March 2008: Plinkits: Pre-built Library Web Sites that Libraries Love
Plinkits are raining down in more than 100 libraries in Oregon, Texas, Illinois, and Colorado. No, Plinkits are not meteorological events: they are pre-built library Web sites that are full of content and easy to use. Plinkit, which stands for "Public Library Interface Kit," provides small libraries that have little to no web presence with a great Web site and the training necessary to update and maintain it, said Darci Hanning, Technology Development Consultant at the Oregon State Library.
"I tell people that if they can surf the Net and use Microsoft Word, they’ll be fine using Plinkit," Hanning said. "It takes me two hours to train someone over the phone. After the training, nine times out of ten, library staff will tell me ‘this will be fun.’" She teaches library staff how to modify and update existing web pages by logging on and navigating to a page. To change a page, they hit the edit button, make changes, and then save the page. To add a page is just as simple.
The Web site comes with pre-built templates and content that automatically updates features including book lists, bestseller lists, news headlines, Spanish content, and statewide virtual reference (which is an online chat with reference librarians). Libraries can add events to their calendars with specific content, an online address book for local community organizations, and a digital album for images. Oregon has a statewide database licensing program and contracts to provide libraries access to 28 databases of general, non-profit, medical, law, educational and academic periodicals. Each Plinkit site is configured to allow patrons to access these periodicals over the Internet.
"The larger library systems save a ton of money and tie their Web sites to statewide services and programs," Hanning said. "Library patrons are online and using the web, and need to be able to find their local library online and use the information resources available through their library."
Plinkit began as InformACTion in 2003, with the goals of providing content management tools, great Web site subject collections, and vital community information to 10 to12 small and medium-sized public libraries in Oregon. InformACTion was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library and sponsored by the Multnomah County Library, under the direction of Eva Miller. The hardware and software infrastructure was put into place, the initial Plinkit template and content was developed, and partner libraries were identified and trained to use Plinkit. In the fall of 2005, the Plinkit project was transferred to the Library Development Services of the Oregon State Library.
"I had 15 years of technical experience and had just received my Master’s of Library Science from the University of Washington, so I dove right in," Hanning said. She analyzed the pilot libraries and determined that the target audiences were small and rural libraries whose staff wouldn’t necessarily use the Web site every day. Since it is often difficult to remember how to work with a Web site when you aren’t accessing it daily, the state library created a 120-page full color user manual for additional support.
In the spring of 2006, the Plinkit Collaborative was formed by Colorado, Illinois, Oregon and Texas to support software development, training, documentation, and marketing activities. By December 2007, nearly 100 libraries were using Plinkit Web sites. Each partner state gets a seat on the steering committee, which is in charge of high-level oversight of the budget and membership. The Collaborative is currently accepting letters of interest from state and regional agencies that want to join the Collaborative starting July 1, 2008.
In addition to a steering committee member, inviting Plinkit into your state requires a project coordinator to promote it to local libraries and get feedback on what is working. Plinkit also requires a technical person who is comfortable working with the program, which is built using Plone, an open-source content management system. Sometimes the project coordinator is also the technical coordinator, noted Hanning.
Membership states are responsible for coordinating the deployment of Plinkit and training individual libraries in using and maintaining their individual Plinkit sites. States are also responsible for hosting their own server and installing the Plinkit software. In addition to providing a Plinkit template, the Collaborative provides the Plinkit Administrator's Manual to each partner state, a mailing list, and online resources to help the support the process of installing, configuring, and maintaining Plinkit. States also have the option of using a third-party hosting company.
Each state is encouraged to customize Plinkit for their libraries, Hanning said. In Oregon, Plinkit websites link to the Oregon School Library Information System (OSLIS), a gateway to the Internet designed for Oregon students and teachers, while maintaining the school library at the heart of student research. The OSLIS project is also supported by IMLS through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library. Larger libraries in some states occasionally ask for new features or rearrange Web site pages, but smaller libraries often leave Plinkit as is. A county-wide library system in Tillamook, Oregon is considering an online forum so they can share tips on using the databases and allow patrons to discuss their favorite books online. In Illinois, public libraries are required to publish their Board of Trustee meeting agendas and minutes, so Plinkit was customized to include additional templates to assist library staff in posting this information in a timely manner.
"I would like Plinkit to be in every state that wants to participate. We’re all about empowering library staff to do pretty much anything they want," Hanning said. "I would like to see the barriers removed so that states feel confident in hosting and staffing the Web sites for their small or rural libraries."