03 Jan 17 Information Technology & Telecommunication Services (ITTS) Update

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 in ALA Connect.

1.6 Moodle
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.

1.8 Shibboleth
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.

1.9 Sympa
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.

2.3 Filr
We are upgrading staff access to our internal file shares.

2.4 Citrix
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

3.1 Staffing

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


28 Sep 16 Maintenance Friday, September 30 – Full internal/external server shutdown

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.




16 Jun 16 Information Technology & Telecommunication Services (ITTS) Update

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

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 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 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

As reported in the Midwinter ITTS report to WAC, most of 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 search boxes will be changed to point to the search engine.

To improve metadata collection on, 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:

  1. Model Site
    We have a model site of the new Connect that can nest the Divisions, Round Tables and APA.  Although we suffered a setback waiting for needed changes that Higher Logic applied to their base code (for other clients, not just us) in late April 2016, we have begun initial testing of these capabilities in the new software.
  1. iMIS Sync
    With much effort and communication between ITTS and Higher Logic, we now have evidence of a working data sync between the ALA iMIS database and the new Connect test site. The iMIS data was initially synced over Memorial Day weekend.

What does this mean?

  1. The team is working to confirm that the database connections accurately display changes made to the iMIS data in the new Connect test site.
  2. Now that we can see ALA’s iMIS data in the test site, we can resolve issues and confirm everything is working properly.
  3. The sync reveals the need to add iMIS fields for data that was either stored in Drupal, (i.e. profile data) or wasn’t previously captured.
  4. As expected, the sync is revealing the need for data cleanup, in iMIS for consistency and usability.
  1. Drupal Import
    In addition to data stored in iMIS, the current ALA Connect has content and profile data in Drupal. The planned one-time import from Drupal will need to be timed carefully with the launch.  The team is working with Urban Insight (our Drupal consultant for ALA Connect) on a plan for this migration of data.
  2. RFP for Design
    Now that we can see what the microsites look like and how the various features work on them, we need an effective design that  allows users to easily flow between the divisions, ALA Offices, Round Tables, and APA.  The RFP for a consultant to design a usable and efficient interface is in its final stage and will be released in June 2016 to four select vendors with Higher Logic experience..  In the meantime, the team has partnered with ALA Production Services for theming for microsite branding to be deployed across the microsites so members know which site within they are on once they arrive on the new Connect site.
  3. Modified Launch Date
    The team hopes to be able to launch the New Connect in late fall 2016, FY 2017.

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.

1.8 Shibboleth

ITTS will be working to install Shibboleth on all the new ecommerce sites before they launch.

1.9 Sympa

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

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.

Sherri Vanyek
Director, Information Technology & Telecommunication Services
American Library Association
Phone: (800) 545-2433 x2437
Direct:  (312) 280-2437

13 Jun 16 ALA External IT Review Report

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.

11 Apr 16 Major Technology Infrastructure Plans

This report provides an update on ALA’s major technology plans for the remainder of FY2016, project plans for FY2017, and plans for FY2018 and beyond.


28 Dec 15 ALA Strategic Technology Directions Update: 2016-2017

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

15 Dec 15 Help Us Evaluate A Different Search Engine

As of 12/14/2015, most of 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, 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

Here are a few examples of common searches and the results retrieved using Google:


28 Oct 15 Update on ALA Connect Migration

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 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.

17 Sep 15 ALA Strategic Technology Directions Update: 2016-2017

The ALA Information Technology & Telecommunication Services (ITTS) has updated the ALA Strategic Technology Directions Report.  The report outlines major accomplishments for fiscal 2015 and plans for 2016/2017 fiscal years.  It provides a good foundation to understand how technology is implemented at ALA to meet the goals of the organization and explains the role of ITTS within ALA.

The diagrams in the report show the complexity of the implemented technologies and how they integrate with each other.  For example, our conference registration companies retrieve iMIS (our Association Management System) data to recognize ALA members and treat them as such, removing the need to re-enter known information.  The ALA Technology Services diagram on page 2 shows all of the integrations between systems.

With only 9.5 employees, ITTS supports software and hardware for our 11 divisions, 20 round tables, 55,000 members, and 25 offices with approximately 240 staff.

On page 3 of the report there is an updated infographic containing 2014 ITTS statistics.  For example, we received 4,048 help desk requests in 2014.  This number is understated because we aren’t able to log every call or hallway conversation.  Help desk requests are usually individual problems, and as such they don’t represent large scale projects.  We maintain 300 databases, 120 virtual servers, and 27 physical servers, in addition to the services we manage that are provided/maintained by 31 different consulting firms. We had 25.3 million pageviews on our website, and 22% of our members use ALA Connect.

A few sections have been redacted from the report because they contain sensitive security information.


Sherri Vanyek Director, Information Technology & Telecommunication Services

American Library Association

13 Jul 15 Sympa List Management Software Upgrade

We are experiencing blocking of outbound email from Sympa because of inadvertent passage of actual spam. The upgrade to Sympa includes enhancements for managing email which should reduce the possibility of Spam.  After implementation, we must request review by our Spam detection provider to remove the outbound block.

We have 72,533 unique users that are members of active lists (with the majority being members of more than one list) and 88 gigabytes of archives. Sympa processes approximately 100 emails per minute.

We are using this upgrade to bring our list processing practices in line with current best practices. Passwords for the web interface must be reset – after the upgrade users must perform password recovery.  We will validate list subscribers.  The method has yet to be determined.  We are developing a communication about these changes.

We estimate it will take today and tomorrow to perform the upgrade and hope to have everything back online by EOB on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.