30 Days of Back to School: Help! What Do I Do About My Website?

I love my library’s website. It was designed by a very creative and skilled library school student back in 2003. A couple of years ago, one of my high school students reworked the entire back end, turning a (by then old-fashioned) table-based website into a modern CSS-built one. He managed to preserve its unique look and feel. But I must confess that it’s still hard to maintain – especially by someone (like me) who doesn’t do this sort of thing all the time. My html skills are pretty much confined to copying and pasting, which allows me to replicate elements I like but not to branch out or trouble-shoot. When something broke over the summer, I shamelessly hunted down my former student on Facebook and asked him if he would diagnose the problem (which he did, and most willingly!). The future is clear – one day soon I’ll have to migrate the site to Drupal, the open source content management system that is used at my school. I’ll have some in-house help, and the whole effort will be more scalable. I just hope that we can maintain the whimsical feel of the current site once we’ve made the switch.

So, what if you don’t have the kind of talented help I’ve had in building and maintaining a website?

Fortunately, in today’s Web 2.0 environment lots of choices are available. Library websites can be built in a flash using “portal” sites like iGoogle, Pageflakes, and Netvibes. Wikis (Wikispaces, PBWorks) are another great option. All of these tools are free for educational institutions and no special technical knowledge is required. Most of them offer paid versions that are more fully-featured, but the vast majority of us do fine with the free options. Do your tech support people object to the use of third party services for such purposes? Remind them how much time they’ll save when they don’t have to load your content. Demonstrate that others won’t be able to edit the sites you build (unless you want them to). Point to the privacy features that protect your students and patrons.

The Unquiet Library at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia is one of my favorite examples of how these third party tools can be used to great effect. The main page’  resides on the Google Sites do-it-yourself website platform. Librarian Buffy Hamilton’s research pathfinders are developed using LibGuides, a fee-based service, NetVibes (free) , and Pageflakes (free) .’  Each one of these tools is a viable option for website development and resource “pointing.”

Don’t know where to start? Take a look at WebTools4u2use, itself a wiki. The Portal and Webpages Starting Tools page is an excellent place to begin!

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3 Comments

  1. Megan Frazer Blakemore

    I like WordPress and it’s themes, too. I upload mine via a hosting service. I’d like to switch to one of the free sites, like google sites, but one thing I love about my hosted site is that the URL is easy to remember (blueblazeslibrary.com). I would love to find a free site that has easy to remember or customizable URLS.

    I would also love to be able to have a facebook page . . .

  2. Yeah, most of the time you have to pay to get a domain name that is both easy to remember and doesn’t sound like an advertisement for the service you are using, whether Google or Wikispaces or whatever. Lots of issues to weigh – availability of in-house hosting capacity, administrator access on local servers, sufficient skillz to manage something like installation and management of WordPress – it can be complicated!

    Facebook pages do remain a hard sell in schools. Even though we know that’s where our kids go after school…

  3. I use WordPress, but eventually I’d like to migrate to Drupal. Theoretically I Could create a Facebook page… but I wouldn’t really be able to access it during the school day, which would be pretty annoying.

    I will say the skillz for WordPress aren’t actually that bad. (I mean, maybe I’m just saying that since I manage This blog, which uses WordPress…) Especially if you use the free version, which, while a little more limited, leaves you with fewer administrative hassles.

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