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2009 Midwinter WAC Report

This is the Midwinter Report from ALA's Information Technology and Telecommunications Services unit (ITTS) for the Website Advisory Committee (WAC). This is the draft version, while the attachment is the final one.

6.1 Introducing the Senior Usability Officer

Louise Gruenberg was appointed to the position of Senior Usability Officer in September.  Louise brings to this position formal training and experience in information architecture (wire frames, interaction design, card sorts); iterative design (scenario-based, rapid prototyping); discount engineering methods (task analysis, functional analysis, heuristic evaluations); and an essential understanding of the usability lifecycle.  She has spent the last several months working on the implementation of the ALA's new website design and information architecture.  Her experience as an educator and trainer is another plus, as our Web developers work to convert their existing site sections and provide ongoing maintenance of them in compliance with the new Web Style Guide and Accessibility requirements.

Going forward, she will be working with ALA's content managers to target specific areas for immediate improvement.  She will also perform ongoing usability studies for the website as required.

ALA Website

6.2 ALA Website Conversion & Launch

In May, Karen Muller and Louise Gruenberg further developed the information architecture that studies by UserWorks, Inc. had validated. Louise and Sean Bires began the creation of the new structures using Collage, ALA’s content management application. Once the site was locked down to editing changes on August 1, a frantic behind the scenes scramble to relabel, restructure and relocate ensued. The site was deployed to a staging server so that progress could be evaluated. During the third week of September when it was deemed sufficiently complete, the redesigned site went live. Members’ bookmarks broke, but Karen Muller and the library staff responded to feedback form queries, which dropped off sharply once the new Google search appliance had crawled the site. Problems with the membership renewal process led to various changes in the months following the conversion, including the rebuilding of an Active Matter e-commerce server, and upgrading the version of Cold Fusion in use.

6.3 Division Site Harmonization

During the transition to the new site information architecture and look, RUSA and PLA took on the challenge of redesigning their sites to harmonize with the look of the redesigned ALA site.  ACRL is in process on a redesign. AASL expects to launch a redesigned site at mid-winter. During 2009, ITTS will be working with divisions who wish to harmonize to assist them to implement. We will also be holding monthly division web developer sessions to collaborate on issues like the consistent layout of certain site features, such as the Search Box, location of the link back to ALA, and the order of the eyebrow links, across all division sites.

6.4 Reconfiguration of WEB (Web Editorial Board)

Historically, WEB met weekly and was composed primarily of unit managers involved with the creation of news stories. Chaired by Karen Muller, WEB determined which news items would be featured as spotlights on the website that week. WEB’s original purpose became redundant with the implementation of the new site design. The RSS feed refreshes the news as it is published, and we have implemented metadata that allows ‘persistent news’ to stay in place at the top of the news.

So WEB has been transformed to address other needs. There are now two divisions of WEB, which meet on alternate Thursdays, co-chaired by Karen Muller and Louise Gruenberg. WEB now includes web developers from the divisions and offices, to provide additional perspectives. The WEB-Communications group reviews Homepage Highlights, locates new images for the site’s high level landing pages, encourages the use of pods, and is looking at the larger issues of how we use the website to communicate, and how to keep the site refreshed and current. The WEB-Tag Team group is knowledgeable about Collage and has editing access to the entire website. They are authorized to correct typos, assist staff with formatting issues, and to adjust metadata and taxonomy tags (the latter influence the inclusion of a link to the page on an aggregated topical “listing’’ page). The Tag Team reviews requests for changes to the information architecture of the site, such as the creation of additional listing pages.

6.5 Collage Upgrades, Enhancements & Database Clean-Up

Collage was recently upgraded to the most current version.  There is a final release coming from Serena but no scheduled release date.  We have heard rumors that they will continue to support this final release for two more years.

Workstations were upgraded for the web content developers to help enhance Collage performance from the desktop. The Collage database was also moved to a mirrored disk environment to enhance disk writing performance.

Our web developers recently made it possible for content editors to easily create RSS feeds to pull information onto their pages, and to add subscribe options. We have not yet had a chance to widely disseminate this information, but will hold classes for staff following midwinter.

As time allows, we are clearing out no-longer needed resources and structures. A recent effort involved identifying 25,000 external links no longer referenced in the site, and deleting them from the Collage database. We are also working to resolve broken links (shadow assets) so that an automatic scheduling of all site changed assets can become functional.

Improving Site Search & Analysis Features

6.6 Google Search Appliance

We renewed our contract with Google and installed a new search appliance in November.  We will continue to reevaluate our search requirements every two years.  Karen Muller created a list of new Google key matches after looking at the reports of the most frequently accessed material.  Individual search collections were created for the divisions and ALOnline.

6.7 Google Analytics

The Google Analytics code has been added to the home page and some other site pages. We are reviewing other set-up options so that divisions, round tables and offices can track their statistics.  The statistics will be analyzed in the coming months and used to improve site navigation and organization of content. From mid-December to mid-January, we had 341,484 visits to the site, from 192 countries/territories. The top five countries, in order, are the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and India. Australia is eighth. 97% of our visitors have Java enabled, and about 62% are using Internet Explorer, 27% are using Firefox, 5% Safari, and the 6% balance is split between a number of other browsers. About 36% of our visitors are repeat visitors, while 64% are new.

E-Commerce Technology Issues

  • Outsourced Midwinter and Annual Conference Registration

6.8 Enhancements to Active Matter Registration for Smaller Events

This is a summary of the problems and feature that were fixed or enhanced. We provided it in detail to give you some idea of what is involved when we report that we have enhanced or improved applications.

•    Cleaned up the look of the registration screens to make them more attractive.  (Using smaller and consistent fonts, adjust spacing, reduce excessive wordiness.)
•    Fixed the “Click here to register” link at the end of the signup process.
•    Enabled “Forgot your password” feature to work for users who have never logged in before.
•    Used email address from iMIS on registrations instead of asking for a new address.
•    Automatically give division discounts to qualified members without making them choose.
•    Automatically assign international rates to registrants according to the country on their badge.
•    Removed registrant class selection page from the process.
•    Pre-filled the name, city, state and country fields on badges from iMIS.
•    For multi-person registrations, provided visual reminder of which person is being registered each time through the loop.
•    Eliminated duplicate warnings when two requested functions are in conflict.
•    Included organization name in pre-populated shipping address fields.
•    Captured phone number as part of shipping address fields.
•    Added option for user to save shipping address information to their permanent record.
•    Moved shipping address fields to badge screen.
•    Added ability to copy shipping address to badge fields with one click.
•    Fixed a display problem in the Shopping Cart when registering for two events at once.
•    Changed the wording of the confirmation email.

Registration System for Smaller Events

6.9 Committee Appointments Application

The Committee Volunteer form was enhanced and consolidated so that members can use a single form that includes ALA, division and round table committees. The Committee Appointment interface was also enhanced to improve the consistency of the various views within the application. Indexes were created to speed up the application’s response time.

6.10 Accessibility Review

The World Wide Web consortium has updated its 1999 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  With the recent approval of WCAG 2.0, ITTS felt if would be useful to have a baseline accessibility review of the website to identify the challenges we have in complying with WCAG 2.0. Fifteen URLs, representing an assortment of the types of pages found on the site (home, membership renewal, level 1 landing pages, listing pages, content pages including non-text content) were submitted to UserWorks, Inc. to be evaluated for accessibility to users who require various assistive devices. We have received the preliminary report, which outlines the problem areas at both global and page levels. UserWorks, Inc. is currently preparing, Strategic Recommendations for Accessibility, which we will share with WAC and use to develop our implementation plan.

6.11 ALA Web Style Guide

A draft of the new ALA Web Style Guide was provided to ALA by UserWorks, Inc. The draft version was circulated to ALA content managers for feedback. Comments and suggestions for changes came in from division web developers and publishing units, and were incorporated in the draft provided to WAC. WAC posted the guide for commentary in late October, 2008. If the comment period can be considered over, Louise would like to extend the guide to include WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and develop a wiki site to make the guide easy to locate, search, and update.

6.12 ALA Connect

ALA Connect is on track for a spring launch. We completed a brief alpha test with WAC members and are now beta testing with five different ALA groups.

  1. ACRL New Members Discussion Group
  2. Games and Gaming Member Initiative Group
  3. LITA Assessment and Research Committee
  4. NMRT Web Committee
  5. Public Libraries Advisory Committee
  6. RUSA BRASS Business Reference Sources Committee
  7. Spectrum Advisory Committee

The beta test will run through January, and we'll spend however much time we need in February tweaking and fixing the site based on the feedback from the groups. We're hoping for a soft launch in late February/early March, and if the site scales well, an official launch a few weeks after that. We'll be providing training for staff and lots of online help for members, including video tutorials and general chat Q&A sessions.

If we're able to follow this timeline, we anticipate transitioning groups to Connect for Annual, although the old Online Communities site will remain in place through the end of the year. In the fall, we'll target groups using the old system so that we can provide extra guidance in helping them migrate to Connect.

6.13 The Future Upgrade of Sympa

Sympa, our mail list server software, is currently on version 5.3.4.  The most recent stable version of Sympa is 5.4.4, which was released on December 18th, 2008.  In order to minimize the pain associated with upgrading, we will be doing so with more frequency going forward.  In addition, 5.4.4 contains various bug fixes and a few minor new features. Sympa will be upgraded this spring, and will be scheduled for upgrades on at least an annual basis.

6.14 Recent Dreamhost Changes

ALA has made its Dreamhost implementation more robust by subscribing to virtual private hosting.  We now have our own virtual server instance on Dreamhost, with dedicated memory and processing.  This insulates our services from being adversely effected by other Dreamhost clients, which is the primary shortcoming of shared hosting services.  It also provides us with the capablity to reboot the virtual server at any time, as well as a greater degree of flexibility in terms of system configuration.  The service is costing us under $80/month, and performance has shown a remarkable improvement since the change, particularly in our Moodle online courses.

6.15 Second Life Activities During Midwinter


Banned Books Week at the end of September featured an ambitious build of a permanent site for Banned Books and OIF programs and events. We also contracted and had a garden created in place of the skating pond and Storytelling area. Storytelling continues in this beautiful spot. All stats for the BBW programming show an increase over last year’s figures. The number of visitors continues to grow as do their expectations.

In October we had several programs, among them, a presentation by author Cynthia Leitich Smith on the main stage that was well received. AASL and ISTE group meets regularly on the island’s main stage. Salon Huron restarted its Thursday night meetings with a fair number of people in attendance to hear a variety of speakers.

We continue to ramp up activities despite lack of support from staff who have signed up in SL … few people attend our weekly meetings to orient and assist new avatars get acclimated. In the meantime, ALA members (from the Virtual Communities and Libraries Members Initiative Group) in SL are putting together programs and plans for increased support of Midwinter activities in SL to share what is happening in Denver with those who cannot attend save via SL. We will provide Twitter feeds (subscribe to ala_sl) from the Youth Media Awards, the Midwinter Twitter feed, and reports from various MW attendees who have volunteered to report on what they do in Denver. Programming includes coverage of the FINRA presentation (on their own island), debut of the AL Electronic Publication as well as vending machines for CogNotes and AL Direct, presentation on The Guide to Reference, Carnegie Librarian of the Year awards, OIF Privacy Revolution and other related streams, coverage of RUSA Book Awards reception and the Youth Media Awards Webcast will be available after the events have happened. 

From a YALSA press release: “For those who won't be attending the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) will recreate the YALSA Mixer and Tech Playground in the 3-D virtual world, Second Life. This interactive exhibit, which runs Jan. 9 through Jan. 31, 2009, features models of some of the gadgets being featured at the special event, which kicks off YALSA’s Teen Tech Week™ and will be held Jan. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Denver, 8 – 10 p.m. Gadgets are displayed on platforms at ALA Island (61, 228, 35). You may need to fly to see all the platforms! A menu with locations is in the large column at the entry point.” Built entirely by YALSA members, not staff.

With AC in Chicago, we hope to use the training room at HQ for Second Life orientation for groups. The VCLMIG will have programming and we will continue to grow this community and facilitate their work.

6.16 Staffing Changes & Recent Reorganization

You have already been introduced to our new Senior Usability Officer. Tim Smith, the Assistant Director of ITTS, will oversee the technical aspects of our Internet services, such as upgrades and maintenance of the systems, ecommerce applications, forms development, list administration and maintenance, DNS changes, and applications at Dreamhost. 

Ongoing & Upcoming Projects

6.17 Wiki and Blog Migrations

We are in the process of migrating all weblogs and wikis that had been hosted on our internal blog and wiki server to our Dreamhost account.  The goals behind the migration are to increase blog and wiki administrator control, improve service performance and stability, move from b2evolution to the more flexible WordPress software, and move the network traffic associated with these services away from ALA's commodity Internet connection.  

  • Instructions on how to migrate weblogs have been out for several months, and blog administrators have already moved about one third of the blogs that had been on the internal server.  In February, ITTS staff will be moving all weblogs that have not already moved.
  • The wiki migration will proceed after Midwinter.  This will involve moving the wikis at a rate of 6 to 8 per week and placing appropriate redirect scripts (which will accept and redirect all old URLs for the relocated wiki) as we go.

6.18 Global Accessibility Changes

The UserWorks, Inc. review of site accessibility identified a number of global design issues. We are working with our developers to change them as quickly as possible.

6.19 Focus Groups

Three in-person focus groups to receive feedback on the design changes and architecture of the site are scheduled to take place at Midwinter Meeting. Louise will have a hot-off-the-presses preliminary report of the findings to present at the WAC meeting.

6.20 Emerging Leaders Usability Project

Ensuring Usability of the ALA Web was selected as an Emerging Leaders project. Susan Franklin, Beth Larkee, Zeth Lietzau, and Jack Maness will be working with Louise Gruenberg on a project that will be decided either at or immediately following mid-winter.

6.21 Website Keyword & Taxonomy Blitz

Students from the School of Information at the University of Michigan can choose to spend their Alternative Spring Break working on a keyword project for ALA. They will be visiting the website, scanning for terms and concepts in use to develop a controlled vocabulary on a wiki. The wiki will be a resource content providers will use to select metadata keywords for search engine optimization.

6.22 Website Collection Standards

We have begun discussing the need for determining our website collection standards. What belongs on the website? When should items no longer current be removed? What should be kept as a digital archive?  Should we deliver archived items via the website or elsewhere? How do we inform users that the content of a page is no longer maintained?

6.23 Improving the Quality of Content Management

The website suffers from inadequately developed and maintained pages. There will be a concerted effort to encourage staff to understand how to write for the web, how to add useful metadata to articles, and how to format so as to not interfere with the site’s style sheets. Monthly sessions will be held. Since many content developers only put up what is passed along to them by others, it may also be necessary to hold sessions for other staff.

6.24 Online Surveys

Several short online surveys will be used to gather information and/or solicit members to assist with usability projects. For example, a survey that pops up after a member logs in with a membership expiration date within 30 days could be used to solicit candidates for the renewal process study.

6.25 Event Planner

Leading up to Midwinter 2009, ALA received further complaints about the event planner provided by Experient. It was decided that Jenny Levine will lead a group comprised of ALA staff and WAC members to revamp the event planner. Our intent is to find a Drupal module or build one that can be integrated into ALA Connect since that's where conference events will be hosted in the future. This will offer the added benefits of making sure the planner is easy to use, works across multiple browsers, and uses existing authentication.

We're seeking volunteers from WAC to work on this subcommittee, which will use Connect to do its work virtually after the site launches. Our ambitious goal will be to have a new planner ready for Midwinter 2010.

6.26 New Financial System 

ALA is currently using GEAC SQL Financials, formerly known as Clarus.  GEAC discontinued support for Clarus in 2001.  Biznet continues to support, but only on a best effort basis.  FRx financial reporting system no longer supports the version that will run with Clarus.  Thus there is no upgrade path and no guaranteed support.  ALA will select and implement a new financial system in the near future.

6.27 Implementation of new Payroll/HR System

Human Resources, ITTS, and the Accounting staff have determined that a move from ADP is appropriate to meet current needs.  A RFP was re-circulated and three vendors were selected for demonstrations in December.  A decision to move forward with one of them will be made after the Midwinter meeting.


From WAC Members

I am new to this committee and have some of the same questions that Marsha asked in her posting.  I know that AASL has recently added two toolkits that focus on advocacy to their site.---Becky 

2009 Midwinter WAC Report.pdf96.92 KB