Magazine article Computers in Libraries

OPEN SOURCE TOOLS: Sharpen Your Websites with Drupal

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

OPEN SOURCE TOOLS: Sharpen Your Websites with Drupal

Article excerpt


Billy Mathews (web developer) and Elizabeth Zoby (librarian and research specialist) are part of a library and information center (IC) that supports a federal government agency by providing resources and research assistance to staffers at the facilities and in the field.

The IC delivers three levels of service:

* Library, which includes an expansive corrections-focused collection of more than 18,000 items online and in our library in Aurora, Colo.

* Information, which offers specialists who answer thousands of questions from the field every year

* Web, which supplies an integrated suite of online services providing instant access to the resources of the agency we support

It was our web services function that led us to the development of micro-sites, which are single-topic websites that we built using Drupal.

Micro-Site Development With Drupal

Four years ago, our library was tasked with disseminating a new 720-page publication written by 20 authors who were experts in the field, each contributing his or her own chapter. In the past, this document would have been converted to a PDF and added to the website as a download. It was decided that this document could easily fill a website using the 20 chapters as its navigation structure. We added a side navigation menu that allowed the reader to jump off to any major section of each chapter. We used a special paste from Word function in Drupal that allowed us to import to the website, preserving elements such as endnotes (and their links), paragraph breaks, bullets, tables, external links, and bolded text. Plus, the tool stripped out all the extra styling that Word often includes, leaving that to the theme of the website, which saved an enormous amount of time. By creating a micro-site from this document, the information was navigable, searchable, printable, and responsive to any screen size.

We currently have 23 micro-sites, each serving a specialized capability or highlighting an important agency initiative. Some, such as the first one, replace PDFs; however, others are used for a specific function. We built one site to house a 25-week course that's only available to facilitators who have been trained to deliver the curriculum. The site is password-protected and has a built-in private forum for facilitators to communicate with each other, a mass-communication module for the authors and trainers to contact the facilitators, a suggestion form for improving the curriculum, a configured aggregator that displays news from the field on the homepage, and a calendar of upcoming training sessions. There are 3,500-plus members of this website. This gets very close to a virtual community of practice, all from a well-configured Drupal micro-site.

We created another micro-site solely for file sharing, similar to Dropbox. Each role on that site has its own private folder for uploading and downloading files, complete with drag-and-drop functionality. You can assign any number of users to a role.

Challenges and Opportunities

One of the challenges with this project was coming up with a domain for the website. We could have simply used a sub-domain (such as, but we anticipated that the micro-sites would be a hit. That would mean more requests for these types of sites. Creating a new subdomain and instance of Drupal and Apache2 for each new micro-site seemed cumbersome, especially when it came time to upgrade Drupal and the modules. After doing some research, we discovered the Drupal multi-sites technique: You create a single Drupal instance, and by using Linux symlinks, you make new websites under one domain. Using a separate database, symlink, and folder for each site, you create a new site instance by giving it this: /some-identifier. The URLs can then look like this: newsite. …

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