Archive for the ‘ALA Website’ Category

Midwinter Registration on the ALA Website

Monday, August 18th, 2008

It has been brought to our attention that we said information on the 2009 Midwinter Meeting, to be held January 23-28, 2009 in Denver, would be posted on August 15, and that date has passed.  So what’s happened?

Lots, as it turns out.

ALA–both staff and the volunteer web developers–has been working for many months on a major revision to our very large (70,000+ pages), complex Web site.  At the Annual Conference in Anaheim members had the opportunity to see the new design.  This design may be previewed at a staging site.  As part of the transition to the new site, we “froze” the current website, except for the news feeds on the home page, as reported in a press release and on this blog.

But before freezing the site, we did publish information on the Midwinter Meeting, and this information is accessible three ways:

  1. Through the logo link in the upper right quadrant of the current home page;
  2. Through the preview site: starting at, click on “Conferences & Events” in the left navigation, click on “Upcoming Events,” then 2009 Midwinter Meeting, bringing you to Midwinter site; and
  3. Directly (bookmark this, if you bookmark anything).

The functionality at the staging site is limited, as we are working behind the scenes to transfer and reorganize content from the current site to its new structure.  Some paths, such as that indicated above, work as intended, even if some intermediate pages are still skeletal; other paths do not work at all; and yet others do not work as intended, but allow us to understand what needs to be adjusted.

In summary, registration for the “bundled” registration will be available September 2-30, and regular registration opens October 1.

Website Transition Update

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

In fall 2008, ALA will unveil a redesigned website, with a new look and easier navigation. The redesign is the culmination of two years of gathering information from focus groups, interviews, usability tests, surveys and other feedback loops. As we migrate our vast array of web pages this summer, please contact the ALA Library at (or 800-545-2433 x2153) if you need assistance locating specific content or updates during our migration. We invite you to preview the site’s new look at

The statement above will appear on the *current* ALA website during the month of August. You will also note two other changes on the current website:

  • * The graphic image – the cube – from the preview site is now appearing on the current ALA website.
  • * Below that – in the area where announcements have previously been posted – are three news tabs:
    1. Inside ALA includes news from across the entire Association. This news section is dynamically updated from ALA press releases – with the most recent news appearing at the top.
    2. Legislation & Advocacy includes news from the ALA Washington Office and ALA Office for Library Advocacy.
    3. U.S. & World Views includes a news feed from American Libraries.

The rest of the current ALA website will remain static during the month of August, giving ALA staff and volunteer content creators and managers an opportunity to make the transition to the new information architecture. If you visit the preview site during August, you will continue to see changes and updates as work moves forward.

Right after the Labor Day weekend, ALA will “flip the switch” – and turn on the new ALA website, along with an enhanced search feature. No, it won’t be 100% complete. There will still be a lot of work going on as we complete a significant redesign. During the next 30 days, however, staff and volunteers are focusing on getting the most-frequently accessed pages into the new architecture.

Thanks to the many volunteers who, along with staff, create and manage content on the ALA website. Thanks also to all of you who spent time responding to surveys and critiquing preliminary stages in the redesign.

What’s with the ALA website … now?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Are you clicking through a reference to an ALA web document, but getting that dreaded “404” message? Despite what the error message says, it’s not our “new” website–look for that this summer. It’s still our old website, but on a different content management system (CMS). During the week of March 17th, we finished moving the last 10-15,000 pages from the old CMS to a new one, leaving behind just a few functions that are heavily programmed to work with other systems.

As with any large scale conversion, there remain a few problems … and probably with just the page you were looking for, right?

Here are a few tips for self-help:

1. Check the URL you are using, especially if it’s a bookmark. If it ends in .htm rather than .cfm, you may be pointing to the old page. The old pages are supposed to be redirected to the new ones, but the paths are not always perfect.

2. Try going to, refreshing your page a couple of times, then navigating to the page you’re looking for. For example, if you want the ALCTS Duplicates Exchange Union, go to “Our Association”, then “Divisions” then “ALCTS” where you’ll find the link under “Resources” in the right navigation column. Or, use the shortcuts to the units found at the page created by ALA’s Reference Specialist, Val Hawkins.

3. Try using the search within the ALA website (the search box at the right end of the blue bars, or the search box on the error page). Pick the result with the .cfm in it … or try the cached version of the .htm page if you just need to check some information. If you want to cite the page, don’t use the .htm page, but wait until you locate the .cfm version so as not to pass on the obsolete reference.

4. Try an Internet search limiting results to the ALA website, e.g., < “FBI in your library” > and, again, pick the result that matches and also has the .cfm in it.

If all else fails, e-mail the ALA Library. We’ll find the page, or connect you to the unit responsible for the page.

The frequency of problems is already dropping off as the new pages are picked up with the various search engines, as we fix the reported problems, and as we run various diagnostics to find the others. With a site with well over 50,000 pages, though, there is bound to be one page, somewhere–and just the one someone needs, of course–that isn’t right.

ALA’s Website: How it got that way and what we’re doing about it

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I use it daily, searching it, clicking through the links, as I have for over a decade. And each day 45,000 others do, too. We go to because it is a rich site, with the collective work of the Association represented. We sometimes complain that you need to know where to look to find anything, that it grows with neither structure nor direction. And that is what has been happening with the ALA website since its inception almost 13 years ago–but our current usability work is an effort to change our ways. Some background.

The American Library Association has participated in electronic dissemination of information since the mid-1980s when the Association introduced an e-mail service, ALANET, to its members. Beginning in 1985, the ALA Washington Office has published its e-newsletter, ALAWON, migrating the service from ALANET to other e-mail services over the decades.

ALA began its “new” electronic era in the 1988-89 fiscal year, when several staff were provided “bitnet” accounts, courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). On May 13, 1991, the first subscription-based electronic list–ALCTS Network News (AN2)–was launched. More accounts and many more e-lists followed.

ALA launched its Gopher, using the server at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in July 1994 (the March 1995 American Libraries has a review of the Gopher). In April 1995, ALA moved to the web, also through UIC, and its own domain name,

The basis for the home page was a fact sheet from our Public Information Office about ALA, with links out to (mostly) gopher directories. That first “homely page” was scrawny and text heavy, but it worked.

On March 21, 1996, ALA moved to its own server, and began the process of migrating the material on the Gopher to the web site, All units were provided “space” on the Gopher … and the web. Thus, the first representation of the Association on the web was as a reflection of our organization, with its central policy body Council, an array of committees, eleven divisions, round tables, affiliates, and chapters.

From the start, each of the units has been responsible for its own space, resulting different ways of presenting parallel information (such as the committee volunteer process), different types of material, etc. The spaces have become increasingly sophisticated as units have gained expertise in web presentation of material of interest to our members, prospective members, and others who have an interest in the mission of the ALA.

The ALA web server, software, and support is funded by the general ALA budget, with much of the developmental support coming from individual unit funds (for the staff involved in preparing the web pages or for outside contractors hired). In some cases, members directly support the web development as part of their volunteer work for the Association when they prepare pages–or even maintain whole linked websites. The ALA website–with its 60,000+ pages–is continuously updated by the 100+ content developers.

The ALA Website Advisory Committee has general oversight responsibility for ALA’s web presence, there is an internal staff team to do major developmental work and technical maintenance, and a staff Website Editorial Board to work with units on some overarching content issues. In general, though, content maintenance is the responsibility of all those diverse web developers, many on staff, others volunteers from among our membership.

Over the past year or so, we’ve been migrating from one content management system to another, unit by unit. Beginning March 10, there will be the final push to complete the conversion–and resolve broken links, missing files, etc. Some of the pages in this final push are the top level pages–contact the ALA Library ( if you need help with something during this transition.

Also, beginning in the summer of 2006, we’ve been conducting a usability analysis with numerous surveys, focus groups, and other forms of data gathering. During the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, we gathered input on the graphic design, and right now there’s a survey sent to a random sample of the ALA membership to gather data on the information architecture for the site . We’re hoping the next generation of the ALA web site will be in place before we meet in Anaheim!



New AL Discussion Forum

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

2007 was a banner year for American Libraries as it celebrated its 100th anniversary with the introduction of the CentenniAL blog, the AL Direct email newsletter, and the AL Focus online video site. Not content to rest on its laurels, however, AL has just opened a new discussion Forum where you can engage your colleagues about issues featured in the print magazine and other matters of general interest to our profession. It’s like “letters to the editor” on steroids, because you can post your opinion there without being limited to 300 words or less. You also don’t have to wait a month before your comment is published.

Participation in the Forum is free and is not limited to ALA members. Anyone can create an account and post a new topic or reply to an existing one. As any good discussion site would do, we encourage you to read the posting rules before posting to one of the seven forums currently available.

ITTS Updates

Friday, January 4th, 2008

I won’t normally repost items here that are found on other ALA blogs, but since there are two important items over on ITTS Update and most members don’t even know the blog exists, I thought it would be good to highlight it here.

If you’re interested in tracking the various projects ALA’s IT department works on, you can stay current by reading the blog. There’s an RSS feed available, or you can sign up on the blog to receive email updates of new posts. I work half-time in that department, and I can tell you things are really hopping there these days (not that they weren’t before my arrival). If nothing else, you may find the notes from the monthly update meetings we hold for staff interesting. Having said that, I don’t think there is one scheduled for January because of the Midwinter Meeting, but we’ll resume them in February.

The other caveat is that while we do post some information about the website redesign there, the project is larger than just ITTS, so there is a separate Web Planning blog (and wiki) where you can track happenings as we start down the road of actual implementation.

Back to the two specific ITTS posts I want to note:

New Website Designs Coming Soon

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Last week our internal Web Editorial Board saw a preview of the designs Userworks has mocked up for a new website. Well, a mostly new website, as the divisions are autonomous and we can’t force them to use any particular template. But we will have usability guidelines available for them should they choose to depart from the final design.

Previewing designs for the new website
Previewing designs for the new website

Which is something you get to help decide. During our Midwinter Meeting (January 11-14 in Philadelphia), we will have a couple of kiosks onsite where attendees can view two final designs and give feedback. We’ll do the same thing online so that everyone and anyone can provide the same type of input. Think of this as “Website Idol,” where you the viewer get to vote for your favorite.

Although I think we all agree that almost anything would be better than what we have now, I believe the new design (whichever one is chosen) will be a true improvement. We’ll post again here (and on the Web Planning blog) when the survey and designs are available, so keep an eye out for them.

Usability and the ALA website

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Over a year ago, ALA contracted with a firm, Userworks, to conduct a usability study of the ALA website. On December 18, 2006 about 25 members, ALA leaders, and ALA staff met in Chicago to discuss the implications of the first round of reports. Among the recommendations was one to incorporate permanent mechanisms of usability engineering and testing that would improve website usability into ongoing operations. At the Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., 194 persons visited a kiosk to comment on wireframes, or mock-ups of a proposed site redesign. Following the conference, we presented revised wireframes, incorporating the first round of critique, in a web-based version. Over the next two months, almost 1,500 people viewed the revised version and completed a survey. These results are summarized in a post on the Web Planning for ALA blog, with a link to the report provided.

In addition, there is a new position, that of Senior Usability Officer, for which we are recruiting to carry this work forward.

There will be more opportunity to have input to the future website. Graphic design mockups will be available online and on kiosks in the convention center during the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. In the meantime, watch the Web Planning blog for developments.