed with so you can replace them with backups. And you turn on error-reporting in your CMS to try to see what's going wrong. And you Google some of the malicious code you found in your files. And say none of these fixes work, or yield any useful information. What now?

Well next you'll want to search for common hacks to your specific CMS and version, to see if anyone can walk you through fixing them. Here's a pro-tip though: in the end, most fixes will just tell you to install a fresh version of the software, and if you're in my situation that's not an option, so learn from our fail. Set up your website in such a way that disaster recovery is a relatively easy job, or at LEAST a viable option.

I will admit that much of this advice is based on my experience with Joomla and Wordpress. I have much less experience with Drupal, so some of it may not apply there. If you're a Drupal person, and have advice for keeping your site safe from hackers, please post it in the comments!
  1. Keep your site software up to date.
    Also your plug-ins. Also your themes. Because chances are, if they're all from reputable sources, the developers will be addressing vulnerabilities as they pop up. The world of hacking is a shifting landscape, and what's secure today is not necessarily secure tomorrow.
  3. Keep your customization modular.
    In WordPress, this means using a child theme, rather than making changes to the main theme. When you update a theme, it will override any changes you made to those files. Now you're in a situation where you have stop updating your theme, and are thus breaking RULE NUMBER ONE. You will regret this.
  5. Keep your site root clean.
    Actually, not just the site root, but all its sub-directories. Part of the problem with our site is that the root folder is cluttered up with custom includes, images, project folders, etc. If you're not the one who put them there (as in my case, where I'm taking over a site from someone who is no longer here) it's hard to know what folders are part of the CMS's software, and which ones are not.

    In general, if you re-install the software, it should just ignore these unrelated files and folders, but if the software contains new files and folders that have the same name as yours, you can accidentally overwrite your files. I'd say either place these files one level up, OR, if you want them to have the site root's url, create one folder in the site root, and put all of it in there. Clearly mark that that folder is NOT part of the CMS's file structure.
  7. Documentation!!!
    Srsly. Updating or re-installing your CMS may not be a difficult process, but YOU may not be around when it needs to be done. YOU may be on another continent, or at another job. YOU may have gotten hit on the head or killed those particular brain cells with alcohol. There are so many pieces to a CMS (plugins, templates, images, forms, database(s), etc,) it's supremely helpful to know which of these need to be backed up in like six places before you re-install, so you don't lose the hours and hours of work you put into customizing them. Which leads to...
  9. Keep backups of important files and folders.
    Yes, I know you're backing up your entire site on a regular basis, because to not do so would be INSANE, but even so, keep an extra copy of important stuff, JUST. IN. CASE. I have a folder on my desktop with my config file, my entire child theme folder, and my custom plugin folders. WordPress is smart, and names the blank config file something else, so when you update, that default config file doesn't overwrite yours, but still. (Remember to update these backups every time you make a change. I got in that habit anyway, because I keep an entirely local copy of the site to make changes to before making them live, so it's kind of a reflex at this point that when I make a change in one place, I update those files everywhere else.)
  11. Minimize the use of 3rd party modules or vulnerable code.
    Wherever possible on our WordPress site, I used CSS/jQuery to create my own custom features (like our tabbed search box) rather than install another plugins. Plugins can increase the vulnerability of your site, so use them with caution (and, not to drill it into your head or anything, but keep them updated!) We've also made the switch to Google forms for all our forms, so we have the benefit of their security features (and so the forms are connected to off-site databases, rather than databases on our servers.)
  13. Create a simple html backup site ready to go at all times.
    Honestly, I never even thought of this until the head of Media Services suggested it. Libraries subscribe to many services that are hosted off-site (such as the catalog, research guides, databases, resource managers, and discovery services.) These services are the core of our business, and are still available even when your site is down. Create a simple site that links to whatever services and resources are still available, as well as basic information like hours and contact info. I just downloaded a free CSS template and created a quick and dirty 2 page website that can be put up during downtime (unless the entire server is down. Then I guess you have to put them elsewhere and do a redirect? ACK! SERVER STUFF FRIGHTENS AND CONFUSES ME.)
So ok, there you have it. I am by no means an expert on the topic of hacking, or disaster recovery, or even web development for that matter. This is just an attempt to learn from my own experiences, and to put what I learned out there, just in case it can help someone else in a similar situation. If anyone else has some advice on these matters, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the anatomy of a crash, part 1

In accordance with Finagle's corollary to Murphy's Law, the website broke the day our sysadmin went on a 2 week vacation on another continent. What's most surprising about this is how little it surprised me. First, what happened:

Our library website is using a very old installation of the Joomla content management system (1.5.7 I believe.) Our implementation, for whatever reason, is insecure. I know very little about Joomla or server security, other than to nod sagely and say, "could be an SQL injection attack" (much in the same way dudes will surround an open car hood, though they know nothing about fixing cars, and say, "it's probably the transmission.")

So last Friday, sometime around 11am, our website stopped being an actual website, and started being just a page that displayed the site title. Not so useful for users, I'd imagine. My first instinct is to look at the main index.php page to see if it's been replaced with a different one. I've dealt with this hack in the past, just the result of some asshole saying "LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!" You just delete the new index file they put in, and put yours back in.

When I checked our index file, it was present, not renamed, and all the content was accounted for. At the end of the file there was a php command that was trying to redirect the site to some website, so I took out that code and figured the problem was fixed. Nope, site was still b0rked. I went into all the sub-folders' index files, and found some malicious code in them too, so I decided to just replace all of them with clean backup versions. Still. B0rked. On to the config file. Everything looks fine there, but I replace it with a back up version anyway.

Also it was about this time I sent out an email to the staff that basically said YES I KNOW THE SITE IS DOWN YOU CAN ALL STOP CALLING ME ABOUT IT.

At this point I'm stumped, so I call the head of Media Services, who maintains the servers. He goes in to check which files were accessed at 11am that day. None. Uh, ok. He has me go into the database, to see if the content looks ok, and it does. It occurs to me that I'm able to get into the site from the admin panel, which is a subfolder in the site root, so it's not that the whole site directory is corrupt. Subpages of the actual site, however, are not loading.

We finally realize that this is not going to be an easy fix, so I put up a temporary webpage linking to common services, most of which are on different servers, so they're fine (catalog, database list, LibGuides, and Google forms.)

The head of Media Services then spent his weekend picking through all the myriad of folders on the server to find workable backups of pretty much all the pieces of the site (which, in a content management system, are many.) He then pieced the site back together, file by file. I honestly don't know the details of how he made this happen, because whenever I asked him about it, he sounded like he was going to cry or murder a baby panda, so I'm just gonna let that go. He obviously has some sort of PTSD, and I don't want to poke the painful memories of "the incident." He did mention something about finding out that the site was actually hacked in June, and was only taken down just now by a remotely-issued command that activated the previously-inserted code. Insidious bastards.

I did a Google search for the spam url I found in the main index page, and it's been injected into tons of insecure Joomla installs. I only mention this because people keep asking what kind of douchebag hacker makes it his life work to take down crappy college library websites. It was just a bot that looked for vulnerable targets. Nothing personal, my friends.

The good news is that I learned many lessons from this whole debacle, and have much to share with you along the lines of "how to make sure this doesn't happen to you because it's not fun." I'm going to put that in another post though, because I need to go pour myself a giant tumbler of whiskey right now. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spring cleaning your LibGuides

I'm in the process of revamping my library's LibGuides, and I've come across a few small changes you can make to your guides that make a world a difference for design and usability. First of all, as far as headers/banners go, I am NOT a graphic designer, so I kept it simple, with just the school logo, and "Library Research Guides" in our official font. I don't recommend random images and color-fading if you're not really, really good at it. Otherwise it looks like a page for your local pre-K, coded with Microsoft Word.

old design

new design
Second, take advantage of SpringShare's excellent documentation. As a company that markets guide-creation software, they really put their money where their mouth is. Seriously, they've created a guide for pretty much everything. Here are some I found particularly useful:
As the library's LibGuides admin, I'm currently building a template that all librarians can start from when creating new guides. They are free to not use it if they don't want to, but if the majority of them do use it, this will ensure some consistency across guides. It also acts as a repository for all the custom search-boxes I've built, so other librarians can pick and choose which ones they want to add to their guides.

I've also created a hidden tab (hidden from public view, that is. It's visible to anyone signed in through the admin interface.) I'm using this tab to post instructions, screenshots, and tips for guide creators. I'm also using it as a content repository for boxes I want to be available, but that don't necessarily have a logical home in the template itself (more on this in a minute...)

I've recommended that users link to boxes in the template, rather than copying them, so the template can also act as a content hub, where changes can be made in one place and pushed to all guides linking to the content. This is also why it's a good idea to import your database A-Z list into LibGuides, even if you have one on your library website. If librarians link to links in the database A-Z guide, it will automatically pull the description (which can be hidden or changed if they want) and it will allow you to make changes to database links and names in one place, that, again, will be pushed to all guides that use those links.

I've also noticed that most libraries that use LibGuides just use the default homepage options, which include a list of guides (featured, popular or recent,) a random user profile, email sign-up and/or a tag cloud. But you can choose instead to display a box from elsewhere in the site, by just entering the box id. So, on my hidden template page, I created a box of popular links (I called them "quick links") and put that on the homepage. I also replaced one of the boxes with our "help" box, that contains our various methods of contact. A good example of a nice customized LibGuides homepage is Worcester Poly's site:

I also like how Rutgers made their homepage a complete list of guides, listed alphabetically on one tab, and by discipline on another:

This is still a work-in-progress, so if anyone has any other helpful hints, please leave them in the comments!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is tenure academic?

I really wanted to make the switch to an academic library where the librarians had faculty status, because I'm on a career path that includes publishing and presenting, and I wanted some credit for that. I'm noticing a scary trend though. Because it was not required in my old job, my scholarly projects were organic. If I did something I felt was interesting enough to share, I wrote about it or presented on it. Now that I'm at a school where librarians are faculty members, I see some of them (and this seems to be encouraged) coming up with half-cocked projects that are not of any real use to the library or the school, just so they can write them up and get articles on their CV.

This is just taking librarians away from their regular (and, in my opinion, more important) job of being useful to their local communities. And, if not that much thought is going into their written content, they're not adding much to their professional community either.

When all that debate was happening over whether or not librarians should have faculty status, I was firmly on the side of YES, because I don't want all my scholarly work to be done on my own time, and for nothing. But if we're just going to adopt all the problems of a crumbling tenure system, I'm less sure of where I stand.

Monday, April 15, 2013

MISSION LIBGUIDES: A Guide to Creating Guides that Aren't Awful

I've been tasked by my director to somehow wrangle our LibGuides implementation into shape. Apparently the library subscribed to the software sometime last year, and librarians have slowly been migrating their subject guides from the CUNY-grown SRMS (Subject Management Resource System) to LibGuides. LibGuides offers much more flexibility and back-end usability than SRMS (which was maintained by one person, with all users sending their edits to the e-resources librarian.) Having a system that allows each subject librarian to create and update their own guides makes much more sense, but the ease-of-use and flexibility have a DARK SIDE. Yes. Dark side. In all caps.

So all the librarians, who have varying degrees of technical expertise, are copying and pasting content, willy-nilly, into hastily-created guides in the LibGuides system. Some of them have used the software in the past, and so are comfortable removing unwanted formatting (which often requires you to toggle out of the WYSIWYG and into the html editor) and customizing pages and tabs by adding, removing, or changing the widths of columns. Some of them are understandably daunted by guides that contain giant text and random fonts that they never chose.

I plan on giving a workshop for staff in the coming months, to cover topics such as pasting into a text editor to remove formatting (I've also been installing PureText on people's computers for them. I use it myself, and love it for instant conversion to plain text.) I'll also be going over how to add, remove, and adjust column widths, and when to use special content boxes (such as for multimedia or books from the catalog.)

While putting together this workshop, I've realized that while I can show people how to use the software, I don't really know what to tell them about design. Personally, I can't stand cluttered guides (3 rows of tabs?! Go home LibGuide, you are drunk,) but I can't refer the librarians to any best practice guides outside of the LibGuides system. To this end, I started doing some research to look at best practices (based on assessment/usability testing) for creating subject guides. I'd love to turn this research into an article, but until I see what's already been written on the topic, I can't say if that will happen or not.

I did, however, create a Zotero user group ( for my research, so you can read up on the topic yourself, if you feel so inclined. I'll be adding to it on an ongoing basis, so you can join the group if you want to keep up with what I'm finding. I also opened up comments and discussion, so feel free to share your thoughts. Oh, and if you want me to add you as a contributor to the group, let me know. It might be cool to see what a bunch of us can find, if we all pitch in.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Open Access is easier than you think

I recently attended a talk by Jill Cirasella, a librarian at Brooklyn College, on open access publishing (check out the slides here: I kind of went as a professional courtesy to my colleague who set up the talk, because I honestly thought I was pretty well-informed on the topic. Turns out I was sadly mistaken on that count. I figured the talk would be about seeking out and publishing in open access journals, but what I didn't realize was that there are actually two types of open access publishing: gold and green.

Gold open access journals are ones that make their articles freely available to the public, and sometimes (often?) require their authors to pay a publishing fee. This funding model puts payment for access to scholarship at the beginning of the publishing process, or the time of submission, not at the end, or time of access. This is also what most of us think about when people talk about open access publishing. 

But it turns out this talk was focused on green open access publishing, or traditional journals that allow their authors to self-archive some version of their work, and make it openly available on the web. Some restrictions can include an enforced embargo period, or only allowing authors to make available the pre-print (article before any editor or peer review comments) or post-print (final version of the article, but not in the format published by the journal.)

Jill gave us some tools to easily find out the copyright rules for specific journals, including the SHERPA/RoMEO website, which allows you to search for a journal title, and view a summary of authors' rights. Turns out, the publisher of the two journals I've written articles for, Taylor & Francis, have a very lenient open access policy for library science journals. They allow you to self-archive the post-print of your article, with no embargo period. (Oh how I wish I knew that earlier! My articles have been languishing behind paywalls all this time!)

Once you find out if you can self-archive your article, (it turns out that 94% of the journals covered in RoMEO allow some form of it. Wow!) you need to find a repository to deposit your article in. You can, of course, self-archive on your own site, but large repositories are far more stable and vastly increase find-ability. (You do want to be cited, don't you?!) If your institution has an institutional repository, that's the best place to start. If it doesn't (as my school does not) you can check out this list of discipline-specific digital repositories:

It turns out there are 2 pretty prominent library science repositories, E-LIS and DLIST. I plan on submitting my papers to both, but have only gotten around to submitting to E-LIS so far. 


and... accepted!
So now you can access the final, peer-reviewed, full-text of my articles here: I'll keep you all posted on whether my citations go noticeably up or not, now that they are out from behind a paywall.

A pro-tip for you, so you can learn from my fail: KEEP SEPARATE COPIES OF ALL VERSIONS OF YOUR PAPER. I cannot stress this enough. When the editors sent me the first round of comments, I opened up the Microsoft Word document and made the changes (without enabling the track changes function.) So when I was told I was free to make my pre-print publicly available, I didn't HAVE a pre-print to make available. 

THEN, because I'm an IDIOT, I had the opposite problem with the post-print. The final round of edits are usually made directly in the publisher's online system, and I didn't bother going back to my word document to mirror the changes I had made in the system. So when they told me I could make the post-print freely available (but not their version of it) I didn't HAVE a post-print to make available. ::headdesk:: For you fine people, I actually went through the final pdf version of the document, copied and pasted it page by page into a text file to remove formatting, and then transferred the whole thing, plus images, back into a Word document. This was monotonous and cumbersome and I DON'T recommend you do it.

So, make sure you have a copy of the article that you originally submit, BEFORE you receive any comments from the editors or peer-reviewers, and make sure you have your own copy of the final version, with all the edits, and make sure they're clearly labelled _preprint and _postprint. You'll thank me later.

PS- Thanks, Jill, for a really enlightening presentation!!! :)
PPS- You can find a list of all the links from the talk (including a link to the slides) here:

Friday, March 8, 2013


Well it's a snowy Friday, and I thought I'd take some time today to compile and post the links I've collected since my last link post. Cuz I'm nice like that. UR WELKUM.

Library Stuff

From Wikipedia to our libraries | Everybody's Libraries
Wikipedia can be a big help in making online readers aware of their library’s offerings. How can libraries facilitate this?

Thank You, Librarian - a Tumblr of love notes to the people who inspire us

Cracking the Code: Librarians Acquiring Essential Coding Skills | The Digital Shift

Tech News + Protips

15 Tips + Tricks To Get More Out Of Google Drive |

10 Tips for Conference Presentations That Rock | iLibrarian

New research sheds light on 13 ways to gain followers on Twitter | Big Think

5 Best Websites To Send Fax For Free |

Download Project Gutenberg ebooks to your Dropbox | digital inspiration

Responsive Design Framework Foundation Goes Mobile-First, Switches From jQuery To Zepto | TechCrunch

Cool Job Postings

Director, Scholarly Communications and Copyright
VCU Libraries, Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, VA

Copyright and Digital Access Librarian
Washington University
St. Louis, MO

Instruction Librarian (classroom + web-based)
Western Oregon University
Monmouth, OR

Web Front End Developer, Archives
New York Public Library
New York, NY

Director/System Administrator
Montgomery County Library + Information Network Consortium
Conshohocken, PA 19428

Supervisory Librarian
Executive Office Of The President
Washington, DC


Online Education and Jazz | Marginal Revolution

Other Interesting Stuff

Why We May Never Beat Stigma | the fix
Using the word 'addiction' to apply to any bad behavior gives jerks a free pass, and hurts real addicts.

Dove sneaks revert-to-original Photoshop plugin into art directors' toolkits | BoingBoing
Dove tricks photoshoppers into facing the effect of manipulating the female image of beauty.

Screw The Postal Service. I Hope Your Cute Indie Clothes Chafe You All Summer Long | Reverb
Watch the fake Postal Service audition video first. Then read Duff McKagan's reply. Hysterical.

French Designer Pixel Glasses | Sprite Stitch


I'm into Vine now. Vine is cool.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Crappy image maps messing with my mind

Please, for the life of Brian, give adequate thought to creating image maps (images that contain multiple links, mapped to different areas of the image.) While they can be useful, and even creative, they can also be confusing. (The one in the linked Wikipedia entry is a good example of a creatively-designed image map, that has some functional issues.)

In web design, you rely on certain conventions to indicate to the user what can be clicked on (ie-a link.) If you use an image as a link, users can see the image is click-able by mousing over it, and seeing if the pointer changes from an arrow to a hand. However, if you make an image into an image map, but divide the entire image into click-able sections, it can be hard to tell the different areas of the image link to different places. You can help alleviate this problem by restricting the click-able areas to distinct areas, separated by some non-click-able space, and also by using tool-tips or title tags to describe the link hidden in that part of the image.

My motivation for this post? My own damn library's website. Check out the header on this page: It took me a moment to realize that the entire header didn't link back to our website, but also contained a link to the school's website. After much clicking and confusion, I realized that the bottom part of that image not only contains a link to the *school's* website, but also the school *system.* Now, maybe you got that at first glance, but I honestly didn't, and I highly doubt I'm the only one to make that mistake. Part of the problem is that the site was created years ago, and as I mentioned in the Harvard Library website post, alt tags are no longer rendered as tool tips by all browsers (I'm using Chrome, and they don't show up when you hover over the links in it.)

I opened the page in Dreamweaver to be able to visualize where the links were mapped to (see below,) and I can honestly say that they tried to keep the links tight to the text, but I think that the bottom two links are just too close together for it to be quickly apparent to the user that they link to two separate places.

How would I have done it? I would have probably made the "CSI" part link to the school, and the rest would link to the library. I'd probably add the "City University of New York" as a regular text link, underneath the header image, or possibly just in the footer.

Just remember when creating image maps: unless the user hovers over various areas of the image to find the links/tool tips, there is no external indicator as to what part of the image links to what (ie-you can't tell just by looking at it.) You have to rely on visual cues and web design standards to cue the user in to the fact that the image contains a.) a link and/or b.) multiple links. They may not take the time to wave their cursor across the whole image to discover just how many links there are, and what they link to.*

*Some cues that there are multiple links are:

  • Scrolling over the image and noticing that the entire image is not click-able. Many developers will not bother creating an image map to insert a single link in an image, unless they have a good reason to; they'll just make the entire image the link.
  • Patterns... If it's a picture of the solar system, and the first two planets are links, the user will guess that the rest of the planets are too. Same thing with maps where more than one location is linked, or groups of people where more than one person is linked. (etc, etc...)
  • Added visual cues such as numbers, letters, or symbols that indicate where the user might find a link. (Example:

Monday, February 25, 2013


The list of library tech peeps was starting to get a bit unwieldy, so I forked it! Sheet 1 of the list is website and user experience types, while sheet 2 is digital projects/eResources/systems/repository types. I know there's some overlap, so when in doubt, I tried to think if I would classify that particular person as "front-end" or "back-end." And yes, I do giggle whenever I think of someone as a "back-end" person. I AM TEH MAHTYUR.

If you think I've mis-classified you, or if I have your link(s) wrong, just let me know, and I'll fix it ASAP, because I now have a Gdrive app on my phone so I can be fly on the fly. Waitwhat? Shuddup it's Monday and I've had 3 cups of coffee already.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Catching Up On the World of Library WebTech

So, I thought myself fairly knowledgeable in the area of library technology. Turns out, every aspect of library technology has its own communities, its own published body of knowledge, its own go-to gals and guys. Yes, you say, well, duh. I thought much of my experience in social media and online marketing would carry over into my new web services position, but I'm finding out that this is a wonderful new pond, with wonderful new fish.

As I learn of this stuff, so shall you, because I'm pedantic like that. I mean generous. Whatevs. Either way, I am starting a list for myself of web services-type librarians. I'm mostly concerned with blogs I should be reading, people I should be following on Twitter, and library websites I should look to for best practices. You should help me with this endeavor, because you're a nice person, and you totally just thought of someone or something I left off the list.

Who is missing from this list? Let me know in the comments!

PS - If you're having trouble viewing the silly embedded spreadsheet, you can view the full spreadsheet here.

PPS - Yes, I should have linked those twitter usernames. I will. Tomorrow. [DONE]

PPPS - I split the list into 2 lists.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My dear friend and partner-in-crime, Lisa Rabey, commented the other day that I have been hot and heavy with the link-posting of late. Admittedly, I'm in an odd position here at my new job, as our director is on leave, and so I'm kind of on my own, so I've been filling in time (between new website mockups) with catching up on my RSS feeds. This is a good thing for me, since I've switched focus from reference/instruction/marketing to web services, so I feel like I need to get the lay of the land before doing anything major with the site. That being said, Lisa asked if I could do a post with all the links I've tweeted recently, in one place, and because she's my buddy (and because she is a WordPress guru, and I will need her help with that, as well as a little RSS project I'm working on) I am going to oblige her. Just this once.


The Researching Librarian: Web resources helpful for librarians doing research | | I'm tenure-track at my new job, so it's publish-or-perish for me! This site is a good place to get started, including grant sources and a list of LIS-related journals.

How bad research gets published (and promoted) | | A 2010 groundbreaking article, with research sponsored by NASA, gets published in a highly-respected journal. Within days, it faces serious scrutiny and we now know that it was totally wrong. But the work was peer-reviewed. How do so many experts make such a big mistake?

Gaming Google Scholar Citations, Made Simple and Easy | | In a recent paper uploaded to the arXiv, ”Manipulating Google Scholar Citations and Google Scholar Metrics: simple, easy and tempting,” researchers find that the effort required to radically alter citation counts to one’s papers (and thus increase one’s h-index) are open to anyone who can cut, paste, and post.

Amusing titles affect the perception of research in a negative way | | Apparently trying to be funny with your research paper titles can lead to decreased confidence in your data. Or something like that. This article didn't have a very amusing title, so I just assumed it was all true. The author later tweeted a link to this article, which says that certain subject areas actually do enjoy a little "linguistic playfulness." I don't really want to know where library science falls on this spectrum, but I suspect it falls firmly in favor of puns.

Cool Tools

Bookish Uses Big Data and Real Editors to Help Pick Your Next Book |

This GIF Search Engine Is Everything You've Ever Wanted | | Here ya go: You're welcome.

Job/Internship Opportunities

NY Public Library internship: Timothy Leary Papers |

The White House Is Looking for a Few Good Coders |


Using technology to spark interaction in class |


The psychology of the to-do list |

The psychology of Tetris |


Learn more about Black History Month with 12 free lecture clips from The Great Courses |

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Just one more thing...

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday's post on Harvard's library site... They have a really sleek user feedback system. When you click on the "Tell Us" button at the top of the page, you get the following javascript pop up:

I love that it not only gives you a place to provide feedback, but also tracks and reports on known issues. This saves time for both the user, and the helpdesk, since the helpdesk is used to receiving untold numbers of reports on the same printer being broken, or the wireless being down. This system allows users to see what issues are currently being dealt with before submitting their comment. Users can also comment on or "vote up" issues without having to submit a new ticket.

I did a little snooping around in the code, and it would seem that they are using (and correct me if I'm wrong here) an online helpdesk system called UserVoice. I like not only the functionality of the software, but also the sleek way it integrates into your website, and provides a social aspect to the online helpdesk. Nicely done, all around!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Harvard Library: a closer look

I took a look at the Harvard Library website over the weekend, to pick apart the elements of the site that I really like. First and foremost, I love the minimalist layout and color scheme. The white background makes it look less boxy, and the sections are separated by horizontal lines instead of rectangular borders. I know library websites are chock full of content that we want our users to be aware of, but when there's too much content on a page, I find I can't focus on anything.

When it comes to details, I like the mix of text and images. They use icons in the upper right corner to draw attention to popular services (1). I think these are fairly good icon choices, but in general you have to be careful with them. You can get creative, but don't use an icon that's commonly known for one thing, for something else. For example, a wrench or gear(s) is often used for "settings," so this icon can cause confusion when linking to something else. I think they're ok here, though, since they include easy-to-read labels under the icons. (Joshua Porter just posted on the use of labels with icons. How fortuitous!)

It's common practice these days, but I'll mention it anyway: I like having the search box function front and center (2). I think this site does the service one better though, in including a "What am I searching?" feature. Library collections can be confusing, and often we have different search functions for different collections (catalog for books, integrated search for databases, digital repository for archives, discovery service for everything...) I know not everyone will read the text, but it's concise enough not to be obtrusive, and adds useful information for anyone willing to scan over it.

The scrolling news items at the bottom of the page (3) offer another graphical element on an otherwise sparse page, and allow you to highlight events, collections and perhaps even offer a place for alternate entry points to resources for specific communities or to commonly-asked-about services. For example, you could create one specifically for students or faculty, or have one for using Blackboard, logging onto the campus network, or finding textbooks in the library. 

The drop-down links at the top of the page (4) use symbols to denote internal links (which open in the same window) and external links (which open in a new window/tab.) This is especially important in library sites, as many resources we offer are provided by third-party vendors, and it can be disconcerting to click on a link and be faced with a different website, with a completely different look and feel from your own. 

I'm just gonna go ahead and say it. I like deep footers (5). It was at a workshop a few years ago, where a presenter was talking about the NYPL migrating to Drupal, where I first met the deep footer (you can see it in action here), and though I can't remember if it clicked for me right away, or if it upset my 2002 web developer sensibilities, I now think of it as a great, unobtrusive way to add relevant links to your site. I like it especially as a place for all your social media links/icons, as well as for links to content that your users might find useful, but that are outside your own site. For academic libraries, those links might be to the school registrar, the writing and/or tutoring center, and the academic calendar. Especially since many university home pages are catered towards prospective students, rather than current students, these links can help position the library's homepage as a portal for students who want to access information and resources for the school as a whole. 

Finally, I like that when you scroll over the drop down link boxes, you can not only click on the links that appear in that drop down menu, but also the main category under which they are grouped. This gives you a landing page for each category, and a chance to help guide users who want more information on that category, or aren't sure which link they need in the group. The only thing that threw me a bit, was that the landing page links did not match up more closely with the options in the drop down (6). This creates a bit of a logical disconnect in terms of "training" users on navigation. (ie- If they visit the landing page on their first visit, does that help them understand and be able to use the quick navigation on their next visit?)

One final note regarding accessibility: When I learned html (many moons ago) you used the "alt" attribute for both accessibility and as a way to provide information via mouse-over text (or "tooltips".) While poking around in the code of this site, I noticed that they were using both an "alt" *and* a "title" attribute with most of the images. Apparently, it's now standard to include both of these, as not all browsers will render the "alt" tag as a tooltip if the "title" is absent (which used to be the case.) So you want to include an "alt" description for accessibility (and for images that don't display) and a "title" description with whatever information you want the user to see when they mouse over the link or image. For a more thorough explanation of the alt vs title attribute, see: 

To learn more about how screen readers treat various html elements, I found this resource helpful: (If your library uses LibGuides, they also have an accessibility page, with info on what they do, and what you need to do, to ensure 508 compliance:

Friday, February 1, 2013

Onward Toward the Next Next Gen Library Website

I want to do a series of posts on designing and building a website for an academic library. I'm mostly doing it for myself, as a way to organize my thoughts on the process (since I will be building a library site this semester,) but I thought it might also be useful to share some of the resources I am and will be collecting. And, of course, it's always helpful to have a place to think out loud, so you can get feedback from outside sources.

I do want to make a point before I get started though; these posts are meant to be critique, not criticism. (Or, at least *constructive* criticism.) I don't want to tear anyone down, or poke fun at anyone's efforts. I understand how hard it is to get things done in libraries, given our limited budgets, and the multiple roles everyone on staff must play. Rarely does a library have the staff or the money to hire a specialist to design and build a website, and even when they do, it's hard to find someone with that skill set who also understands libraries and library culture. I feel lucky that I'm in the unique position of having been a reference and instruction librarian for 7 years, and am now in a job that allows me to use the insights I gained working directly with faculty and students to make our website work better for them.

If sacrifices must be made, due to the afore-mentioned budget and time constraints, I can give you a wee piece of advice on the topic: sacrifice style for function, every time. Choose the easiest-to-use software, and make the most popular resources and services the easiest to find. People may snicker at your color choices (I recommend checking out design seeds to help with that) but that's much better than them being frustrated by not being able to find what they're looking for. Snarky users are not necessarily unhappy users. Frustrated users are pretty much *always* unhappy users.

In searching around, I found (and was directed to) several library sites (both academic and public) that I like, and am using for inspiration. Check out:

Harvard Library
Salt Lake City Public Library
Detroit Public Library

I'll tell you why I like them. With the rise in popularity of open source content management systems like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress, websites got very "boxy." Because these CMS's are organized around interchangeable modules, people tend to just drop those module boxes into their site like a puzzle. The above-three sites (at least 2 of which use Drupal) get around that boxy look by using a white background, so the content boxes blend into the rest of the site. This style also works well with responsive design, which uses stylesheets to create a website that is automatically optimized for whatever screen-size or orientation it is viewed at. The trend towards ubiquitous computing means sites have to be able to easily "jump" from desktop to laptop to tablet to smartphone with minimal sacrifices to functionality.

I think for the next couple of posts I might actually pick one site for each, and go over what I like about it. In the mean time, if you're just getting started with web design (or even if you're an old pro,) I highly recommend taking a look at Hongkiat, which has great design and technical tips, as well as tutorials and guides for all aspects of web design and development.