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04 May 15 ALA RFP for a SaaS Community Platform

The American Library Association seeks a vendor to host its professional collaboration and networking site, ALA Connect, which supports 2,600+ groups and 64,000+ users. Currently built in Drupal, ALA Connect allows users to post content to groups, join open groups, add members as friends, participate in a mentor matching service, and post a volunteer opportunity. In terms of collaboration, group tools currently include discussion forums, collaborative documents, files, polls, text-based chats, and calendars.

Responses are due by Tuesday, May 26, 2015, at 9:00am CDT, and contact information is available in the document.

2015 ALA Connect RFP – American Library Association (324KB, PDF)

27 Apr 15 Investigating a New ALA Connect

ALA has decided to move ALA Connect from its current Drupal environment to an externally-hosted community platform. We’ve fast-tracked this project in the hope we can launch the new version this fall.

Important things to know as we move forward:

  • We are committed to maintaining the Connect service and importing all current Connect content into the new system.
  • ADA-compliance will continue to be at the top of our list of requirements.
  • We will replicate as much of the current functionality as makes sense and is possible, with the addition of new features such as member matching (find members who match my interests), group matching (find groups that match my interests), digital badges for member profiles, and more community-based features.
  • Non-ALA members will still be able to participate on the site, albeit with less access than ALA members, just like in the current Connect.

As we write a RFP for the new system and select a vendor, we’re including feedback throughout the process from both ALA staff and the ALA Website Advisory Committee (WAC). We’ll be posting the RFP and updates about our progress, so keep an eye on the ITTS News blog and the ALAConnect Twitter account.

06 Apr 15 ALA Connect down on April 7 for Shibboleth integration

On Tuesday, April 7th, ALA Connect will be down as we begin the process to implement ALA’s Shibboleth single sign-on integration. Because we’re also migrating user data from Connect to iMIS (our Association Management Software that stores all of our member data), it’s a more complex process than just changing the login, which is why it will take 24 hours to complete all of the steps.

Note that this also means the 2015 Annual Conference website will also be down during this same timeframe.

What does this mean for me?

  • For members, the authentication process won’t really change. However, when you log in to ala.org, if you then go to Connect, you’ll automatically be logged in there, and vice versa. In fact, this single sign-on process already works across all of ALA’s Shibboleth sites, including conference registration and when accessing conference recordings. We’re excited to add Connect and the conference schedulers to that list to make logins work better for you across all of our services.
  • Starting on Thursday, April 9th, everyone will use their ala.org username and password to log in to Connect. It’s been confusing for non-members to use a separate login, but luckily now everyone will log in the same way. Non-members will be able to use their existing ala.org login on the conference schedulers, too.
  • For staff, it means they can manage non-member participation on official ALA groups using only iMIS rosters, which will be a big help for them since they have to rely on ITTS staff to do that now.
  • Long-term, this is also the first step to combining Connect and ala.org profiles into one so that you can update all of your information in one place. This will happen later this month when the dust from the Shibboleth implementation settles.

So what exactly is going to happen?

Starting around 11am CDT on Tuesday, April 7th, Connect will be down while we begin the work. It will take several hours for the large amount of user data to synchronize into iMIS and make sure everything is working properly. Once we have the all clear, Connect will come back up on Wednesday, April 8th, probably around noon Central Time. We’ll then begin implementing Shibboleth, which will go live on Thursday, April 9th.

Your best bet to track our progress and get updates is by checking the @ALAConnect Twitter account, but you can also leave a comment/question here or email me (Jenny) at jlevine [at] ala.org.

We’re confident everything will go well, but we’re still accepting your well wishes and crossed fingers. See you in Shibboleth soon!

07 Oct 14 Short downtime for ALA Connect on Oct 9, 7-8pm CDT

We’ll be doing some maintenance on the Connect server the evening of Thursday, October 9, 2014, from 7-8pm Central Time, which means the site will be unavailable during that time. We apologize for the inconvenience, but the work should go quickly. Watch Twitter for status updates.

02 Oct 14 Catching up on some ITTS projects

I’ve been out of the office for a couple of weeks, so I’m playing catch up on the projects I’m involved in, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about our progress. This is hardly a comprehensive list, but it’s great to be able to share positive progress.

Windows 7 Upgrade

It was a huge project, but we now have all staff workstations in the Chicago office upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7, including updated printer drivers and the annual cycling in of new computers for some staff. I wasn’t involved in this, except that my workstation got upgraded and I’m a million times more productive now, so yay team. Although I saw the hiccups behind-the-scenes, I was impressed with how smoothly the transition went thanks to the extensive planning and testing that other ITTS staff and consultants did.

iMIS 20 Upgrade

This is another project that I’m not directly working on, but it affects my projects because iMIS is the system that manages all of our member, committee, dues, CE, and registration data. This is a big number upgrade with some behind-the-scenes changes to the setup, not just a patch. The whole project has been complicated greatly by ALA’s extensive customizations of the iMIS software, as well as the fact that our ecommerce system is 10-years old.

The team working on this has hit roadblock after roadblock trying to get the new iMIS software and web services to work with our old ecommerce system, and they’ve smashed every one of them. If all goes well, we’ll implement this upgrade later this month. Watch for more information about this because there may be some downtime associated with it since we’re talking about the system that’s at the heart of the Association’s infrastructure.

Shibboleth for ALA Connect and the Conference Schedulers

The completion of the iMIS upgrade is great news for Connect and the Conference Schedulers because it means we can move those sites to Shibboleth. This means single sign-on between these sites and ala.org. You’ll finally be able to log in to any of these sites with your regular ala.org username and password and then be logged in to all of the other sites automatically (non-members, too). Huzzah! Our goal is for this to happen in early November before the 2015 Midwinter Scheduler opens.

ALA Connect Survey

This isn’t really a project update so much as a reminder to fill out the ALA Connect survey if you haven’t already done so. Besides the fact you could get an iPad Mini in return for your responses, your feedback will help us improve the site. We want to hear from everyone – members, non-members, frequent Connect users, infrequent Connect users, international folks, tall people, short people, basically everyone, which includes you.

Profile Management Project

The iMIS upgrade is the first domino in a series of projects that have been unable to move forward until it’s completed. The second domino is Shibboleth for Connect and the schedulers, and the third combines ala.org and Connect profiles into a single profile that can easily be managed from either site. Phase one combines all of the data into one profile and future phases will expand the amount and types of data we make visible to you in your profile, including expiration dates for member dues (finally!), lists of continuing education activities completed, past conference registrations, and more. Our goal is for you to implement phase one in November.

New Ecommerce System

And now we get to the biggest domino in the path, the ecommerce system that desperately needs to be replaced. With the iMIS upgrade almost done, we’re scheduling meetings with potential vendors for later this month. It will still be a months-long selection process while we involve all of the various stakeholders and go though contract negotiations, but if this project stays on track then we’re in good shape for a 2015 (calendar year) implementation.

So that’s a quick update on some of the things that happened while I was gone. I’m thinking I need to take more vacations. 😉

 

03 Sep 14 Help us improve ALA Connect!

Five years, one redesign, and dozens of new features after its launch in 2009, we’re doing our largest feedback survey to date to learn how ALA Connect is working for you and how we can make it even better.

We’re asking both ALA members and non-members to fill out the online survey, which will be open through Sunday, October 12, 2014. Everyone who completes it will be entered into a drawing for an iPad Mini.

We’re also seeking ALA members who will participate in a one-hour site review and feedback session with $75 compensation. The ALA members who wish to participate must be either new to ALA Connect or have visited the website, but have not previously engaged in group discussions or forums on the site. The valuable input gathered from the interview will help launch a redesign of the site that encourages collaboration among ALA members. Please contact helen@urbaninsight.com if you’re interested in participating in this more granular feedback session.

25 Jun 14 ALA’s Opportunities Exchange makes more than 800 assistantships, grants, and scholarships searchable online

We’re excited to announce that you can now search the 800+ awards listed in the Financial Assistance for Library & Information Studies (FALIS) Directory in the Opportunities Exchange in ALA Connect.

The FALIS Directory is maintained by ALA’s Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR). All of the awards can now be searched by type (assistantship, fellowship, scholarship), library type (academic, public, school), education program level (Masters, Doctorate), state, keyword, and more. The Directory is also still available as a PDF.

This effort brings together in one place the more than 800+ FALIS awards with dozens of additional opportunities within the library profession for calls for proposal, equipment, freelance work, giveaways, grants, job exchanges, research surveys, volunteering, and more.

Originally started in 2010 as one of then-ALA President Jim Rettig’s initiatives, the Opportunities Exchange was conceived of as a craigslist for the library world. Anyone with an account on ALA Connect can add a new opportunity to the OppEx. Users can also save searches and request email alerts when new opportunities are added that match the interests listed in their Connect profiles.

See the Help section of the Opportunities Exchange for more information about this valuable resource and how you can add an opportunity to the database.

24 Jun 14 Committee term end dates changing for June 30th

As we’ve done in past years when committee terms end during Annual, ITTS will be changing the end date on all committee terms ending on June 30, 2014, to July 13, 2014. The change will take place the night of June 30th, so anyone with an end date of 6/30/2014 in iMIS will automatically be changed to an end date of 7/13/2014. This will allow them to continue to access their Connect groups through Sunday, July 13.

The night of July 13, we’ll set the end dates back to June 30 so that they will be removed from the Connect rosters for Monday, July 14. Please let your committee members know that they need to finish their work in Connect before 7/14/2014 if their terms end on June 30.

Anyone with a start date of July 1 will be moved back to a start date of July 14.

When all is said and done after July 14, committee terms in iMIS will reflect their original dates, and rosters will be current to reflect the original start and end dates.

20 Feb 14 Report on Usage of ALA Connect

After some discussion about ALA Connect on the ALA Council mailing list last month (here and here), I put together a report about Connect usage because just glancing at the site can leave the impression that it isn’t being used very much when in fact the numbers show the opposite. This PDF report is current as of January 16, 2014 (there’s also an accessible PDF version).

One thing in particular I want to note is that when someone posts something to a Connect group, the default setting is for it to be private so that only the group’s members can see it. This was done deliberately because many award juries, nominating committees, boards, and other groups that discuss confidential subjects needed to be sure their content was secure by default.

However, there’s a box on every piece of content that the  author can check to make that post public so that anyone in the world can see it without even logging in to Connect. When someone views the Connect home page and isn’t logged in, they only see public content.

When someone is logged in and looks at the home page, they only see content from their groups. This person can’t see the content being posted privately to other groups, so looking at Connect groups you’re not a member of might not show anything new if nothing was explicitly made “public.” In fact, there might be quite a bit of activity going on but you just can’t see it. It’s the same as not being a member of an email list – as a non-member, you can’t see the posts to a private mailing list, but that doesn’t mean the subscribers aren’t using it.

That’s why I put this report together, to present a more general snapshot beyond just what an individual user can see by scanning the site. Look at the data and decide for yourself if people are using Connect or not and then please share your thoughts about how we can improve it to make it even better. We’ll be doing a survey later this spring to collect broad input, but jump in now if you have ideas.

Note that in the next few months, we’ll be implementing a Doodle-like module for scheduling meetings, adding 5,000 financial assistance grants/scholarships to the Opportunities Exchange, and implementing the new search engine that ala.org is using (Apache Solr). We’re also working on a way to email content in to a group so that you don’t have to visit the website to start a discussion.

In FY15, we’ll revamp MentorConnect, match users to groups they might want to join, and create a mobile app (for starters).

What else can we add or change to make Connect work well for you?

– Jenny Levine, ITTS (jlevine [at] ala.org)

11 Dec 13 ALA Connect downtime from 6:00-6:30pm on Dec 12

Just a quick heads up that ALA Connect will be down from 6:00-6:30pm CST on Thursday, December 12th, while we install some Drupal updates. We’ll give the “all clear” signal on our Twitter account when the site is back up.