Tag: website

Bootstrapping an emergency library backup site

TL;DR: I Bootstrapped lib.jjay.cc, a Library backup site with the links to online resources, hosted on my personal webspace with an official-ish domain name.

Over this past weekend, the John Jay College network went down. It was pretty serious: no one off-campus could access the main College website for a while, and even when that went back up, the Library website was down for about half the weekend. Yikes!

I had done two very lucky things earlier in the month:

I’d bought jjay.cc on a whim. I’d proposed that the John Jay web department buy it as a shortlinker, and when they showed no interest, I bought it myself ($10, why not!) and have been using it as a way to shortlink Library content. (More on customizing Bit.ly later.) It looks official-ish, and no one has to know it’s on the same webspace as my other goofy websites.

I owe a shout-out to Val Forrestal, who once gave a talk at METRO about setting up an emergency library site after getting hacked. I’d always thought, hey, I should do that sometime, just in case. And then, on Saturday, the flurry of emails about the campus-wide network issues seemed dire, and it was time. So I whipped up the Lloyd Sealy Library Emergency Backup site at lib.jjay.cc:

library backup site screenshot

With a second page for the database A-Z list:

database a-z list

How I made the site

I made a basic Bootstrap template. “Bootstrapping” just means copying and pasting various parts of the Bootstrap framework. I used the navbar, panels, and tables. What’s nice is that everything is already styled and mobile-friendly. I only had to work on two HTML files.

The on-campus network was still functioning, thank goodness, so I VPN’d in to copy the HTML from the normal library site. No need to do anything new when all the code’s already done. EZproxy was also intermittently inaccessible, but luckily, students can also use their library barcodes to log into databases that CUNY subscribes to. We noted that fact on the backup site.

I use Dreamhost as my web host and domain registration service. I created a subdomain, lib.jjay.cc, and used my usual FTP login with Transmit to upload the files. I also uploaded a restrictive robots.txt file so that this backup site would never show up on Google.

It took me under an hour to set it up. We publicized the backup site on social media and got a few grateful responses. We were in touch with the John Jay webmaster about changing the link to the library on the main college site, in case IT told us the network issues would take much longer to resolve. In the end, we just waited it out. And now we’ve got a backup site, should anything go wrong with the network or our servers. (Knock on wood.)

Takeaways: make a stripped-down version of your library website and keep it somewhere safe, somewhere you can access it on- or off-campus. And if you don’t mind spending an extra $10/yr, it might be worth it to buy an official-looking but unofficial domain name, just in case.

Gentle SEO reminders

I know this dead horse has been beaten. But here are some reminders about things that slip through the cracks.

Every once in a while, google the name and alternate names of your organization and check the universal (not personal) results.

Google results page: before (Note: this is my best approximation. Was too distressed to take a screenshot)
Google results page: before (Note: this is my best approximation. Was too distressed to take a screenshot)
I did this a while ago and was shocked to discover that the one image that showed up next to the results was of someone injecting heroin into their arm! Oh my god! As it turned out, one of our librarians had written a blog post about drug abuse research and that was a book cover or illustration or something. None of us knew about it because why would we google ourselves? Well, now we google ourselves.

Are you the business owner?Claim your location on Google+.

Click the “Are you the business owner?” link (pink in screenshot at right). You’ll have to verify before you can make a basic page. But in doing so, you will have some control over the photos that show up next to the place name. For example, I posted some of my better library photographs to our Google+ page, and they soon replaced the heroin arm.

Demote sitelinks as necessary.

Sitelinks are the sub-categories that show up beneath the top search result. In our case, it’s things like ‘Databases’ and ‘How to find books’ — appropriate for a library. But there were also some others, like ‘Useful internet links’ (circa 2003) that were no longer being updated, so once verified as webmasters, we demoted them.

Check out your reviews.

Since place-based search is the thing now, you’d better keep tabs on your Foursquare, Google, and other reviews pages. For one thing, it’s great to identify pain points in your user experience, since we are now trained to leave passive-aggressive complaints online rather than speak to humans. Example: our Foursquare page has a handful of grievances about staplers and people being loud. Okay, so no surprise there, but we’re trying to leave more positive tips as the place owners so that people see The library offers Library 101 workshops every fall when they check in, not Get off the damn phone! (verbatim).

Add to your front-page results.

If there are irrelevant or unsatisfactory search results when you look up your organization, remember that you have some form of control. Google loves sites like Wikipedia, Twitter, YouTube, etc., so establishing at least minimal presences on those sites can go far.

Meta tags.

Okay, so this is SEO 101. But I surprised myself this morning when I realized, oh dear, we don’t have a meta description. The text of our search result was our menu options. Turns out Drupal (and WordPress) don’t generate meta tags by default. You’ll have to stick them in there manually or install a module/plug-in. Also, you’ll want to use OpenGraph meta tags now. These will give social sites more info about what to display. They look like this:

<meta property="og:title" content="Lloyd Sealy Library at John Jay College of Criminal Justice"/>
<meta property="og:type" content="website"/>
<meta property="og:locale" content="en_US"/>
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Lloyd Sealy Library at John Jay College of Criminal Justice"/>
<meta property="og:description" content="The Lloyd Sealy Library is central to the educational mission of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. With over 500,000 holdings in social sciences, criminal justice, law, public administration, and related fields, the Library's extensive collection supports the research needs of students, faculty, and criminal justice agency personnel."/>

All right, good luck. Here’s hoping you don’t have photos of explicit drug use to combat in your SEO strategy.

P.S. If you use the CUNY commons, try the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. It is really configurable, down the post-level.

Device and browser testing tools

If you’re impatient, like me, you might agree that the worst part of making an online resource is testing the interface across devices and browsers. The golden rule that I tout is that all websites I make should look their best no matter how they are accessed: at any resolution, on any common mobile or desktop device, in all common browsers up to 7(ish) years old.

This is hard. Stupid hard. There are so many little quirks in how different devices/browsers choose to display even run-of-the-mill HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. So you either design super simple interfaces, or you do the legwork and make sure your code checks out across the spectrum. But how do you do that?

You can choose to own many devices (or virtual machines) and maintain a stable of old and new browser versions, which is tough but gives you the best taste of the user’s experience. Serious devs and tech companies usually have quite a collection of devices.

Your other option: you’ll have to rely on emulation software. My favorites:

Testing an Android device (click to enlarge)
Testing an Android device (click to enlarge)

BrowserStack — 60(?) minutes of free testing, then $19/mo for individuals thereafter. Test your URLs in a ton of browsers and in the most common desktop/mobile platforms. Their emulator is interactive, so you can click, scroll, and type.

Testing IE8 (click to enlarge)
Testing IE8 (click to enlarge)

NetRenderer — old reliable here. Test for free in IE 5.5–10. Paste in a URL and get a screenshot of how it looks on the screen, with the option to offset the screenshot by a number of pixels to peek past the fold.

What device/browser testing tools do you use?

Site icons

iconsI just made a whole bunch of new icons for our website using the Flat Design Icon sets #1 and #2 from Pixeden. They’re free, royalty-free, and attribution-optional. Each set of 16 icons (including more than the library-oriented ones above) comes bundled in a PSD, so you can change the colors to suit your site. In our case, blue blue, blue. Inspiration? The Flat Design look popularized by Microsoft and Google. 

See them in action on our Resources for Students and Ask us pages.

PS. The phone and person were traced from various wingdings, which is why they’re not quite so nice-looking, but I assigned the same Layer Style to them so they’d match

Great digital collections site from Duke

My favorite digital collections site is from Duke University Libraries: library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/ Beautiful design and so easy to dive effortlessly into the content.

Home page (click to embiggen)
Home page (click to embiggen)
Item detail page (click for large)
Item detail page (click for large)

I usually hate seeing social media on digital collections pages, because how disheartening to see 0  likes, 0 tweets, 0 comments on most of your items. But for promoted collections, like their Historic American Sheet Music, I was surprised and impressed to see some community participation.

I wonder how they assign subject headings. Some look like LCSH (abundance of dashes) and some seem more like tags. The subjects link to other items in their catalog, which is useful, although it takes you out of the Digital Collections site experience.

According to their About page, the application was built in-house using Django and a good number of tools and widgets. (I usually use BuiltWith to get a behind-the-scenes peek at a site’s architecture.)

Well done, Duke!