We’re closing in on the completion of the retheming of ala.org and all associated microsites, including all the division microsites on ala.org. The responsive nature of the redesign ensures that the sites will resize to display appropriately on cell phones, tablets and desktop computers. It will also bump us up in mobile search results.
ITTS used the retheming as an opportunity to make essential infrastructure upgrades to servers that include new set-ups of development, quality assurance and production web servers. Once the servers are ready, behind the scenes site migrations required to streamline ALA’s information architecture will take place. The changes to the information architecture reduce the number of ALA microsites by about half and will also reduce the time required to make site back-ups and to perform updates.
Retheming of microsites will commence following the site migrations. ITTS expects retheming to happen relatively quickly thanks to information sessions held with site stakeholders and the creation of a webform for them to communicate their final design choices.
We are accommodating units’ preferences for holding off their retheming based on event schedules, but expect to have all sites completed this spring.
Take a look at the paper design mock-ups to get an idea of what the sites will look like. (The global menus will have dropdowns, just like the current site, although an example hasn’t been shown in the mockups.)
ALA Connect is an online community where members, staff, and supporters of ALA gather virtually to do the work of the Association, collaborate in communities of practice and other groups, find cooperative and innovative colleagues, discuss library-related topics and issues, share ideas, and discover other ways to engage and participate.
What follows is an update on the forthcoming upgrade to ALA Connect, designed above all to support ALA members through a user-friendly platform that meets their needs, providing easy paths to share input, learn, and engage with ALA and its divisions, offices, and other units in multiple ways.
The new ALA Connect system is on track for a summer 2017 rollout. Three different vendors making a concerted effort with us to implement 33 different microsites with over 2,500 groups/communities, as well as to train users so the user experience is the best and most useful it can be.
Below is a list of high-level project milestones highlighting the work accomplished so far in coordination with the three vendors:
|Tagging Hierarchy feature added. Alterations to base code to accommodate our extensive need for tagging.||5/2016|
|Nested Communities created. Alterations to base code to accommodate the hierarchy and search function across unit sites. ALA identified and negotiated for 33 microsites to accommodate the Divisions, Round Tables, and the ALA-APA (Allied Professional Association).||5/2016|
|Membership Data Sync. Modifications to the system to import our membership data directly from ALA’s Membership database iMIS, with which ALA Connect will communicate directly.||8/2016|
|Interface Designer hired. The eConverse Social Media team began discovery with ALA.||10/2016|
|New Connect Logo designed. Stakeholders collaboratively selected a new logo created by the ALA Production Services department.||12/2016|
|New Connect Interface drafted. The first round of interface designs was delivered for review.||2/2017|
|Current Connect Groups review. ITTS started work with the administrators of 2,500+ groups and communities to document what content needed migrating into the new Connect system, so everyone will have full access to the content they identified for migration.||2/2017|
|Profile work begins. Work has begun to develop new ALA Connect profile pages so users can update their contact and demographic information there, and it will then automatically update in ALA’s Membership database.||3/2017|
As the proposed launch date would have been too close to the ALA Annual Conference, a soft launch is planned for late July/early August. The full implementation is scheduled for September 2017. This will allow time to develop and communicate best practices for working with all groups in the new system. It will also allow time for ALA staff to conduct thorough training for all users during the summer months. The Connect URL (connect.ala.org) and user credentials will remain the same in the new version of Connect. Since it is not possible to have both systems running at the same time, the old system will not be available once the soft launch begins.
We are investigating the possibility of creating a sandbox copy to use for training during the final migration, in which case we will offer 90-minute in-person and remote training sessions at multiple times and dates to accommodate different time zones. Recorded sessions and learning videos will also be available. We are planning sessions by user role, but also seek user feedback on tasks that are critical, so we can include them in the training.
Training by Roles
1.0 ALA Web-Related
1.1 eCommerce for Join/Renew/Rejoin/Donate
Approximately 900 members have renewed through the new system. There have also been around 251 donations. We had a few glitches which have required some fixes and data cleanups. We have modified all the menu links on the ALA website to point to the new dues & donations eCommerce system. Menu links on division sites (e.g., Join PLA) are now smart links that add the division into the cart for the user.
1.2 New eStore and eLearning Ecommerce System
ALA Publishing decided to accelerate the move from our current fulfillment vendor to another vendor to provide better customer service. This required some store re-programming of the current store integration for the new vendor. The new vendor took over on December 12, 2016. This project became a priority for ITTS to assist Publishing with the integration work.
The eLearning ecommerce project has been moving forward but due to the lack of vendor support for the current online store the new online store project took priority. We are now looking at launching an integrated store that includes both sites at approximately the same time in 2017.
1.3 Responsive Theme for ALA.ORG and Division Websites
We had to upgrade the infrastructure to the latest technology to be able to rollout the theming on the new sites. We would like to rollout the new infrastructure to support the rollout of the new theme prior to Midwinter if possible. As Midwinter is fast approaching, we suspect this upgrade will occur afterward.
1.4 Search Engine
We have indexed most of the sites on the new Google Search Appliance (GSA), but we must launch the responsive design prior to the GSA rollout to avoid doing the search engine integration work twice.
1.5 New Generation ALA Connect
We have encountered unanticipated challenges with the new ALA Connect project implementation. We will post a revised timeline after the Midwinter meeting. When we are ready to launch, the current site will be locked down for two weeks to migrate content from the old ALA Connect to the new ALA Connect. There will be training videos available to members. More details about the features and the schedules can be found at http://connect.ala.org/node/257398 in ALA Connect.
This fall we upgraded the Moodle software to 3.0 and then combined our two Moodle courseware sites. Most of the courses have been migrated to the new site. The site is being used by ALA Publishing, the divisions and other units.
1.7 Accessibility Testing Protocols
ITTS will be evaluating Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in January 2017 to see if it meets our accessibility standards.
ITTS is working to install Shibboleth single sign-on software for Digitell and eShow for AASL’s online recordings and National Conference registration systems, respectively.
As part of our email migration, we changed our outbound mail routing for Sympa. Our monthly minimum of 5,000,0000 messages per month limited our choices. We selected MailChannels as a relay host. There have been challenges. Most are caused by a flaw in the MailChannels spam detection system. They fail to detect a subject on messages, even though all Sympa messages have a subject. Since they don’t detect a subject, the mail is bounced as spam. A large list (some of ours are over 6,000 subscribers) generates enough false positives that our account is flagged as sending spam, which results in a temporary ban on all email. After providing detailed log reports to MailChannels, they have confirmed that they are investigating the bug. In the meantime, they have disabled this rule for our account. We have seen a vast improvement in mail delivery since this rule was disabled. They are still actively investigating the issue.
2.0 Hardware & Software
2.1 Office 365
In early September, we successfully moved our email from our hosted provider to Microsoft to prepare a move to Office 365. Office 2016 was successfully installed on 350 staff PCs. The installation was completed on December 8, 2016. We are investigating our next Office 365 steps.
2.2 New Telephone System
ITTS has been meeting with our telecommunications consultant and various vendors to put a RFP together for a new telephone system.
We are upgrading staff access to our internal file shares.
We are replacing our Citrix farm with the current version. This will improve external access to some of our applications and stabilize our internal financial system.
3.0 ITTS Organizational Changes
Our new eStore System Project Manager, Steven Pate started December 5th. He is managing the implementation of the new online store, which will include online learning. We are also searching for a data/business analyst to work with the divisions on member engagement. We currently have four ITTS staff members taking intermittent family leave for various reasons. Some of our timelines may have to be adjusted going forward.
3.2 New Proposed Website Advisory Committee (WAC) Title and Charge Change
The ALA Website Advisory Committee recommends that the charge of the committee be expanded to include all ALA technology services and products, whether used by ALA members, staff, or the public. They recommend the title be changed to the ALA Information Technology Advisory Committee. Ron Block, Chair of the ALA Website Advisory Committee, and Sherri Vanyek, Director ITTS, will meet with the Committee on Organization (COO) at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Atlanta for approval.
Sherri Vanyek, Director ITTS
To prepare for another later maintenance task, we must shutdown our Chicago data center. We plan to do so this Friday, September 30, at 6:00 pm. It’s a full shutdown, including all internal and external facing servers. Since there are 180 servers in scope, we won’t enumerate every service. If you’re in the building, there’s a good likelihood that you’ll have external internet access.
1.0 ALA Web-Related
1.1 Ecommerce for Join/Renew/Rejoin/Donate
ITTS’ most significant project this year is the development and launching of a new dues and donations ecommerce system. The system will make the join, renew, rejoin, and donation processes more straightforward for members. Members of the Executive Board, the Website Advisory Committee and ALA staff assisted with user acceptance testing so that we could compile a final list of bugs and requests for interface changes to better support the user experience. Our vendor is close to completing that work so we will be scheduling what we expect to be a final round of testing later this month. If all goes well, we expect to launch in July. ITTS staffers Sherri Vanyek, Tim Smith, Mitch Stein, Stan Kessler and Louise Gruenberg have been dedicating significant time to this project.
1.2 New Estore System
Due to support issues for the existing ALA Publishing estore, this project was moved up from fiscal 2017 so that work could begin this year. The store requirements document developed during three days of discovery sessions with ALA Publishing and ITTS runs to 34 pages. To expedite getting the new store ready, ITTS will begin exploring the possibility of a minimum-viable-product launch with ALA Publishing.
Because work began on the Dues & Donations project and eLearning Portal preceded the store, we are attempting to leverage all appropriate development and integrate whatever we can for a more seamless user experience. Shifting resources to this important project has impacted others, but we expect the new store to launch during calendar year 2017.
1.3 New Ecommerce eLearning Portal
ITTS has had to devote considerable resources to determining the functionalities of the event based web services available for iMIS so that progress on the eLearning portal, the one stop shop for online and small in-person event registrations, could proceed. We’ve been reviewing current ALA systems and processes so that the new site will streamline the user experience and reduce the effort required to create events, process and service registrations. We expect the portal will launch during fiscal 2016 or early 2017.
1.4 New Responsive Design for ALA.org
ITTS is working on the implementation of a responsive redesign for the main ALA website. The new development server required has been created and our vendor has successfully shifted the database onto it and begun planning and/or making updates to things like the version of PHP and code-repository software used.
Once we have a prototype of the ALA.org homepage with the new theme to share, ITTS will be scheduling sessions with division and other stakeholders to share a proposed timeline and discuss the resources required to apply the redesign to each microsite. The current timeline for ALA.org calls for the homepage redesign and theme changes to occur early in fiscal 2017, with rolling changes to all other microsites happening thereafter, as fast as ITTS and their units can prepare them.
1.5 Search Engine for ALA.org
As reported in the Midwinter ITTS report to WAC, most of ALA.org is now using Google Custom Search to provide search results. However, we have been at work on the configuration of a Google Search Appliance. Testing of the search results for the specialized groupings and microsites has just begun. When results are satisfactory, the current ALA.org search boxes will be changed to point to the search engine.
To improve metadata collection on ALA.org, we have revised all relevant content management system templates to require the addition of metadata. Although not yet implemented on the live site, we’re testing the Drupal Metatag module on our QA site. The Metatag module can be configured with tokens to auto-fill various metadata fields across a number of standards, including Open Graph, Dublin Core and various social media fields. When the Metatag module is implemented on production, ITTS will schedule lunch and learn sessions for staff.
1.6 Next Generation ALA Connect
The following progress is being made on the installation of the New ALA Connect:
What does this mean?
1.7 Accessibility Testing Protocols
ITTS continues to test the conference registration, program and recording sites for accessibility compliance before site launches. When sites are not in compliance, we work with unit staff and vendors to arrange for mitigation. Because it’s impossible to test with every possible platform, we appreciate receiving feedback about any accessibility issues that members or others experience, and always pass that information along to our vendors.
ITTS will be working to install Shibboleth on all the new ecommerce sites before they launch.
The implementation of Office 365 is underway and we’re looking at solutions for routing Sympa outbound email.
2.0 Hardware & Software
2.1 Office 365
ITTS is working on the implementation of Office 365, which provides staff with the ability to access and share files remotely. The project will be divided into two phases. The email migration and outbound routing of Sympa list server email will be the first phase and the installation of Microsoft Office products (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) will be installed in the second phase. The first phase is scheduled to rollout this summer.
2.2 New Blade Servers
We purchased three new blade servers for our internal and external network to retire older blade servers that were about to go unsupported. These new blade servers are faster and more efficient and will help support our new ecommerce systems and ala.org.
3.0 ITTS Organizational Changes
Julianna Kloeppel joined the ITTS team as our new elearning specialist in January 2016. She trains staff on new and existing technologies used by ALA staff and members. Julianna provided eight years of great customer service to members and staff of ALA’s Public Library Association. For PLA, Julianna worked on the awards program, committee appointments, coordination of financials, board and committee coordination, conference meeting scheduling and much more. She is sharing her expertise with iMIS, SharePoint and other ALA software and applications with all of ALA’s staff and member-leaders.
4.0 ALA Strategic Technology Directions Report
ITTS continues to work on priority projects outlined in the ALA Strategic Technology Directions Update: 2016-2017 report and a majority of the items outlined in the External IT Review Report.
Please let me know if you have questions about any of these items.
In late fall 2015, ALA Management contracted with two individuals to work together on an external review of ALA’s Office of Information and Telecommunication Services (ITTS) systems: Brian Schottlaender, University Librarian, University of California-San Diego, and Margo Pecoulas, Director of IT, American Academy of Periodontology. Together, they brought both knowledge of the association IT environment, including specific product knowledge, and deep knowledge of ALA – its structure, values and culture. The ALA ITTS office has posted the External IT Review Report delivered in April of 2016 along with the ALA management response for Fiscal 2017.
The ALA Information Technology & Telecommunication Services (ITTS) has revised the timelines in the ALA Strategic Technology Directions Update: 2016-2017 report and added three more sections (10: Library Catalog, 11: Awards & Grants Database, and 12: Institutional Repository (ALAIR)).
Sherri Vanyek Director, Information Technology & Telecommunication Services
As of 12/14/2015, most of ALA.org is now using Google Custom Search to provide search results. Google Custom Search is a free service that searches all ALA resources and displays the results on our site. Thus it automatically provides federated search of far flung ALA resources, such as public portions of connect.ala.org, the Midwinter and Annual Conference websites, and ALA blogs and wikis.
ALA’s American Association of School Librarians elected to join the experiment to evaluate Google Custom Search, while the rest of ALA’s divisions chose to retain Apache Solr for the time being. This allows us to compare and contrast search results from the two systems while we are working with our search consultants to develop a strategic plan for ALA enterprise search that will be available in January. Future plans already include a revision of all content management system templates to require the addition of metadata. We’re also exploring ways to add metadata to downloadable files. We expect that there will be a staff training initiative in the development of quality metadata.
As a non-profit, ALA is able to use the ad free version of Google Custom Search, but sites using the search must retain Google’s branding, visible in the search box and at the bottom of the results page.
We encourage our site visitors to help us evaluate the two different systems as we work toward a plan to improve enterprise search. After 12/15/2015, please take five minutes to provide feedback at http://www.ala.org/support/search-feedback.
Here are a few examples of common searches and the results retrieved using Google:
We’re happy to report progress on the path to migrating ALA Connect to a new platform. In June, the New ALA Connect Platform Task Force selected Higher Logic’s system, and ITTS began working with them on an implementation plan.
For the past few months, the biggest issue we’ve had to work through together has been how best to incorporate ALA’s divisions into the site. The vendor is now busy making changes to the software so that each division, as well as ALA-APA, will have its own microsite for all of its groups, with some unique branding and the ability to run statistical reports.
Our updated timeframe for launching the new platform is March/April 2016. There’s a lot of work to do to get everything ready in the coming months, so we’re happy to announce that Pam Akins will be taking over the migration and management of the new Connect. You may already know Pam as ITTS’ amazing trainer, and now she’s been promoted to the position of “Community Engagement Specialist” and is already beginning to help with the process. In fact, she just came back from the Higher Logic Super Forum (their annual user group meeting), so she’s already delving into what the new system can do.
The Task Force guiding the process met last week and decided to keep the name “ALA Connect” because it already has traction within the membership and any other name would be so similar that it might cause confusion to try explain the difference. As one TF member noted, everyone is already calling the new site “the new ALA Connect,” so we’re going to build on that recognition.
However, to help illustrate that Connect will be running on a new system, ITTS will work with a designer to change the logo, interface, and possibly the color palette (if possible, we might try to match the colors used on ala.org). We’re not sure yet if the Mentor Match and Volunteer Match modules will be part of the initial launch or if they’ll be implemented later in phase two.
As work progresses, we’ll continue to post updates to the ITTS News blog.