Your Blog is Not a Community

Most blogs consist of one person commenting on the world, and a whole bunch of people passing by, spending five minutes to skim several posts, and perhaps making a comment or two. These people move on to never return, and they are replaced by more people who in turn do the same.

While blogs are typically considered more communal than typical websites, they may in fact be less so. Other websites have forums which receive hundreds of posts per day from established and respected members. That is a community. Blogs have comments. If you’re lucky (like with this blog), they are threaded with email notifications. This has the potential for community building, as people may make comments, reply to other comments, and return to reply again. However, it generally does not create community. Most people still visit once and only once.

Some bloggers try adding a forum. I did this, and the sad reality is that you will get no participation. For every 100 people that visit your website, one person will make a comment. And for every 100 people who comment on your blog, one person will sign up and post on your forum. Even if you put a widget in your sidebar with the latest forum topics, you’ll still get little to no participation. The forum is basically a separate website, one that will receive no benefit from the fame of your blog. Unless your blog is so popular that you’ve turned off comments, forums are a waste of time. You must chose: forums or comments. One or the other. Not both. On a popular blog, you may be better off disabling comments and creating a forum requiring registration. It cuts out the noise.

Bloggers used to require registration to comment, but fortunately no one does this anymore. It is so stupid and pointless now that spam filtering is so good. There are only three purposes for registration: to track people for marketing, to allow for user profiles that other members can read, and to track comments. WordPress allows none of these. BuddyPress does, and there are plugins, but no one is using those. Registration doesn’t create a feeling of community. It creates a feeling of annoyance.

RSS feeds get people to come back for more, but most people who use RSS feeds are lurkers. You won’t get a comment from them. You may get thousands of pageviews over a period of months, but you won’t get comments and you won’t get community participants.

Responding to comments helps build community, but don’t respond to everything. Simple comments like “your work is great” do not deserve a thank you. That is boring and unneeded. I no longer reply to such comments. My time is better spent writing new blog posts.

Most comments will be people looking for help, and they will be in response to problem-solving posts that didn’t solve their problems. A third of the comments on this blog have been on my Tweet This plugin (most are archived), and they have not been thank-yous so much as requests for help. These are not people wanting to participate in a blog community: these are people who want their problems solved so they can move on with their lives. No community content there.

WordPress MU does not build communities. Many people try and many people fail. All the blogs are separate—all the blog posts are stored in separate database tables. There’s no way to even aggregate them effectively without creating a mirror of them in a unified table, and this is complicated to set up. It is also unwieldy and wasteful. There is no linking blogs together in WordPress MU. They are islands. When you host a WordPress MU site, you are not a community leader. You are a web host.

As a blogger, you are a publisher, not a community leader. Don’t think of your blog as a round-table. Think of it as a newspaper. Yes you may feature letters to the editor, but remember who is in control and who leads the discussion. If you aren’t producing new blog posts every week, whatever “community” you have (which is really just visitors) will disappear immediately. It did when I left this blog for six months. It will for you too. No big deal. It can be quickly rebuilt. Communities take a long time to build, and if you alienate your loyal readers your site goes down the tubes. Blogs aren’t communities, so if you alienate some people (and you will), new people will replace them. Don’t expect anyone to write your posts for you or come up with ideas for you. It’s all on YOU. YOU must do it all YOURSELF. No one will help you. When you accept that you have no community to back you, you accept complete responsibility for the success of your blog. That is power.

Sytems

When you have a large amount of data to sift through, it is often good to create an ironclad framework to manage the data. This framework will include a method of inputting new data, modules for importing and cataloging old data, and an interface to wrap around the whole thing. Collectively, it is called a system.

The problem with systems it they are often created to manage a dataset that is expanding rapidly now, but will taper off quite soon. The designer of the system assumes that the expansion will continue at its present rate, so he creates the system to manage a large amount of data and he designs a thorough catalog to expedite searching. The problem is that with more items, more cataloging effort must be spent on each item so that searches can drill down the necessary data over an ever-expanding dataset. This means the cost of maintaining the system increases exponentially. If the expansion rate drops rapidly, this can be the nail in the system’s coffin, as fourteen layers of metadata provides diminishing returns when you are adding three records a day.

When you picture a “system,” think of a photography catalog. You add more photos as you take them with your camera, importing them using a memory card reader. You add tags and keywords. You sort the images into folders or (preferably) virtual folders. There is a search mechanism which lets you search by folder, date, and keyword. You can search thorough a mass of metadata that is generated by your camera automatically upon shooting each photo. If any one of these components is flawed, the whole system crumbles. Being able to find a photo in two seconds is worthless if you have to spend five minutes cataloging each one. Having a stable catalog of photos sorted with tags and keywords is no good if you have to make a separate physical copy of each file for each keyword. You need a complete and well-rounded system that is versatile and low-upkeep.

Unfortunately, you are just as likely to under-estimate the expansion of your system. What if you’re using Picasa to manage 10,000 images, but then you get a job as a professional photographer and start adding 1000 images a day? You may soon find that Picasa slows to a crawl when you get to 50,000 images. All of the sudden, your system is no better than a pile of dirt, and you’re screwed because you can’t export your database. You have to use clunky ICTP embedding to get the data out, you have to find a new system, you have to adapt to its quirks, you must compensate for its short-comings and differences compared to your current system, and you must do this all under the pressure of impending deadlines. Still think systems aren’t important? How long can you get by haphazardly managing your photographs? Amateurs can do it. Professionals, no.

The biggest problem with systems is overhead. If you keep a to-do list, how much time do you spend doing the tasks on the list? How much time do you spend working on the list, including thinking of new tasks, crossing out old ones, setting deadlines, and revising the list? The time spent on maintaining the list is the system’s overhead. If your overhead is more than 10%, you may consider scrapping or greatly simplifying the list. If procrastination is not a big problem for you, try doing things in the order you please. Instead of storing the list on paper, store it in your head.

Other systems may have overhead greatly in excess of 100%. A public library’s catalog may take more time to maintain than the shelving, sorting, and transactions for all the items in the library. New records have to be cataloged to rigid standards by trained librarians with Master’s degrees, who may be paid upwards of $70 per hour. Items must be checked in and checked out and marked as damaged or missing when problems arise. While it would be much easier to have no catalog and just place the books on the shelf by the author’s last name or the Dewey decimal system, the catalog is essential for searching records and tracking items.

A to-do list, however, should have a much smaller overhead, as it is a simple system to a simple job. Always consider the value of the system you are putting in place. If its overhead exceeds its value, scrap it.

I used to keep my mail-in rebates list on a sheet of paper on the fridge. I’d write the date I mailed the rebate, the product and amount, and the expected date. When the rebate came I’d cross it off the list. At the height of my rebate frenzy (back when EVERYTHING was free after rebate), I had to expand the list from one page to eight pages (8.5″ by 11″), covering the whole front of the fridge. This was unwieldy, so I found a program to put the rebates on my computer and I started managing them there. I got rid of the paper list and keyed everything in. It was a disaster. The whole system didn’t work; I couldn’t search by expected date or amount easily; I had to use klutzy titles that relied on alphanumeric sort. I ended up losing $100 in rebates because I was so bad at keeping track of them. Admittedly, I chose the wrong program (I think it was called Rebate Reminder), but the problem was I chose a system with too much overhead that did not provide any benefits over the previous system. In many ways it was even worse; it gave me a fragmented view of the money I had on the line, while the paper lists let me see everything at once. Instead of being in control, I had no control at all. Systems can often be more trouble than their worth. Remember KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Perfectionists fall prey to complex and weighty systems. When I used to pirate DVDs from the library, I’d have to compress the video from 8.5GB to 4.7GB to fit on a single-layer DVD (most commercial DVDs are double-layer, but the blanks are prohibitively expensive). For some reason I wanted to save the full-quality video for future use, so I’d make a second copy of the original files onto two discs. I have a stack of 100 of these in my closet that I’ll never use. It was a horribly idiotic thing to do. The copies, compressed to 60% of the original size, do not look noticeably worse than the originals on my 19-inch television set. I’ll never have a reason to buy dual-layer blanks and remake the discs; I’m not interested in watching any of the movies again anyway. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I might have just borrowed the movies I wanted to watch, watched them, and returned them. My Dad likes to watch the same movies again and again, but I find, as with books, that one viewing is enough. However, I’ll listen to the same songs over and over again on my MP3 player, especially if I’m programming or writing.

Whenever you create a system, ask yourself: is this useful? Will the data I’m organizing be useful to me in six months? Three? Is it that much slower to have no system and let the chips fall where they may?

I used to keep a meticulously organized accordion folder of all the receipts, rebate forms, school papers, coupons, and paychecks that I’d received for the last six months. Then I’d move to a new accordion folder, keeping the old receipts indefinitely. Now I put everything in a big pile on a shelf in my bedroom. Every few months, I throw out all the old receipts and coupons. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had to hunt down a receipt in that pile. With the accordion folder, it took two minutes. With the big pile, it takes ten. It’s still cheaper than sorting everything, because only rarely do I need anything in the pile. The overhead of a system is simply not worth it.

I used to take thousands of photos a month. Most of them were useless. I’d document the position of all the family’s furniture and can goods each month. I thought that would be interesting later. Turns out it isn’t. I had a huge complex catalog of these photos in iMatch which I used to spend a lot of time on. I haven’t accessed the catalog in nearly a year. Now, I take just a few hundred pictures a month—good pictures, and I use a program called Downloader Pro to sort them into folders by date automatically. Since there are so few photos, I don’t need to catalog anything. I just look through each folder by date with FastStone Image Viewer (a wonderful program). Sometimes, yes, it’s hard to find a photo. Without the overhead of a system, however, I spend more time behind the camera and less time behind the computer.

This blog is a system. It took a long time to set up. The overhead was 100% in the beginning, and as high as 50% till recently. Now, I’m adding practically nothing to the system (WordPress). No new plugins, no theme changes, no design changes. The system has matured and the overhead is now about 10%. I could still be fiddling with all the details, but I’d much rather be writing than working on the system.

Use systems. Don’t let them use you.

Putting Users First

In the United Kingdom, some six million domain names are registered under the .co.uk suffix. While yourname.uk would be preferable to yourname.co.uk, such registrations are banned.

This adds up to thousands of lost hours among computer users and much more wasted space. UK residents have to type the extra “.co” for every domain they visit, communicate, or advertise. Clearly, the UK does not put its users first, or the lengthy subdomain would not exist.

One practice common among universities is to give students second-rate email and blog addresses. My email address at Daytona State College is the ridiculous richard_thripp@falconmail.daytonastate.edu. Blogs take on unwieldy addresses like agessaman.blogs.gfalls.wednet.edu. Giving students first-class registrations at the second level, like richard_thripp@daytonastate.edu or richardxthripp.wednet.edu, is out of the question. Usually, administrators will have their reasons such as firewalling users, keeping the namespace open, simplifying management, or departmentalization. None of these are valid and they all put the user last, when in fact the user should be the #1 priority.

On Thripp.com, it would be tempting for me to place users in some God-forsaken subdirectory like users.thripp.com/richardx, but instead I put them right up front like richardx.thripp.com. Sure, I might run into problems later. Sure, there might be unforseen consequences. Perhaps someone will register shout.thripp.com and then later I’ll decide I want it for a site feature? While the cautious person may say, “so that all my options are open, I should not allow direct registration of subdomains in case I want to use them later,” this is folly and treats the user as a second-rate citizen. Users make up the bulk of your community and are the only important part. This means you should give them important space. Damn the torpedoes. Whatever namespaces you are reserving are less important than you think. In fact, if they are so valuable, they will be much more valuable and attractive in the hands of the community rather than on a blacklist that goes nowhere. example.com has so much potential.

At most businesses, employees park far away from the building to give parking spaces to the customers. Since employees are there all day, it’s no problem for them to walk a little ways. Contrastingly, customers may only be there for several minutes. However, when it comes to the public library, city hall, the DMV, or the post office, who do you see closest to the building? The employees themselves. Often a whole section right near the back door is reserved for them. Because the government has no competition, they have no reason to put their users first. Often, the users wind up dead-last. As corporations grow more bureaucratic and government-like, the same may happen to them. As soon as the user is put second, the business is one step closer to death.

Many websites you see start out with a splash page where you have to click “Enter.” This is a dumb waste of time. No one wants to “enter” your site. The very act of typing the URL into the web browser is entrance enough. Avoid time-wasters if you value your visitors.

Forums and other websites require you to register before you can read certain material or download certain files. Theoretically this will encourage you to come back later and build a spamming mailing list for the webmaster, but in fact 75% of people just stop right there and never register. Whatever they were going to download wasn’t important enough to be hassled anyway. Most people that do register never return and are actually useless users. They just clog up the database and do nothing. Furthermore, registration forms are often notoriously unintuitive and complex. What will often happen is a user will mistype a hard-to-read CAPTCHA, then return to type it again, then fail because their password was erased upon failing the initial CAPTCHA, and then have to do both over again. Many websites forget the email address too upon a reload. It can take the inexperienced web user a dozen tries to get through. Definitely not user friendly. Mandatory registration simply does not put users first.

Using target=”_blank” on links is bad bad bad. If the user wants to open the link in a new window, he’ll middle-click it. Otherwise, a left-click means he wants to open it in the same window. Don’t force preferences on your users. Your site should look good at least at 1024×768, preferably scaling to any size as web layouts are supposed to be fluid, not fixed. Many websites are entirely Adobe Flash, put mid-gray text on a light-gray background, disable right-clicking, or interfere with the browsing experience through other methods. If you think this “protects” your content or expresses your artistry, you’re completely deluded. It patronizes your users.

Microsoft Windows sucks for users. In Vista, whenever you execute a program or change a setting, you get at least three pop-up windows asking “are you sure?” Instead of blocking viruses and pop-up windows pro-actively, they’re allowed free reign on your system. You can only combat them by using kludges like anti-virus software and pop-up blockers, which only remove the material once it has already appeared on your computer. When Windows wants to install a “critical” update, it asks permission to restart. If you say no, it comes back a few minutes later. Say no again, and it starts a count-down timer. Heaven forbid you’ve left the room to burn a DVD or download a large file, because Windows will forcibly close all your programs and restart for your “protection.” So much for user friendliness. When you install or uninstall a software program, you are often stuck with a window that says “click OK to restart now.” If you don’t want to restart, you have to ignore it or drag the window to the corner of the screen. All these hurdles beg the question: who is the master of your computer? You or Microsoft? If Microsoft indeed put users first, the answer would be you and the question wouldn’t need to be asked.

When you call a support line, you’re left waiting for ten or fifteen minutes while a message repeats saying “your call is very important to us.” If your benevolent overlords had some respect for you, they’d stop insulting your intelligence.

Users don’t like being called idiots, being bamboozled, jerked around, put off, or made fools of. In fact, they may become violent and vindictive when patronized. Show some respect, give them the best namespaces, put them first on the list, and don’t boast about how much you value them.

How to Create a Public Library

I’ve disappeared for the last few days because I’ve been working on The Thripp Public Library. While I can’t open it to the public yet (Dad won’t open our house to the world), I’m working on it now because I have time off and Dad’s generously donated lots of his books. Though I wanted to use Evergreen or Koha, I picked the simple and obscure OpenBiblio as my library system, because it’s the only thing I could find that would run on shared hosting. I was disappointed by the lack of features to start, but I’m starting to like the power and control with it, especially since the database makes sense, so adding new features is easy.

Before I even got started, the first step was to choose a barcoding format, classification system, and spine labeling format.

I don’t like Library of Congress (LC) classification because it’s arcane and confusing, so the Dewical Decimal system (DDC) was the default choice. But what to use it for? You can use it for everything, but I decided right away not to use it on fiction items, instead opting for “FICTION / *last name*” as the spine label and call number, which is the same as the Volusia County library system. It may not be ideal, but it’s much easier to use. Biographies are tougher. I chose DDC, but I put two lines above that say “BIO / *subject last name”. The DDC part is always “*numbers* *first three letters of the author’s last name*”. Large type items get “LT” at the top of the spine label. Spine labels == call numbers, always. I created a template file for spine labels in OpenOffice.org Writer, which I add to as I catalog books. Then when I get to twenty or thirty, I print out the whole sheet and start cutting them out with scissors and taping them to the books. Here’s part of a recent sheet:

Lots of spine labels

The numbers after the dot are sometimes six or more in Dewey Decimal classification. You can truncate (cut off) them, but I let them stay and just wrap the label around the book.

The next big step is barcoding. I don’t have a reader yet (too expensive), but it’s good to be ready ahead of time, and it gives a unique identifier for each item. Many libraries, including Volusia County, follow the format F LLLL XXXX XXXXC, where F is the flag, 2 for patrons or 3 for items, LLLL is the system identifier (2417 for Volusia), XXXX XXXX is an incremented number, and C is the check digit. The symbology is Codabar. This is nice, but the institutional identifiers are only useful if your part of a larger organization. I can’t find who oversees them, nor a list of each county / system and it’s code. If I picked one for my library, no one would respect it, plus it makes the barcodes unnecessarily long. So “normal” barcodes are out.

Codabar is old, and there’s no reason to use it if you aren’t follow the 14-digit format. So I picked the more robust Code 39. I looked in vain for open-source or free software that makes it easy to print up sheets of barcodes while generating the check digits, but gave up in disgust. I’m just doing it in OpenOffice.org Writer with this free Code 39 font. No check digits. My barcodes are only eight digits, and check digits aren’t needed anyway because the symbology is self-checking (so I’m told). Plus, forgoing check digits makes things much easier. I have a template of 5 pages with 20 barcodes each, numbered 1-100. When I want to print new ones, I can just find and replace every instance of “300300” with “300301” and it’s all done instantly. Here’s what that template looks like:

Lots of barcodes

This is awesomely cool, and it is a robust solution, even if it seems too simple. I invite you to use this template to print similar barcodes. Make sure you have the font installed first, as this .odt document expects it. I just print these on card stock, cut them out with scissors, and affix them to the books with clear packing tape. I thought I had to decide to put the barcodes on the outside of the books or the inside… but I have the best of both worlds! I printed two copies of the template and put a barcode in both places. This way, I have the convenience of outside barcodes, but my items can still be identified if the barcodes peel off or the covers are destroyed. Clear tape over the barcode won’t matter for any scanner worth its salt. These barcodes are big and easy-to-scan too. I don’t know why most libraries use ones so small.

My numbering format is eight digits; two groups of four. The font doesn’t allow a space between them, but they are visually separated by the zeroes. I start patrons with 2 and items with 3 like traditional library barcodes. The format is 2001XXXX for patrons and 3003XXXX for items. So far I have 5 patrons and 81 items, so the highest patron barcode is 20010005, and for items, 30030081. When I get to 9999, I’ll go up to 2005 and 3007. There’s no reason the last 7 digits of patrons vs. items need to ever clash, and no overlap makes it easy to use abbreviated barcodes for internal memos.

A record number is created by OpenBiblio when you add an item. It’s just a numeric counter starting at one. The record number is used in OpenBiblio’s URLs, and is an easy identifier for my patrons to communicate to me. Barcodes are good too, but the problem is that they are transient, while record numbers are static (as long as I don’t delete the record). Also, the record number stands for the whole record, while a barcode is just for one item. There could be 10 copies of one item, but there still is one record number. So it makes sense to divorce barcodes from record numbers.

Of course, since I’m printing barcodes myself on a home laser printer, there’s no reason for barcodes to be transient. If a patron loses his library card, I just print up a new one on the spot with the same barcode. Same for damaged barcodes on books. But I can also replace the code with a new one if that’s quicker or easier for me, if I use record numbers as the unique identifier for the record (instead of the first barcode or nothing). While OpenBiblio makes similar numbers for patrons, mainly to distinguish them in the MySQL tables, I see no reason to use them. Each patron will only ever have one barcode. Even if I offer keychain library cards, they’ll have the same numbers as the big versions.

Before we go on to cataloging, let’s take a look at library cards. I took what I learned from item barcodes and applied it here. I made a cut-out template in my graphics software, which I’m using to overly text onto in OpenOffice.org. A sheet of library cards looks like this:

Lots of library cards

Here’s the library card template (font required). To change things, I right-click the background image, click Wrap > No Wrap, go to page 2 and change the numbers or other text, then go back to page one, right-click the image again, choose Wrap > In Background, then print. This is in OpenOffice.org 2.2.0. I haven’t upgraded to the new version, but it should be the same. To use them, I print them on card stock (a.k.a. matte photo paper), cut them out with scissors, then laminate them with packing tape (carefully). Of course I enter them into OpenBiblio too. I created custom fields under Admin > Member Fields, for alternate library cards, driver’s licenses, notes, and dates of birth. Those look like this:

OpenBiblio custom fields

The logic with the alternate cards is this: a patron can get a card and add his Volusia and/or Flagler cards, so he can use those instead if he forgets his Thripp card. If he does that, I look him up by name because OpenBiblio won’t allow searching by custom fields (I may fix this later), and then approve the alternate card if the numbers match. Primary Card Origin is different; a patron can choose to use only his Volusia, Flagler, or other library card to identify himself in the Thripp system, in which case I can use the built-in barcode search on the third-party card, and the patron doesn’t even need a Thripp card. In that case, I type in the origin of the primary card in that special field (i.e. “Volusia”, “Flagler”, etc.).

Now that we have labels, barcodes, and cards out of the way, the next step is cataloging. I didn’t want to do all the work myself; instead I get some of the cataloging data from the Library of Congress. The problem with this is the LoC Lookup Patch won’t work with SYN Hosting because they won’t enable the PHP YAZ module because of security concerns. I tried the alternate LoC SRU, but I get this error:

Warning: fsockopen() [function.fsockopen]: unable to connect to z3950.loc.gov:7090 (Permission denied) in /home/richardx/public_html/lib/catalog/locsru_search.php on line 98

Notice: Socket error Permission denied (13) in /home/richardx/public_html/lib/catalog/locsru_search.php on line 125

I gave up on direct import and went to USMARC files. This was hard to figure out. The way to do it is to get MarcEdit 5.1. In the software, go to Add-ins > MarcEdit Z39.50/SRU Client, go to Modify Databases, click Add Database > Import from Master List, click the second in the list (Library of Congress), click Select Resource, go back to Search Mode, click Select Database, double-click Library of Congress, search for something, and double-click the item you want to import from the results. Then, click Download Record. Rinse and repeat, using the “Append” option. After you have, say, 30 records, go to Cataloging > Upload Marc Data back in OpenBiblio, and upload the files. It should say that 30 records are added, and then you can polish the data by searching and editing under Cataloging > Bibliography Search, book by book.

I edit the data to format the title my way, clear junk from the ISBN field, make the extent field a page counter, add the cover price as cost, and create the call number based on the Dewey Decimal code. Unfortunately there’s a lot of junk like “BOOKS” and “Copy 1” in the LoC Marc records, and I haven’t found a way to filter them out. I went through the MySQL database and cleared a lot of them recently.

This still saves me a lot of time, because coming up with the information myself would be too much work. The search doesn’t work well. If ISBN fails, I try title or author, or I go to the online search and get the control number to search by as “Record Number” in MarcEdit.

Sometimes there is no Dewey Decimal classification; just Library of Congress. I hunt down the item at another library in WorldCat to see what dot code they used. It’s easier than coming up with it on my own, and I wouldn’t get it right anyway.

As an alternate for when the Library of Congress has nothing, I installed the Amazon Lookup Module, which actually works. It just gets a few things like title, page count, publication date, author, and sometimes DDC code, but it helps.

Note that when I say “install,” this isn’t your typical WordPress plugin installation. This is getting down and dirty adding and editing pieces of code. Some modules are even distributed as hard-to-use-on-Windows .patch files, which scamper about editing two-dozen files in the OpenBiblio core. I’ve changed so much stuff, that when I upgrade to the next version, I’ll be merging the author’s changes with mine rather than mine with the author’s. It’s a completely different mindset.

Cataloging constructs are yours to set. Unfortunately, it’s rather inflexible because you have to work on a per-record basis, but this is expected with ILS’s. The standards are lower than with photo-cataloging software, because librarianship is considered a full-time job (time is cheap) and most libraries have fewer books than I have photos. I try to get things right the first time, meaning I use consistent formatting like putting a period at the end of the extended title and after the author’s name, keeping the ISBN field clean, using consistent capitalization, etc. This is a typical record. I let a lot of the Library of Congress’ stuff stay the same to save time, but the fields that I’m picky about are the ones that are shown in search results. Speaking of which…

This is the default search system:

OpenBiblio old search

And this is mine:

OpenBiblio new search

And mine has this, too:

OpenBiblio scoping

I realize no one knows what “federated” and “scoping” mean, but they’re such cool words I don’t care. You’ll learn it if you use my OPAC. OPAC stands for online public access catalog, for those of you not familiar with LIS jargon. LIS is library information science, and the OPAC is part of the ILS, or integrated library system. For scoping and federated search, I applied the Advanced Search by Title, Collection, Material Type .patch file using TortiseSVN, then modified it to fit my needs by removing the material type field (because it’s the same as collections in my library), changing “Search All” to “Federated,” and adding barcode and call-number search to it. This is an easy MySQL query addition, because the barcodes and call numbers are stored right in the biblio table in the database.

I like how the search works, because it matches partial words. I can type in “mel” as an author search, and I’ll get Typee by Herman Melville, which is the only book by him in my catalog right now. The Call Number search is good because I put useful data in the call number: “LT” for large type, “BIO” for biographies, “J DVD” for kids’ movies, “FICTION” for fiction, etc. So you can search by it. I haven’t figured out how to implement boolean queries yet, but what I have is pretty good.

This is the code behind the search. It’s in opac/index.php and shared/biblio_search.php, to be displayed below the search results so you can search again right from there. If you use it, do it after applying the patch I mentioned. This ASSUMES that you’re using mod_rewrite to change shared/biblio_search.php to search-results. Change action=”../search-results” to action=”../shared/biblio_search.php” on line 1 if the assumption is false.

<form name=”phrasesearch” method=”POST” action=”../search-results”>
<table class=”primary”><tr><th valign=”top” nowrap=”yes” align=”left”>Search the Catalog</td></tr><tr><td nowrap=”true” class=”primary”><select name=”searchType”>
<option value=”all” selected>Federated
<option value=”title”>Title
<option value=”author”>Author
<option value=”subject”>Subjects
<option value=”barcodeNmbr”>Barcode
<option value=”callnmbr”>Call Number
</select>
<input type=”text” name=”searchText” size=”55″ maxlength=”256″>
<input type=”hidden” name=”sortBy” value=”default”>
<input type=”hidden” name=”tab” value=”<?php echo H($tab); ?>”>
<input type=”hidden” name=”lookup” value=”<?php echo H($lookup); ?>”>
<input type=”submit” value=”Search!” class=”button”>
</td></tr></table><br /><table class=”primary”><tr><th valign=”top” nowrap=”yes” align=”left”>Advanced: Scoping (Optional)</td></tr><tr><font class=”small”><td nowrap=”true” class=”primary”><script type=”text/javascript” language=”JavaScript”>
function selectAll(ident) { var checkBoxes = document.getElementsByName(ident); for (i = 0; i < checkBoxes.length; i++) { if (checkBoxes[i].checked == true) { checkBoxes[i].checked = false; } else { checkBoxes[i].checked = true; } } }</script>
<input type=”checkbox” name=”selectall” value=”select_all” onclick=”selectAll(‘collec[]’);”>Flip<br /><?php $dmQ = new DmQuery(); $dmQ->connect(); $dms = $dmQ->get(“collection_dm”); $dmQ->close(); foreach ($dms as $dm) { echo ‘<input type=”checkbox” value=”‘.$dm->getCode().'” name=”collec[]”> ‘.H($dm->getDescription()).”<br />n”; } ?></td></tr></font></table></form>

I compressed some of it to one line, to make it really hard to read, because I like making things harder than necessary. :cool: It makes it easy to scroll through in the file, and I shouldn’t need to change that part. If I do, I’ll just look through it carefully. It seems to make more sense to my brain than regular, fluffy code.

In shared/global_constants.php, I have this:

define(“OBIB_SEARCH_BARCODE”,”1″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_TITLE”,”2″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_AUTHOR”,”3″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_SUBJECT”,”4″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_NAME”,”5″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_ALL”,”6″);
define(“OBIB_SEARCH_CALLNMBR”,”7″);

The beginning of the search function in my classes/BiblioSearchQuery.php file looks like this:

function search($type, &$words, $page, $sortBy,
$collecs=array(), $materials=array(), $opacFlg=true) {
# reset stats
$this->_rowNmbr = 0;
$this->_currentRowNmbr = 0;
$this->_currentPageNmbr = $page;
$this->_rowCount = 0;
$this->_pageCount = 0;

# setting sql join clause
$join = “from biblio left join biblio_copy on biblio.bibid=biblio_copy.bibid “;

# setting sql where clause
$criteria = “”;
if ((sizeof($words) == 0) || ($words[0] == “”)) {
if ($opacFlg) $criteria = “where opac_flg = ‘Y’ “;
} else {
if ($type == OBIB_SEARCH_BARCODE) {
$criteria = $this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio_copy.barcode_nmbr”),$words);
} elseif ($type == OBIB_SEARCH_AUTHOR) {
$join .= “left join biblio_field on biblio_field.bibid=biblio.bibid ”
. “and biblio_field.tag=’700′ ”
. “and (biblio_field.subfield_cd=’a’ or biblio_field.subfield_cd=’b’) “;
$criteria = $this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio.author”,”biblio.responsibility_stmt”,”biblio_field.field_data”),$words);
} elseif ($type == OBIB_SEARCH_SUBJECT) {
$criteria = $this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio.topic1″,”biblio.topic2″,”biblio.topic3″,”biblio.topic4″,”biblio.topic5”),$words);
} elseif ($type == OBIB_SEARCH_ALL) {
$criteria =
$this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio.topic1″,”biblio.topic2″,”biblio.topic3”,
“biblio.topic4″,”biblio.topic5”,
“biblio.title”,”biblio.title_remainder”,
“biblio.author”,”biblio.responsibility_stmt”,
“biblio.call_nmbr1″,”biblio.call_nmbr2″,”biblio.call_nmbr3″,”biblio_copy.barcode_nmbr”),$words);
} elseif ($type == OBIB_SEARCH_CALLNMBR) {
$criteria = $this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio.call_nmbr1″,”biblio.call_nmbr2″,”biblio.call_nmbr3”),$words);
} else {
$criteria =
$this->_getCriteria(array(“biblio.title”,”biblio.title_remainder”),$words);
}

And finally, this is the code that interprets the posted data, in shared/biblio_search.php:

#****************************************************************************
#* Retrieving post vars and scrubbing the data
#****************************************************************************
if (isset($_POST[“page”])) {
$currentPageNmbr = $_POST[“page”];
} else {
$currentPageNmbr = 1;
}
$searchType = $_POST[“searchType”];
$sortBy = $_POST[“sortBy”];
if ($sortBy == “default”) {
if ($searchType == “author”) {
$sortBy = “author”;
} else {
$sortBy = “title”;
}
}
$searchText = trim($_POST[“searchText”]);
# remove redundant whitespace
$searchText = eregi_replace(“[[:space:]]+”, ” “, $searchText);
if ($searchType == “barcodeNmbr”) {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_BARCODE;
$words[] = $searchText;
} else {
$words = explodeQuoted($searchText);
if ($searchType == “author”) {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_AUTHOR;
} elseif ($searchType == “subject”) {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_SUBJECT;
} elseif ($searchType == “all”) {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_ALL;
} elseif ($searchType == “callnmbr”) {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_CALLNMBR;
} else {
$sType = OBIB_SEARCH_TITLE;
}
}

// limit search results to collections and materials
$collecs = array();
if (is_array($_POST[‘collec’])) {
foreach ($_POST[‘collec’] as $value) {
array_push($collecs, $value);
}
}
$materials = array();
if (is_array($_POST[‘material’])) {
foreach ($_POST[‘material’] as $value) {
array_push($materials, $value);
}
}

Notice that I added CALLNMBR and BARCODE search, the logic for which was enumerated in classes/BiblioSearchQuery.php. It’s a good feature for my patrons to find an on-hand item in the OPAC, and for me it’s especially helpful.

I revamped OpenBiblio’s search results. A typical result looks like this:

OpenBiblio new search result

Compare to the old style:

OpenBiblio old search result

Notice all the new stuff in the top image? The link is bold. The extended title is below. No more small text. Material is gone (my collections’ titles make it self-evident). The record number is shown. The call number is important, so it’s bolded purple, and on the same line as the collection to save space. On Shelf status is bold and green; a great visual cue. It’s not “checked in” anymore, it’s the more sensible “On Shelf”. I changed that right in the database, in the biblio_status_dm table. Most importantly, do you notice the wonderful info line? Everything you could ever want to know is right there. It’s year / ISBN / pages or minutes / cost / Amazon.com link / # of circulations. That really puts a lot of power into the hands of your patrons.

I wrote/modified the code for my set-up, so you’ll have to change some things if you want to use it. This goes in shared/biblo_search.php, above the footer. Here it is:

<tr>
<td nowrap=”true” class=”primary” valign=”top” align=”center” rowspan=”2″>
<?php echo H($biblioQ->getCurrentRowNmbr());?>.<br />
<a target=”_blank” href=”http://lib.thripp.com/<?php if ($tab == “cataloging”) echo “e/”.HURL($biblio->getBibid()); else echo HURL($biblio->getBibid());?>”>
<img src=”../images/<?php echo HURL($materialImageFiles[$biblio->getMaterialCd()]);?>” width=”20″ height=”20″ border=”0″ align=”bottom” alt=”<?php echo H($materialTypeDm[$biblio->getMaterialCd()]);?>”></a>
</td>
<td class=”primary” valign=”top” colspan=”2″>
<table class=”primary” width=”100%”>
<tr>
<td class=”noborder” width=”1%” valign=”top”><strong><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchTitle”); ?>:</strong></td>
<td class=”noborder” colspan=”3″><strong><a target=”_blank” href=”http://lib.thripp.com/<?php if ($tab == “cataloging”) echo “e/”.HURL($biblio->getBibid()); else echo HURL($biblio->getBibid());?>”><?php echo H($biblio->getTitle());?></a></strong>
<?php $bid = HURL($biblio->getBibid());
$getxtitle = mysql_query(“SELECT title_remainder FROM biblio WHERE bibid = ‘$bid'”) or die(mysql_error());
$printxtitle = mysql_fetch_row($getxtitle);
if ($printxtitle[0] == “”) echo “”; else echo “<br />$printxtitle[0]”; ?></td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td class=”noborder” valign=”top”><strong><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchAuthor”); ?>:</strong></td>
<td class=”noborder” colspan=”3″><?php if ($biblio->getAuthor() != “”) echo H($biblio->getAuthor());?></td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td class=”noborder” valign=”top” nowrap=”yes”><strong>Ref. #<?php echo HURL($biblio->getBibid()); ?>:</strong></td>
<td class=”noborder” colspan=”3″><?php echo H($collectionDm[$biblio->getCollectionCd()]);?> / <strong><font color=”#640064″><?php echo H($biblio->getCallNmbr1().” “.$biblio->getCallNmbr2().” “.$biblio->getCallNmbr3()); ?></font></strong></td></tr><tr><td class=”noborder” valign=”top”><strong>Info:</strong></td><td class=”noborder” colspan=”3″>

<?php // RXT 20080723 code:
$bid = HURL($biblio->getBibid());
$getyear = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘260’ AND subfield_cd = ‘c’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$getisbn = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ’20’ AND subfield_cd = ‘a’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$getpages = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘300’ AND subfield_cd = ‘a’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$getminutes = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ’20’ AND subfield_cd = ‘c’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$getcost = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘541’ AND subfield_cd = ‘h’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$getamz = mysql_query(“SELECT field_data FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘970’ AND subfield_cd = ‘a’ AND bibid = ‘$bid'”)
or die(mysql_error());
$printyear = mysql_fetch_row($getyear);
$printisbn = mysql_fetch_row($getisbn);
$printpages = mysql_fetch_row($getpages);
$printminutes = mysql_fetch_row($getminutes);
$printcost = mysql_fetch_row($getcost);
$printamz = mysql_fetch_row($getamz);
if ($printyear == “”) echo “Year Unknown”;
else echo $printyear[0];
echo ” / “;
if ($printisbn == “”) echo “ISBN Unavailable”;
else echo “ISBN: “.$printisbn[0];
if ($printpages == “”) echo “”;
else echo ” / “.$printpages[0];
if ($printminutes == “”) echo “”;
else echo ” / “.$printminutes[0];
echo ” / $”.$printcost[0];
if ($printamz == “Not on Amazon.com”) echo “”;
elseif ($printamz != “”) echo ” / <a target=”_blank” href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/”.$printamz[0].”/brilliaphotog-20″ title=”See this item on Amazon.com”>Amazon.com</a> / “;
elseif ($printisbn != “”) echo ” / <a target=”_blank” href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/”.$printisbn[0].”/brilliaphotog-20″ title=”See this item on Amazon.com”>Amazon.com</a> / “;
else echo ” / “;
$getCircs = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(bibid) FROM biblio_status_hist WHERE bibid = ‘$bid'”) or die(mysql_error());
$getCircsRes = mysql_fetch_row($getCircs); if ($getCircsRes[0] == ‘1’) echo ” (1 circ)”; else echo ” ($getCircsRes[0] circs)”; ?>

</td></tr></table></td></tr>
<?php
if ($biblio->getBarcodeNmbr() != “”) {
?>
<tr>
<td class=”primary” ><strong><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchCopyBCode”); ?></strong>: <?php echo H($biblio->getBarcodeNmbr());?>
<?php if ($lookup == ‘Y’) { ?>
<a href=”javascript:returnLookup(‘barcodesearch’,’barcodeNmbr’,'<?php echo H(addslashes($biblio->getBarcodeNmbr()));?>’)”><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchOutIn”); ?></a> | <a href=”javascript:returnLookup(‘holdForm’,’holdBarcodeNmbr’,'<?php echo H(addslashes($biblio->getBarcodeNmbr()));?>’)”><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchHold”); ?></a>
<?php } ?>
</td>
<td class=”primary” ><strong><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchCopyStatus”); ?></strong>: <?php $status = H($biblioStatusDm[$biblio->getStatusCd()]); if ($status == ‘On Shelf’) echo “<strong><font color=”#009900″>On Shelf</font></strong>”; elseif ($status == ‘On the Shelving Cart’) echo “<strong><font color=”#FF8000″>On the Shelving Cart</font></strong>”; else echo “<strong><font color=”#FF0000″>$status</font></strong>”; ?></td>
</tr>
<?php } else { ?>
<tr>
<td class=”primary” colspan=”2″ ><?php echo $loc->getText(“biblioSearchNoCopies”); ?></td>
</tr>
<?php
}
}
}
$biblioQ->close();
?>
</table><br />
<?php printResultPages($loc, $currentPageNmbr, $biblioQ->getPageCount(), $sortBy); ?>

This code assumes you’re using mod_rewrite to create friendly permalinks, in the format of YOURSITE/BIBID and YOURSITE/e/BIBID for the cataloging section. I’ll tell you how later in the article. It also assumes your site is http://lib.thripp.com and your Amazon.com affiliate code is brilliaphotog-20. Change the first one definitely. Leave the second alone if you want to donate to me. :cool:

This code also makes the assumption that your using my cataloging methods I defined earlier (year field, ISBN, pages are clean, etc.). For DVDs to show the minute count instead of pages, the number MUST be in “Terms of availability:”, which is the field I chose. You can change it easily if you examine the database structure and modify the code to fit your methods. The code defines the Amazon.com ASIN as the text in the ISBN field of the record, so your ISBN fields MUST be ISBN-10 and MUST be clean (no “(pbk.)” after the numbers). I’ve defined a contingency method: create a Marc field with tag 970, subfield a, with the ASIN if it differs from the ISBN or there is no ISBN. That will be used instead. If you enter “Not on Amazon.com” as the Marc field, no Amazon.com link will show even if there is an ISBN.

“On Shelf” statuses are shown in bold green, “On the Shelving Cart” is bold orange, and everything else is bold red. Make sure to change the statuses to those in the biblio_status_dm table, or do the opposite in the code. The number of circs includes checkouts and renewals for all copies attached to the record, past and present. Links open in new windows (I added target=”blank”). This is because the search results page uses POST data instead of URL parameters, so opening in the same window and clicking back prompts a warning. I wish it used URL parameters instead.

I like my search results format. It’s a lot more useful than what I see at most libraries.

I also upgraded shared/biblio_view.php to this:

OpenBiblio new item view

A typical record before would be this:

OpenBiblio old item view

Examples for the old style are from the Frances D. Still Learning Center OPAC. They use a stock OpenBiblio install. Nearing 3000 items. OpenBiblio scales failry well.

The code for the record view page is mostly copied from the search results page, so I won’t copy it for brevity.

I created a robust statistics system on the home page, which goes around aggregating numbers in the database so that it’s always up-to-date. It has one huge flaw: it assumes each record has one and only one item. Mine do, so it isn’t a problem, but I’ll have to re-work it when that changes.

The code requires you to create config.php and global.php in the OpenBiblio root. config.php should look like this:

<?php unset($config);
$config = array();
$config[‘db_hostname’] = “localhost”;
$config[‘db_port’] = “3306”;
$config[‘db_username’] = “yourDBusername”;
$config[‘db_password’] = “yourDBpassword”;
$config[‘db_name’] = “yourDBname”; ?>

Replace the database details with your own above, then make global.php exactly as below:

<?php function db_connect() { global $config; mysql_connect($config[‘db_hostname’].”:”.$config[‘db_port’], $config[‘db_username’], $config[‘db_password’]) or die(mysql_error()); mysql_select_db($config[‘db_name’]) or die(mysql_error()); } ?>

Finally, this huge block powers the statistics:

<p>
<?php require(“../config.php”); require(“../global.php”); db_connect();
$cCount = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(copyid) FROM biblio_copy”) or die(mysql_error());
$cCountRes = mysql_fetch_row($cCount);

$cPrice = mysql_query(“SELECT SUM(field_data) FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘541’”) or die(mysql_error());
$cPriceRes = mysql_fetch_row($cPrice);

$cPages = mysql_query(“SELECT SUM(field_data) FROM biblio_field WHERE tag = ‘300’ AND subfield_cd = ‘a'”);
$cPagesRes = mysql_fetch_row($cPages);

$cNonFic = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(bibid) FROM biblio WHERE collection_cd = ‘2’”);
$cNonFicRes = mysql_fetch_row($cNonFic);

$cFic = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(bibid) FROM biblio WHERE collection_cd = ‘1’”);
$cFicRes = mysql_fetch_row($cFic);

$cDVDs = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(bibid) FROM biblio WHERE collection_cd = ’12′”);
$cDVDsRes = mysql_fetch_row($cDVDs);

$cOut = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(status_cd) FROM biblio_copy WHERE status_cd = ‘out'”) or die(mysql_error());
$cOutRes = mysql_fetch_row($cOut);

$cIn = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(status_cd) FROM biblio_copy WHERE status_cd = ‘in'”) or die(mysql_error());
$cInRes = mysql_fetch_row($cIn);

$circOuts = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(copyid) FROM biblio_status_hist WHERE status_cd = ‘out'”) or die(mysql_error());
$circOutsRes = mysql_fetch_row($circOuts);

$circRens = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(copyid) FROM biblio_status_hist WHERE status_cd = ‘crt'”) or die(mysql_error());
$circRensRes = mysql_fetch_row($circRens);

$circTotal = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(copyid) FROM biblio_status_hist”) or die(mysql_error());
$circTotalRes = mysql_fetch_row($circTotal);

$pTotal = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(mbrid) FROM member”) or die(mysql_error());
$pTotalRes = mysql_fetch_row($pTotal);

$pTotalAdults = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(classification) FROM member WHERE classification = ‘1’”) or die(mysql_error());
$pTotalAdultsRes = mysql_fetch_row($pTotalAdults);

$pTotalChildren = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(classification) FROM member WHERE classification = ‘2’”) or die(mysql_error());
$pTotalChildrenRes = mysql_fetch_row($pTotalChildren);

$pPhones = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(mbrid) FROM member WHERE home_phone != ””) or die(mysql_error());
$pPhonesRes = mysql_fetch_row($pPhones);

$pEmails = mysql_query(“SELECT COUNT(mbrid) FROM member WHERE email != ””) or die(mysql_error());
$pEmailsRes = mysql_fetch_row($pEmails);

$cAllBooks = ($cFicRes[0]+$cNonFicRes[0]);

echo “<strong>Live Statistics:</strong><br />

The Thripp Public Library has <strong>$pTotalRes[0]</strong> patrons: <strong>$pTotalAdultsRes[0]</strong> adults and <strong>$pTotalChildrenRes[0]</strong> children.<br />

There are <strong>”.$cCountRes[0].”</strong> items: <strong>”.$cNonFicRes[0].”</strong> nonfiction books, <strong>”.$cFicRes[0].”</strong> fiction books, and <strong>”.$cDVDsRes[0].”</strong> DVDs.<br />

Stats: Nonfiction books: <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($cNonFicRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong>; Fiction books: <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($cFicRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong>; DVDs: <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($cDVDsRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong>.<br />

<strong>”; if ($cOutRes[0] == ‘1’) echo “1</strong> item is”; else echo “$cOutRes[0]</strong> items are”; echo ” checked out and <strong>”.$cInRes[0].”</strong> are on shelf.<br />

<strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($cOutRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong> of the catalog is checked out. The average patron has <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,($cOutRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])); echo “</strong> items out.<br />

There are <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,($cCountRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])); echo “</strong> items for every <strong>1</strong> patron.<br />

The collection is worth <strong>$$cPriceRes[0]</strong>, or about <strong>$”; printf (“%01.2f”,($cPriceRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])); echo “</strong> per item.<br />

There have been <strong>$circOutsRes[0]</strong> checkouts and <strong>$circRensRes[0]</strong> renewals; a total of <strong>$circTotalRes[0]</strong>.<br />

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; This is an average of <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,($circTotalRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])); echo “</strong> per patron, or <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,($circTotalRes[0]/$cCountRes[0])); echo “</strong> per item.<br />

There are <strong>”.$cAllBooks.”</strong> books with <strong>”. number_format($cPagesRes[0]).”</strong> pages. The average book has <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,($cPagesRes[0]/($cFicRes[0]+$cNonFicRes[0]))); echo “</strong> pages.<br />

The ratio of fiction to nonfiction books is <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($cFicRes[0]/$cNonFicRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong>.<br />

The collection represents <strong>$”; printf (“%01.2f”,($cPriceRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])); echo “</strong> of value per patron.<br />

<strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($pPhonesRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong> of my patrons have telephones and <strong>”; printf (“%01.2f”,(($pEmailsRes[0]/$pTotalRes[0])*100)); echo “%</strong> have email accounts.”;

?>
</p>

I do know this is all over the place, it’s a mess, it’s inefficient, and it probably should all be cached. It’s working great, so I’ll cross the “I have to fix this now!” bridge when I come to it. Feeding the library address into this speed test, it’s 0.4 seconds; the same as thripp.com which is totally cached. That might slow down as the database gets bigger, but for now it’s fine.

You can use this code for your OpenBiblio site, by adding it to opac/index.php, but you have to change some stuff. Notice “collection_cd” and “classification”? The arguments there are hard-coded for my database, so change them for yours. Otherwise, you have to make sure to enter the cost for each item, and the number of pages as “###” or “### pages” in “Physical description (Extent):” and nothing else. If you do this, it’s cool because you get the total number of pages in your library.

Right now, the stats look like this:

Live Statistics:
The Thripp Public Library has 5 patrons: 3 adults and 2 children.
There are 81 items: 63 nonfiction books, 15 fiction books, and 3 DVDs.
Stats: Nonfiction books: 77.78%; Fiction books: 18.52%; DVDs: 3.70%.
2 items are checked out and 79 are on shelf.
2.47% of the catalog is checked out. The average patron has 0.40 items out.
There are 16.20 items for every 1 patron.
The collection is worth $1681.82, or about $20.76 per item.
There have been 19 checkouts and 15 renewals; a total of 34.
    This is an average of 6.80 per patron, or 0.42 per item.
There are 78 books with 29,786 pages. The average book has 381.87 pages.
The ratio of fiction to nonfiction books is 23.81%.
The collection represents $336.36 of value per patron.
100.00% of my patrons have telephones and 100.00% have email accounts.

It’s amazing what computers can do, no? In the print age, or even in an out-of-the-box ILS, it would take hours to compile this report, and you’d have to do it every time something changed. If anyone made reports like this, it would be once a month at best, and still it would be a great drudgery and expense. Not so anymore.

The stats are a bit messed up when you have records you’ve just imported from the Library of Congress, but not processed. Nothing fatal; the numbers are just wrong. Once you’ve done all the cataloging, it’s fine, though.

A good OPAC needs good URLs. My URLs are like lib.thripp.com/93. No titles in the URLs keeps them nice and simple-to-implement. I’m using Linux + Apache, so fixing this is easy. Let me show you my .htaccess file:


RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^([0-9]+)$ shared/biblio_view.php?bibid=$1&tab=opac [NC]
RewriteRule ^e/([0-9]+)$ shared/biblio_view.php?bibid=$1&tab=cataloging [NC]
RewriteRule ^$ opac/index.php [L,NC]
RewriteRule ^search-results shared/biblio_search.php [L,NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} www.lib.thripp.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://lib.thripp.com/$1 [L,R=301]

That does all the magic. Change http://lib.thripp.com, of course. This requires changes in opac/index.php and shared/biblio_search.php to match. If you’ve used my code in this article, it’s already done, though. Now, you can jump from a regular view to the view with the edit links by adding “e/” before the bibid. And the OPAC is mapped to the root instead of home/index.php, which is cluttered and has a lot of staff functions. I don’t know why it’s the default home page. Anyway, after the change you can still get there by URL by adding “/home” to your URL. That’s the best way, because not having a link to the staff area from the home page is a bit of security through obscurity.

I’m happy to have started my library, despite being just for family and friends for now. I need to buy a house or a warehouse to host it at, and then open it up to the world. OpenBiblio has good facilities for checkouts, renewals, limits, fines, and even receipt printing, and I feel I can build upon them through my own programming, so on the tech site I’m ready. I plan to have a lending library with a limit of 5 items out per person at a time. You can renew and place holds, but only by phone or by coming in (this is OpenBiblio’s limitation; other OPACs have these features). You get three weeks on everything, except DVDs which are one week. Late fees are 15 cents per item per day.

It might be 5 years before I’m making enough money from advertising on this website to find a space to open the library. I’m not too worried. It’s better to start now than to start later. Here’s a photo of the stacks now:

The Thripp Library shelves

These books displaced my photos, but it’s worth it. I used to have stacks of photos on these shelves, but I crammed them in with other photos on my other bookshelf to make way for the library. If you’re a good friend, feel free to come over to my house, get a library card, and check something out. Make a donation to get this off the ground. If you make a donation, you’re a good friend.

I’m seeing a big gap between what public libraries are… and what they could be. There are no charismatic leaders in librarianship. Most everyone is dull and unoriginal; even the software and basics like online catalogs need lots of work. This is because most libraries are government-funded; even many academic branches are not immune. So the strategy is “let’s waste as much money as possible and leech from the taxpayers,” not “let’s work efficiently and make a real contribution to the community.” More frighteningly, libraries are becoming elitist, discarding old, unpopular, or “offensive” books and rejecting self-published books or anything without an ISBN number. I’ve written a mission statement for the Thripp Public Library to address this:

The Thripp Public Library is founded on a healthy attitude of dissension and skepticism, a distaste for lies and fallacy, and a love of learning from history. To know history and avoid 1984-style revisionism, it’s important to keep old books around. Unfortunately the Volusia County library system doesn’t do this, as I’ve gotten many of my library’s gems right from their book sales. These are my library’s universal principles:

1. Timelessness eschews popularity.
2. The message trumps the medium.
3. Truth is independent of source.

This means that good information can come from any person or organization in any form, be it a book, magazine, CD, DVD, website, etc. I’ve founded the library on timelessness, meaning that I refuse to destroy parts of the collection that are rarely looked at, because they are often the most important. Popular movies circulate more, but are fleeting and unscholarly. I’ll include them if they’re cheap and terribly entertaining, though.

Here’s an example item, with the Thripp barcode:

Thomas Jefferson book

And here’s what a Thripp library card looks like:

Richard X. Thripp's Thripp library card

Cataloging is on hold till I go to the store, because I’ve run out of clear packing tape to affix barcodes and spine labels.

Take a look at the catalog. Just click Search! to see everything. Then come back and tell me you’re not impressed. :wink2:

The Perils of Redundant Linking

Sometimes I’ll write a post, and I’ll mention something twice. Often it’s my wonderful camera, a Canon Rebel XTi. And then I wonder: should I make the text a link twice? In the Rebel XTi case, it’s a link to Amazon.com (an evil affiliate link). Sometimes, the link will be with different text, or in an entirely different context than the first, though it goes to the same page. That could be linking to Glass Drops once while talking about night photography, and then again when discussing raindrops, in the same article.

I’ve noticed other people doing this, and I’m finding it ever more annoying. I’ve found there are two approaches to double-linking:

1. Link redundantly, because your readers will be annoyed and confused that your talking about a subject so much but not linking to it, if they missed the first link. Or do it to really get people to click your affiliate link. More commonly, readers scan your content rather than reading closely. Either they scan by default, or find your writing useless. To accommodate that group, you have to mention important stuff as many times as possible and hope it won’t be missed. Your writing for the unengaged rather than the engaged, and your putting the wrong ones first.

2. Don’t link redundantly, because you choose to cater to thorough rather than casual readers. Readers who take in every word and click every link in perfect succession. Readers who will be annoyed and confused if they find the same page twice in their tab bar after a work-out session with the scroll button. I click every link if I like what I’m reading, because I know the author will have good recommendations about the topic. And I’ve been finding it quite disconcerting when a good author is type 1.

I’ve decided to abandon double-linking because my audience should be type 2 rather than type 1. This goes along with blogging selectively and writing insightful, comprehensive articles rather than shallow, fleeting posts. Stuff like Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value rather than a Quick Post on HDR. Stuff that’s unbelievably useful rather than unbelievably useless. Gold rather than garbage.

I don’t mind redundant links outside of a single post. Even if the same links are in the categories list or header, it’s okay, because that content is generally fixed and largely ignored. A contextual link going to the same place is fine, because it adds to the content of the article, unlike saying “check the sidebar.” The problem also is that the header and sidebar are expensive places, because they show up on every page. I can’t be sure how long a link will stay there. If its value is transient it can’t stay up once the value is gone. There is no space for clutter. A services link is still worthwhile now, but in three months I may stop taking commissions entirely, and “check the header for services” would be out of date. The other problem is that it’s better to show than to tell. A direct link is always better than saying “see here” or “search Google.”

Within a single post, Type 1 linking just doesn’t bode with this style at all. It’s fine if you don’t value your readers’ time and assume they don’t read what you write. If you assume no one’s reading, it will come true, because you’ll start writing stuff that’s valuable to no one. But if you’re writing for the heart first, and profit second, it just doesn’t work. Type 2 is the only way to go.

Th8.us: URL trimming service

I created a URL trimming service at Th8.us. The URLs are shorter than Tinyurl: 19 characters instead of 25, in the format http://xxxxx.th8.us. I put it together using Hidayet Dogan’s Phurl for my Twitter account, but then thought it should be released to the world. I made modifications to the code so the random part is a virtual subdomain, is five characters instead of six (it’ll be a while before the 24 million combinations are used up), it respects trailing slashes, it links to the new address instead of just showing it in plain text, and it tells you the number of characters you’ve saved (it’ll even be negative if the original address was shorter). Also, hard-to-read characters are excluded (0, 1, j, l, u, and v). The service is simple, fast, and clean, unlike Thripp.com, which is heavy and feature-laden (flexible) and thus more prone to outages. th8.us shares no code and uses a separate database from Thripp.com, so you can count on the URLs working forever (barring problems with my host, SYN Hosting).

Here’s the first trimmed URL as an example: http://oorph.th8.us/. :cool:

Drag the one-click Twitter bookmarklet from the home page to your bookmarks toolbar. It’ll take you to Twitter and type in the shortened URL of the page you were visiting into the post box.

The Big Switch

I’ve been away for two days working on technical issues instead of photography. The big one is that I’ve changed from richardxthripp.com to Thripp.com for myself and my users. A lot of work, but worth it because it’s so short. Read more about it here. I’d been posting to Twitter about it, right after I discovered that Thripp.com had become available, yesterday.

Expect some more photography tomorrow. The new address is richardxthripp.thripp.com, but richardxthripp.com/richardxthripp, richardxthripp.richardxthripp.com, and rxthripp.com, and subdirectories of them will continue to work forever. My email is now richardxthripp@thripp.com, but richardxthripp@gmail.com and richardxthripp@richardxthripp.com will also continue forwarding. Since the RSS feed address changed, Feedburner sent old posts to all my email subscribers. Sorry about that! It only happens once.

I updated the banner at the top so it says Thripp.com now. I’m here to stay! :cool:

Photo: Waterlogged

Waterlogged — a hard disk platter and arm, dotted with raindrops

The hard drive that never was. Waterlogged is two years old, coming on the heels of Raindrops, but a classic nonetheless. This was the hard drive from my first computer, a budget desktop I got in 2000 (I was 9 then). In February of 2005 it failed, and I’d just left it sitting around till June of 2006 when I cracked the case open (harder than you’d think) and took this shot. The drive is a Seagate ST34311A. I was walking around the yard positioning it as a mirror, creating interesting compositions (Blend In is another), when it started raining. The hard drive got wet, and that inspired this photo. The platters make quite a mirror, making the reflections in the drops quite sharp. After drying, the mirror was covered with spots and dust I never could get off, unfortunately.

Don’t ever open your computer’s hard drive, unless it’s broke and you’ve backed up your data, or you have no hope of recovering it. The read/write head you see in the picture hovers on a cushion of air one-tenth the thickness of a hair, produced by the velocity of the spinning disk(s) (7200RPM is common now). Even a speck of dust on the platter can mess up the drive and destroy your data. Hard drives are really fragile, and generally a bad way to save information, but they’re still the best thing we have to store a lot of changing data, cheaply and quickly. Back up your pictures to CDs or DVDs too, as they’re more stable.

Many hard drives have multiple platters (two to five), but this has just one. I found out the disks aren’t thick (slightly thinner than a CD, though very rigid), and they’re double sided. Underneath is another head that moves in tandem with the top one, reading and writing data to the underside. I still have pieces of this drive scattered around the house somewhere.

My finger sneaked into the frame on the top-right, darn it. Had to clone it out in Photoshop. Same for the bright edge at the bottom-left, and the silver bolt at the top, because they were too distracting. I converted to black and white and added a good bit of contrast, making the image more appealing.

[sniplet 4×6-lustre]

Fujifilm FinePix A360, 1/139, F2.81, 5.8mm, ISO64, 2006-06-25T19:03:53-04, 2006-06-25_19h03m53

Location: Thripp Residence, Ormond Beach, FL  32174-7227

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

13 Indispensible WordPress Plugins

I’ve broken my promise about focusing on adding photography, as I spent the last few days solving technical issues and making improvements around here.

Category URIs don’t have “category/” in them anymore, so you can get to the shop at richardxthripp.thripp.com/shop, which is what I’ve wanted for a while. I got this working with Top Level Cats.

The comment section for each entry has been totally redesigned. You can subscribe to comments (Subscribe to Comments plugin), preview comments without a page reload (AJAX Comment Preview plugin), and subscribe to an RSS feed for the comments on each entry. I moved stuff around and renamed stuff so it makes more sense; the “reply to” (for comment threading) is now at the top so that when you click a “Reply to this” link, you don’t have to scroll up to see the comment box. I use Yet Another Threaded Comments Plugin (YATCP) version 0.6.1, in which I accomplished this by moving <?php yatcp_show_comment_parents($post_ID); ?> up above the contact boxes in yatcp_comments.php, and delinking the reply box from the comment form (comment_form) by changing add_action('comment_form','yatcp_show_comment_parents'); to add_action('','yatcp_show_comment_parents'); in template_functions.php.

I added notifiers for disabled JavaScript, because the “Reply to this” links, comment previewing, and the shopping cart require it. Try disabling JavaScript in your browser to see what I mean.

When viewing individual entries, there is a link to the next and previous entries above the similar entries list (Related Posts 2.04 plugin, which has been taken offline by its creator). I added <?php previous_post_link(); ?><br /><?php next_post_link(); ?> in my theme’s index.php file for the previous and next entries feature.

If that isn’t enough, first-time commenters will get an automated thank-you email, with a plug for my RSS syndication feed. The Comment Relish plugin makes this easy to set up.

My cousin wanted his own website, so I set it up for him in the same WordPress installation at jt.thripp.com (which just redirects to his category at richardxthripp.jt.thripp.com). I added him to the banner and sidebar, and he’s already got some photos up. I’m using Role Manager, Bind User to Category, and Advanced Category Excluder, so that his entries stay off the home page, he can only post in his category, and he can’t go on a rampage destroying my website. The three plugins are playing nicely together.

I’m using SEO Title Tag to manually edit the titles of the home page, categories, and other pages; they’re more descriptive and search engine-optimized.

Admin Drop Down Menu makes it a breeze to navigate in the administrative section.

I thought I was adding too much stuff; I’m getting 35 MySQL queries on the home page, and 20 on most individual entries, with query times of 2-3 seconds on the home page and feed, and ~1 second on most individual entries. I have cheap shared hosting from Netfirms, and the WP-Cache plugin speeds up load time and reduces the server load, so this seems acceptable.

To make an even 13, I use Random Image Script for the random photos in my header. It isn’t actually a WordPress plugin, but it’s convenient because you can throw it in a directory with some images and call it like a normal image (an img scr HTML tag). To have three random photos, I just made three copies of the script. It’s an inefficient method, but it’s easy and the cool (or annoying) thing is the same images can show up in each box. Get three of a kind and you’re really lucky.

And finally, there is a bugs and problems page, where I list the problems remaining, which I don’t know how to fix and are fairly minor.

I’m $3.25 away from recouping my hosting costs on this website, though domain renewal is up in March and I’ll have to pay more for hosting in August. Save me from insolvency. :help: Buy three prints from the shop today—$3.85 shipped in the USA). :big-grin:

List of the plugins:
Top Level Cats
Subscribe to Comments
AJAX Comment Preview
Yet Another Threaded Comments Plugin (YATCP)
Related Posts (Original site, offline currently)
Comment Relish
Role Manager
Bind User to Category
Advanced Category Excluder
SEO Title Tag
Admin Drop Down Menu
WP-Cache
Random Image Script