When my library launched LibGuides last year, we spent some time tweaking the CSS in order to streamline the LibGuides interface. As any user of this very fine product knows, LibGuides displays a lot of information that is very task-oriented, but in my opinion, can overwhelm the page to where all this info gets in the way of users getting their primary task done: that is, finding library resources pertinent to their research topic.
During this exercise of turning off these features, it became quite obvious that you could override much more than “displaying:none” several print and tagging features. One could, in fact, redesign the entire interface.
Fast forward 1.5 years later and along comes SpringShare’s Campus Guides, which is essentially LibGuides, but with the ability to run multiple instances (Groups) of LibGuides, each with its own unique customizations.
Immediately, I saw an opportunity to create a “Group” of guides that could serve as an experiment without affecting our live LibGuides service. The end result was turning Campus Guides into a true Web Content Management System (WCMS).
To be sure, I was going to override alot of CSS, largely by restyling the look and feel, but also “displaying:none” many parts of the site. But another aim was to continue using the CMS features of LibGuides, so that any group of pages could still be managed stably for the long-term and leverage all the power that makes LibGuides so great to work with.
That public facing group, which I dubbed Spork after our sandbox project, would have the public-facing CSS overrides and all the regular librarian-generated pages that would make up our LibGuides replicant of our website.
Taken together, here’s how these two pieces completed the full Campus Guides WCMS:
- When a new page is created, the author would decide which section of the site it would live in. For example, if the page was part of the About section, they would start by making a new guide from the About Template.
- This About Template would contain all of the content boxes that every About page should have, including the sub-navigation menu for the About area of the site, which is a box duplicated from a box in the Library Administration Group. This means that the page creator cannot alter the content of that navigation, but also any changes made in Library Administration would cascade down to all pages using that sub-navigation box.
- It’s also important to note that the Library Administration group can be password protected so that non-admin librarians cannot inadvertently destroy carefully constructed HTML content that is meant to “UnLibGuide” Libguides.
- Once the librarian has created their page from the About Template, they can add any box content they wish in the usual way. Importantly, our custom CSS overrides keep whatever they do to continue looking like the polished website we created in our custom CSS.
Using this strategy, we were able to do many things without fear of creating something that could be undone by non-HTML-savvy staff. We could embed forms, JQuery features and even remote database content into our Spork site. In fact, we were able to replicate just about every feature of our live Library Site within Campus Guides…and make it look like a professionally designed portal.
Parts of the site are still not filled out yet, but to see examples of some of what we’ve done, I’ve included the following links:
- Home page with lots of secure HTML
- Use of JQuery in LibGuides (accordions)
- Staff directory with use of remote database content
- Sub-page illustrating duplicated sub-navigation and librarian generated content.
The lesson from our experiment is that libraries with technically literate staff could take LibGuides to a rather impressive level. In fact, this whole project came out of our frustration with doing something similar in Drupal. Point being: Campus Guides is far easier at creating basic web sites than Drupal (although admittedly not as powerful a tool…yet!).
I should also point out that this is strictly an experiment. My library is moving to SharePoint next winter.