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kentstateI chose for unit 2’s assignment 5 to read “Building a Local CMS at Kent State” by Rick Wiggins, Jeph Remley, and Tom Klingler (via Emerald access to Library Hi Tech vol. 24 issue 1).

Kent State interested me because it’s big (14 libraries, 8 campuses) and would therefore present complexity aplenty, I believed, in a project as pivotal as choosing a CMS. It fascinated me that they would have chosen to build their own rather than use something off the shelf. On the other hand, I assumed that they would have a large IT staff in the library system and might therefore routinely devote resources to building their own.

Kent State was ready for a third-generation web system based on users’ desires, not librarians’, and they paid and fed subjects to participate in usability studies. Another sign of largesse borne of largeness. They favored a system that would distribute responsibility for content to a very high degree (and that’s what they ended up with). They desired an ADA-compliant system of classified, not hierarchically arranged, pages with a more professional look, greater automation, and consistency (less “undesired ‘creativity'” on the part of contributors).

This article did not in any way address stresses or conflicts or difficulties–somewhat disappointing in the end. And it did not reveal in any specifics why the off-the-shelf options, including Drupal, failed to satisfy their list of desiderata, simply categorically stating that lots and lots of open source (as that was their preference) options didn’t meet this or that requirement. It was easy to read between the lines that full-bore testing of all the available options was not how they wanted to spend the time they could be building something.

They seem to have poured resources into developing a front end that would enable practically every library staff member to contribute or edit content–this is really interesting, and not a choice I think every work culture would work well with. It means high confidence in a crowd of people, albeit with somewhat locked-down choices; it also means a very granular user interface.

The system was technically a MAMP setup. The project apparently saw simultaneous development of the new site design, the CMS, and content for the site; this is a point where some sense of how this played out on the calendar (not mentioned) would have been helpful and interesting. I cannot believe that obstacles were not encountered.

They also made huge use of two student employees who seem to have served as liaisons, or maybe ambassadors, between the developers and staff and who were responsible for creating both a training manual and context-sensitive help within the system for staff. Again, a large place with a library school on site would have some real talent available in the student pool, so this went believably smoothly.

In general I would have liked to know what was difficult when and, from a project management perspective, how buy-in of staff members was insured. The system itself sounded a lot like what I imagine Drupal and others to be, possibly with more built-in “hall monitor” activity, making sure that the legions of staff involved stay on top of their plots within the greater realm.

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