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Widgets and Widgetry for Librarians: Copy, Paste, and Relax [Available Full-Text, Free]

By Aaron Schmidt - Posted Mar 1, 2008
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Students can easily overlook websites that aren’t filled with often changing content. Do you think you’re too busy to devote time and effort to attract users to the great resources available on your library website? If you can simply copy and paste, think again! With no coding skills you can set up your websites to continually display fresh content.

This is no scam. The web is getting easier to use. Once upon a time, Google laid out a framework for displaying custom Google Maps (http://maps.google.com) on private webpages. Pioneering web workers had to register for a Google Maps API and hand code XML to make the map display as they wanted. Now, however, that struggle is long over, because they’ve made the process much easier. All you need to do is copy, paste, and relax. In this article you’ll learn how to embed Google Maps on your website, along with a few other widgets.

Geek Talk

You don’t need a spell from Hogwarts to make exciting multimedia appear on your website. It isn’t magic—it’s RSS and JavaScript. Thanks to the power of Web 2.0, we don’t need to understand the intricacies of these two fabulous and geeky topics. The web has sorted all of it out and made it easy for us to use. All you need to know to use the tools listed below is that after some (easy to do) customization, you’ll see a little bit of code to copy and paste into your website, blog post, or blog’s sidebar. Don’t even worry that you’ll be dealing with a bit of code. The copying and pasting you’ll be doing is exactly the same as if you were working with a word processing document.

Dazzle ’Em With Video

A great place to start practice copying and pasting code is with online video, not only because it produces such great results but because it is so simple. YouTube, blip.tv, Google Video, and TeacherTube all provide snippets of code with which you can embed video on a website. The code is located in a different place on each site (see Figure 1 for an example of what you should look for). TeacherTube provides code for a few types of websites.

If you can’t find any videos (among the millions available) that you want to include on your website, you can post your own. You can put video directly online from a webcam using the Quick Capture feature. An excellent video series to emulate is "The One Minute Critic" from the public library in Vancouver, Wash. In the series, librarians do quick and to-the-point book reviews and book talks (see Figure 2 and check out http://crashsolo.blip.tv).

Easy Does it Chatting

If you’re communicating with faculty members and students via instant messaging (IM), you need to use the meebo me widget (www.meebome.com). This handy tool will display a chat box on your website to let visitors send IMs to your screen name. Don’t be concerned about privacy issues because meebo me doesn’t act as a chat room. Only the individuals on the other end of your conversations will receive your responses. Once you register for a (quick and free) meebo ID, you can customize the color, size, and title of your meebo me box. Meebo will give you a little piece of code to copy and paste where you want the box to appear. Paste it in, save the page, and you’ll be chatting in no time. Recently, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (Topeka, Kan.) added a meebo me box to the "no result" page in its OPAC. This gives searchers the opportunity to contact the library when they might need it most. Read more about this at David Lee King’s post "Fun With our Meebo Widget and the Library Catalog" (http://tinyurl.com/yv3hd2).

Show and Tell

Are you collecting photos on Flickr? If you are, you can do more with the content that you’re collecting. Flickr offers an easily customizable badge to display photo thumbnails on your website. While this is good for directing people to your profile on Flickr, it doesn’t really let people see your photos. Flickrshow (www.flickrshow.com) offers an easy way to display a slide show of your images directly on your own website.

The YouTube of Presentations: SlideShare

Do the teachers in your school use PowerPoint for their class lectures? If so, you could be archiving those lectures online for students to view again. Like all of these tools, you don’t need to worry about writing any code or converting any file formats for the web. When you upload PDFs and PowerPoint files to SlideShare (www.slideshare.net), they’ll be displayed in a handy online viewer. By pasting a bit of code, you can display the presentations on your website. This could create a lot of nighttime traffic on the library media center (LMC) website when students need to make sure they’ve taken thorough notes.

Widget Wonderland From Google

Google is onboard with providing widgets for many of its tools. Two particularly useful bits of code for an LMC website are available from Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar) and Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/).

Displaying your LMC schedule for all students and faculty members to see is easy to do with Google Calendar. To find the code for embedding a Google Calendar, you’ll have to navigate to the "settings" page for your calendar, click on the name of the calendar you want to display (if you have more than one calendar), and then find the "Embed This Calendar" section under "Calendar Details." Click on the available link to change the type of calendar you want to display (weekly, monthly, or agenda) and to choose the colors for your calendar.

The easiest way to embed a Google Map into a webpage is to click on the "Link to this page" link that appears above the upper-right corner of every Google map. Then copy the code found under "Paste HTML to embed in website." As with most of these widgets, you can customize the map there too. But wait, there’s more. Using Google Maps’ My Maps feature, you can annotate maps with pinpoints, lines, and shapes. The possibilities for creating interactive maps related to your school’s neighborhood are unlimited. You might be considered a hero if you create a guide to the best surrounding restaurants and include it on your school’s intranet.

Share Tasty Links With del.icio.us

Libraries often need to justify their existence, and one way to do this is by marketing the skills of librarians. Why not market the fact that as a librarian you’re tuned in to neat and useful things on the web? Even better, you can do this by using a neat and useful tool on the web. Take a look at the linkroll option from del.icio.us. "Linkrolls are a way for you to have your latest del.icio.us bookmarks displayed as part of your website," claims the del.icio.us website (http://del.icio.us/help/linkrolls; you’ll need to create a free del.icio.us account and login). Once you customize the linkroll and paste the code into your website, each time you post a link to del.icio.us, it will appear in your linkroll (see Figure 3). Consider using this widget to display a link of the day or a list such as "What I’ve Seen Today."

Using Blogger

You could do far worse than using the popular weblog site Blogger (www.blogger.com) when trying to learn about website widgets. The entire layout section of Blogger is based on widgets that you can arrange by dragging and dropping them around the screen. Blogger calls them Page Elements (see Figure 4). There are a variety of widgets available, including polls, lists, pictures, news headlines, and more.

A Step Further with Feed2JS

Feed2JS (http://feed2js.org) is an amazing tool that will display any RSS feed on your website. When the RSS feed is updated (e.g., The New York Times posts a new story or a new item is cataloged in your RSS-enabled OPAC), the new content appears on your website. Use this tool to get your LMC blog’s feed displayed on the main page of your school’s website.

Feed2JS isn’t the only tool for displaying RSS on websites. You should read the article "RSS To HTML - How To Convert RSS Feeds Into Published Web Pages - A Mini-Guide" (http://tinyurl.com/yp5tau) by Michael Pick for some different options, most of which are free.

Where Should I Paste?

The type of content you’ll be putting into your website determines where you’ll want to put it. If the widget you’re pasting in will display dynamic, changing content, it doesn’t make sense to put it in a blog post. Why? The blog post will cycle off the front page and get lost in the archive. It won’t matter that there is all sorts of wonderful, automatically updating content there if no one looks at it on a regular basis. It makes more sense to put it in a permanent place, like on the sidebar of a blog or its own dedicated page. If the widget you’re pasting will display just one piece of content, such as a timely video from TeacherTube, it might make the most sense to paste it into a blog post. People will see it when you intend for them to see it. Then you can easily feature different content when the time comes by making another blog post.

Widgets in Practice

The widgets discussed in this article can be big timesavers. There is no cost to experiment with them all to see what works best for your website and your students. It is a good idea to do that. But because this experimentation is so easy, you might be tempted to put all of them on your website at once. While there’s a slim chance of this working, it most likely will turn your site into a visual disaster and render all of the widgets less effective. You’d be better off adding one or two at a time and dedicating an entire page to a widget displaying worthwhile information. Doing this will not overwhelm you or your students. Not only will your website be filled with fun and dynamic information, people will find it easier to use too.

Aaron Schmidt is director of the North Plains Public Library in Oregon. He also maintains the weblog walking paper and is a frequent presenter at library conferences. Contact him at librarian@gmail.com.

Finding More Widgets

Widgipedia (www.widgipedia.com) and Widgetbox (www.widgetbox.com) are two sites where you can find more widgets. Widgetbox even includes widgets that let you paste in fun games on your websites. Be sure to find a countdown widget so you can display a countdown of days, minutes, and hours until finals (or the last day of school)!


 
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