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IE

Since the new library website went live a couple weeks ago, I’ve been poking at it, looking for problems. I was assuming there must be some unexpected use cases out there that would cause it fail.

I found exactly what I was looking for when one of my co-workers fired up Internet Explorer to do her work at the reference desk. It did not even occur to me that IE was even on the reference desk computers, but it is, and apparently librarians are using it. This set off some alarm bells for me. I started checking student terminals in the library, and some of them are also running really old Edge as a default. I suppose that’s a bit better than IE, but it’s still a very out-of-date browser.

Unsurprisingly, a bunch of the site’s functionality was broken on IE and old Edge. Browser technology has moved on since IE 11 was launched in 2013, and newer features of JavaScript don’t work on those old browsers. While I can ask the IT department to update the computers that are in the library, it’s safe to assume that if it’s broken here, it’s probably broken elsewhere on campus too, where we can’t see it. So while IE accounts for only ~2% of browser use overall, it’s nonetheless a problem for us.

So I set about making the library page compatible with IE 10 & 11 and old Edge. This involved adding some polyfills, to allow newer code to run on the older browsers. Somewhat foolishly, I went through a problematic JavaScript library by hand to replace all of the new syntax with older equivalents. Babel also helped.

Most of the problems are now fixed. The search widget and the hours widget that I had originally built in the spring now work on IE 10 & 11, and old Edge. The only unsolvable piece was the SpringShare chat widget. That widget is managed by SpringShare, and they were clear that they weren’t going to support these old browsers. Que sera, sera, I guess. I’ll add a notice that asks IE users to update their browser when they attempt to use the chat. We’ll see how that goes :)

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Research agenda

One thing I have found challenging about work is switching between coding and writing and back. Coding gives me something to write about; writing is the currency for advancing in my job. But these are not necessarily an easy pair. It takes a big mental shift to move from one to the other.

I sometimes wish I had a research interest that just involved reading and writing (this is my background in the humanities talking), or a job that just involved programming. Sometimes, when the grass seems greener, it feels like those paths would be less fraught. Thankfully, I know enough to know that that’s not true, though.

For now, I’m going to carry on with my research path as it is. While it’s tiring sometimes, I see good reasons to keep going. I can recalibrate in the future, if needed.

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Posts by email

You can now sign up to receive posts from this blog via email, over on the About page. Maybe this will make reading this blog a bit easier for some people. I recognize that (unfortunately) not everyone uses RSS, and no one “checks websites”, like they did in the late 90s. So maybe posts-by-email may be useful to someone.

I wish the internet weren’t so broken, and that we didn’t have to rely on social media as aggregators. So offering posts by email is one small gesture toward a web that’s organized a bit differently.

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How I spent my weekend

I’ve spent much of this holiday weekend on Discord, asking questions. This is because I’ve been working on an overhaul of the Open Journal Matcher, and it has led me to work with technologies that I find very unfamiliar (hello, task queues!), so I have a lot to ask. Discord channels focused on very specific technical topics are super helpful.

I also spent the weekend on Discord in part because the tech meetups that I had enjoyed prior to the pandemic are now (obviously) online, including on Discord. So while I miss the irl meetings, I am happy that those communities are now happening 24/7.

Discord reminds me of IRC. I liked IRC. It’s nice to see an old idea reworked with modern amenities.

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A new library webpage for the new semester

This week our new library webpage went live, just in time for the fall semester. You can see it at https://library.kbcc.cuny.edu. It represents about 8 months of work: 4 months of technical work, followed by 4 months of organizational work. I particularly enjoyed the technical bits, while the subsequent, unavoidable bureaucratic work was not as fun. But it’s done; the site is up now!

Some things I learned:

  • Icons are weirdly a challenge. We’re using FontAwesome, but we may switch to an openly-licensed alternative like ForkAwesome.
  • Bootstrap is a fun framework once you get into the Bootstrap mindset.
  • Working closely with a couple of other librarians really improves the end product.
  • LibGuides has some idiosyncrasies when you get into the details, but it is a much more flexible CMS that it may initially appear.
  • The Springshare Lounge is an wonderful tech community. There are very helpful people there.
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To the pixel

In my last post, I described how I want our library web pages to have no wrong info. It’s an important goal, but it’s not the only one. Our web design should also be correct, down to the pixel. This is important because in the past, we’ve had problems with hasty or careless design, where things mostly line up, but if you look closely enough you see mistakes. We can do better going forward. Basically, we should correct flaws, even if something is only off by a pixel or two. We have enough bandwidth to fix these things; so these problems should not be ignored.

If you see an issue, please let me know. I promise that it will get fixed.

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No wrong info

As the (relatively new) admin of most of our library’s web content, my goal is to have no wrong info in our public-facing content. This seems pretty basic, but we’re actually not there yet. Part of the problem is that the library does not yet have control of some essential pages (the library homepage is currently beyond our reach), but part of the problem is also an abundance of infrequently maintained content.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this. One obvious one is to delete the superfluous stuff. If it’s not online, it can’t be wrong! Other stuff shouldn’t be deleted, but should be consolidated and maintained in one canonical location. LibGuides helps with this; it is easy to reuse content between guides, while maintaining control of that content in one spot.

Fixing incorrect info feels like a game of whack-a-mole right now, but I’m hoping it gets better as we implement best practices.

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E-resources

Recently, my colleague, who is retiring soon, has been mentoring me on how to manage our library’s electronic resources. I’ll be taking over the function full time starting in September.

There has been a lot to learn. The learning curve has been steepened by the simultaneous roll-out of Alma in our library, which has added a layer of complexity to the hand-over. But the instruction I’ve received from my retiring co-worker has been on point, and things are being squared away bit by bit, so I think I’m being handed a function which is mostly in a good place. More needs to be done to migrate fully to Alma, but it’s definitely happening, slowly.

In general, my concerns are that it will be hard to please many stakeholders with a limited budget, and hard to optimize our holdings so that they best meet our students’ needs. But many librarians have documented their struggles with questions like these, so I suppose I’m in good company. Wish me luck!

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Summer

The mood really changes at Kingsborough in the summertime. It really quiets down, especially in August. The librarians are a bit different from the most of the faculty, in that we keep our regular work hours. But still, the change in atmosphere is palpable for us too. This leads to two things: (1) more time to work uninterrupted on projects. It turns out that this is really good for things like writing, programming, and other time-intensive tasks. And also (2), there’s an obvious deadline for these projects, which is the start of the fall semester.

When the stars align, these can sometimes yield a really productive summer. Fingers crossed for this year.

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Nanogenmo 2021

Okay, okay. I know it’s way too early in the year to talk about Nanogenmo[1], but I’ve already been surreptitiously working on my project. In my defense, I’m always way too busy to work on this in November, which is the official month for Nanogenmo.

Anyhow, my project is an abécédaire of nonsensical prose poems. I’m mining Project Gutenberg for sentences that are stacked with words starting with a given letter of the alphabet, and then mashing these together into one text for each letter. The resulting “novel” will be 26 prose poems themed around each letter. Hat tip to Christian Bök, who did something similar, but much more ambitious, in his book Eunoia.

If it turns out alright, I’ll post the completed “novel” and accompanying code to GitHub in November. In the meantime, you still have plenty of time to consider your own Nanogenmo project…

[1] For more about Nanogenmo, you can take a look at my post from last year, or the official Nanogenmo page.

Posted in nanogenmo | Comments closed
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