Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rhumba with Joomla: Using a CMS to Build Community

Tao Gao, Web Administrator, South Carolina State Library
Catherine Buck Moran, Information Technology Director, South Carolina State Library

This had to be by far the most valuable session at the whole conference for me so far (this is due to my context and current needs, not meant to be a slight in any way to the many other excellent presentations I've gone to) & it was worth whatever the price of admission was - and then some!

The issues that the South Carolina State Library () faced were on par with those faced by my library in the arena of web development. Tao and Catherine reminded us that what the web, in the end, is all about the people… the people we librarians serve. They used their website redevelopment project, in fact, not just to better meet the needs of their website users but to help establish community. They did this through the use of a Content Management System called Joomla.

They chose Joomla -- -- because:

  • free, open-source
  • easy to install, use, manage, and reliable:
    • Joomla vs. Drupal (thought Drupal was too hard technically to implement compared with Joomla)
    • Joomla vs. Blogs

  • Separation of Content and Form
  • Portable
  • Extendable (more extensions than Drupal/blogs; over 1000, from calendars to newsletter mgt to community builder)
  • Strong support Communities (lots of users support each other - this from a posting on Tuesday, 10 April 2007 100k Reasons: It's official — Joomla! has the largest Open Source CMS focused forum on the planet.-
  • everything's in CSS, standards-compliant, interactive calendar, drop-down menus, etc.
  • You can use free templates out there or design from scratch. Joomla offers tag clouds, calendar, rss feeds, blogs, event registration managementt, groups, blogs, photo galleries, book reviews, member profiles, discussion forums, and more…

Who's using Joomla: Government agencies; commerical businesses; non-profits

SCSL developed the Joomla in libraries site – see

The amount of information produced in the world is increasing by 66% per year? Webmasters need better ways to manage it all. Content Management Systems can help. Use to compare content mgt systems

The Case Study: Migrating SCSL to a CMS

The South Carolina State Library provides services to libraries, state employees, citizens with disabilities, and the general public. Over the years, they had only made one change - to the banner. Their site had expanded to approximately 500-1000 static html pages. When there was any layout at all, it was table-based, not CSS-based. Though there were a few basic perl scripts for forms, mostly there wasn't interactivity on the site. There was a lot of outdated content. There was also a major lack of navigation - no cues, breadcrumbs or anything of that nature.The site was graphically unappealing. And there was no way to check/control the
growth of the site.

what SCSL wanted in a redesigned website:

  • wanted standards-compliant, accessible design -- section 508
  • intuitive navigation
  • staff wanted to get involved
  • separation of content and form
  • wanted site-wide search
  • online job submissions
  • RSS feeds

Phase I: Initial Planning Process

In September 2004, they submitted a redesign proposal. They began the process by:

  • creating a home page team (mostly made up of subject specialists from around the library)
  • using SurveyMonkey to conduct website feedback surveys (March-April 2005, 227 responses)
  • 10 people on the website committee, including a public relations person
  • the committee reviewed current content

Lessons learned:

  • the survey was excellent, and the most useful information from surveys came from responses to open-ended questions
  • they decided to have people not familiar with the subject areas review key content areas. This worked well - fresh eyes.
  • need a well-qualified and dedicated team to do the website development: project manager, graphic designer, web developer with css & php experience, content developer

Phase II: Design

  • Agency Rebranding, Feb. 2005 - new logo
  • Interface Design and Review
  • Process stalled: a new library director came in; she did away with committees (I believe she let the web committee continue, though, since they were only partway through the redesign), part-time p.r. person didn't understand the library environment; graphic designer didn't understand the business case at all
  • there was still the question of who was the project manager?

Phase III: Development

  • put Cathy in charge of the redesign project
  • content audit & review (conducted summer 2005)
  • explore CMS options
  • find outside host server for development (Nov. 2005) because of local limitations
  • Joomla learning curve
  • translate graphical interface to joomla templates
  • content migration (a lot went away completely
  • during the development process, people sending updates like crazy, in the meantime, they had to get the redesign done - new director gave them a deadline of July 2006 (deadline was helpful)
  • continued to update static site

Phase IV. Deployment and Evolution

  • staff to review website, June 2006
  • new website went live, July 2006
  • site moved to new in-house server, August 2006
  • evaluate
  • growth and refinement
  • lessons learned: despite mandate to do so, few staff reviewed the site ahead of time - only when on desk & needed information after the go live; customers loved the site - phone rang off the hook, happy patrons; much easier to see depth of content through CMS – Joomla automatically builds a sitemap
  • give the web administrator a vacation (sent him home to China) after the process is done
  • remaining issue: how to integrate with Sirsi catalog

Before: they had a homepage committee, public relations (p.r.) committee, a web administrator

After: 2 web managers, 25 authors, 326 registered members; 130 not yet approved (all citizens of S.C. can be part of community, at session, Cathy invited us all to join their online community)

Joomla in a Nutshell -

server specs: php, mysql, joomla 1.02, apache server, xampp, win server 2003
hardware: dual xeon 2.8 GHz


  • download joomla
  • prepare MySQL database
  • unzip & upload files to server
  • browser install
  • template design: index.php, tempate_css.css, images, templatedetails.xml
  • Joomla template flexibilities: movable boxes, easy to customize UI

static content: assessing ownership- instruct staff in adding content (WYSIWYG)
active content: sections, categories, content items; user submission process; review & approval; authors on the Joomla-based site don't need to know html - easier than MS word; predefined content formatting

Website Administration

separation of content & form; reinforcing accessibility guidelines; file handling (document mgt system component in Joomla; image management; free templates out there or design from scratch - want it to have the structure you're seeking & that it's CSS-based; had to strip all old formatting out of old webpages to put into new website

Additional coverage of this session can be found at David Lee King’s blog (

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