Placing Historical Houses in the 21st Century

I’ve been interning for six months now at a library/archive in a museum. Since this was on the side, I haven’t felt right about publicizing it much until some of my contributions showed up online. However, this particular project was intriguing and got me digging through a 1915 directory.

My task is to match 1915 newspaper clippings about historic houses “in Bridgeport and the surrounding vicinity” to actual addresses. It’s surprising how many houses don’t even have a town mentioned. Instead you’d get vague descriptions like “down the street from Honeysuckle and up on Sunspot Hill.” My supervisor pulled the directory for me and showed me how to cross-reference streets to people’s names.

My Process
First, I’d skim the article to see if they laid it out: city or address. If not, I’d then jump to the end of the article where the author usually placed the name of the current owner. Then I’d leaf through the directory (always starting with Bridgeport then Stratford) to see if I could find that person’s name. If I’m lucky, there they are and the address vaguely relates in some way to the article.

Then there is the tricky one. This house belonged to Mr. Hatchback for 30 years, but he died last year. His estate sold the house to Mrs. Owens. I can find Mrs. Owens in the directory but does she live there? The directory is actually for 1914, so maybe not. Another one: the house was moved from place A to place B. Then another building was moved to the original location. Where is the house located now? Oh, right. It’s down by the river. Which river? No name.

Am I still stuck? Time to break out my smartphone. If I’m in luck, I’ll find it right away. Otherwise, I’m downloading PDFs of articles related to that area to scan for information. The State Librarian had a nice census done on buildings around that time period, so that’s somewhat helpful. Unfortunately, the addresses are not included so it’s just “Hudson House.” If I’m at this point, I then go to Google Maps and see if I can tell from the article photo if the contemporary building is the same one. Often times it is not, but a few times I’ve struck gold. Most of the houses are from around 1800, but some are rumored to be from closer to the 1600s.

Once I had an answer or my best guess, I’d write it on a piece of paper and lay it on top of the photocopy. If I felt unconfident, I’d mark that address with a question mark.

The Finished Summer Reading Website

Property of Darien Library

Property of Darien Library

From the screenshot above, you probably can’t tell much about changes from the finished product to the previous one I wrote about. Oh, you’d be mistaken. Let me show you a little bit about what happened behind the curtain:

The site took around 25 hours to complete. This is despite the fact that I was working on top of a framework that I established three years ago. The issues are numerous such as there not really being a CMS to work with. Any style change I make on the front page will show up on the logged-in homepage. The logged-in version has additional content. This content climbs on top of the content that was already there. So you have to figure out a way to assign classes to the logged in vs. logged out versions of the same tables (yes, tables).

Tim Spalding was very kind to take a look at it and suggested a workaround. Then while looking for the place to change some text on a pop-up, I discovered a Javascript entry area. Hallelujah — I would not have been able to do this without this access. My spouse helped me put together some code which injected new classes into the logged in vs. logged out pages based upon the URL. THEN Firefox continued to be terrible, so I had to put in special targeted CSS just for Firefox. The site would look fantastic on every other browser except Firefox. This has been my experience for years with this browser.

The backend of the site is not divided into one master stylesheet but into many stylesheets per page. Yes, page level. So if I set the background to be X, Y, and Z on the homepage, I had to visit every other page and set up that new background code. It made the process very long and drawn-out.

Property of Darien Library

Property of Darien Library


My favorite part
My coworker sent me the image from the front of their summer reading brochure. I took it apart in Photoshop and added shadows, removed the spotlights, and created a semi-repeating pattern to use as the background. When I added that to the site, I realized I wasn’t happy with it. So I then pulled apart the curtain into multiple layers (with the courtesy of a transparent background and an eraser). I then ran drop shadows over the new individual rows. I then ‘shopped them back together.

What I didn’t incorporate
My colleague’s original design included spotlights. I wanted to add spotlights which would sway gently or slowly warm up. Something cool with CSS3. However, by the time I got to the end of getting it structurally working, I was done. So done.

Summer Reading 2015 Website: WIP

Courtesy of Darien Library

Courtesy of Darien Library

The above is a work in progress. This is our third year of using Evanced’s Summer Reading software. What I’ve done so far is clone last year’s site and then made adjustments for this one. You can view last year’s theme below. I was in the process of starting to dismantle its interior when I remembered to take the screenshot. So forgive the out of alignment aspects.

Courtesy of Darien Library

The text here should say Gamer instead of Star — Courtesy of Darien Library

Regarding this year’s theater design, I wanted to have a curtain that could be lifted with a click of a button. Alas, it was not meant to be. I could probably have done it if I had full control over the site. Unfortunately, it’s table-based and all I can do is some CSS manipulation. Below is what I believe is this year’s default theme.

Untitled

I’m having trouble with our design because it’s breaking in Firefox. I’ve tested it in multiple other browsers (including IE) and it looks on fleek. Firefox has been my nemesis for years in this regards. However, I am using Firefox’s 3D model of the divs to help me pinpoint the different parts of the page are on the site. I’ve completely swapped the original two columns so it can get confusing. Also there isn’t a master stylesheet but approximately 50 tiny ones.

Hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll be able to share the completely redesigned site!

Setting Up a Staff Blog

I was given the task to set up an internal staff blog. I choose WordPress, of course. The constraints:

  • easy to use
  • easy to update
  • easy to navigate

Plugins:
Advanced Comment Form: to remove unnecessary fields like website address
Subscribe to Comments Reloaded: so commenters get notifications when someone replies
USP Pro: Creates front-end post submissions without an account. This was something I choose since people complain when they have to create and remember even more accounts. So I eliminated that. They’ll just have to put their email address in every time. We went with pro since we wanted to be able to upload various file formats. There may have been a free solution, but it wasn’t worth me spending even more time researching a new plugin and then configuring it to work with the setup.

Organization:
Use categories to organize the site + tags.
Created a video to show people how to use the site.
Use custom menu for “Write Post” link option.

Design:
Twenty Fifteen theme
Very minor tweaks to correct the appearance of lists

My additional requirements that I put on myself:

  • easy to comment
  • get notifications on your posts
  • get notifications on new comments to posts you replied to
  • email all staff when a new post is submitted

I am in the process of fixing two bugs:

Our all-staff email address is limited to only forwarding emails from our own domain address to stop outside spam. My colleague and I are working on a solution to this. It’ll probably deal with emails being sent to me and an Outlook rule that will auto forward that email to all staff from my inbox.

The person who wrote a post gets two comment notification emails whenever someone replies to what they wrote. Still trying to track that down…!

An annoying WordPress bug is that it’s not sending me native notifications of new post submissions, thus why I had to look into an outside plugin.

What Lies Ahead

I get very stressed out trying to plan my life for the next six months to a year out. When I don’t know what’s coming up, I become anxious and start worrying if my little house of cards is going to fall over. What should I be doing to keep up professional momentum? How can I influence things to happen?

My spouse has been firmly taking my hand these past four years and telling me that things will work themselves out. Unforeseen opportunities will arise. He continues to be right.

ALA next month is the end of the current cycle of events (OITP committee, Emerging Leaders wrap-up, teaching two online courses, giving my first conference presentations, and finishing up some freelance work). I started to worry. Then opportunity came a-knocking. My next few months are beginning to take shape. In the coming months, I’ll be working on:

  • A co-written article in a library publication
  • Oversee the first meeting of the LITA 3D Printing IG at Annual
  • Launching the “ultimate” version of the global map of 3D printers in libraries in conjunction with the IG
  • Teaching a two-hour workshop based on a presentation
  • Presenting two genealogy talks
  • Taking over the podcast side of #LibUX

Then to soothe the restless travel bug I have, I’ll be making a brief visit home to my mountains and then north to Toronto in the fall. I’m very humbled at these opportunities. I know how fortunate I am in all ways that any of this is even possible. I still feel like the girl sitting on her front steps, watching the neighborhood stray cats, completely uncertain about the future other than a vague sense that life would be different once I graduated high school.

Four years ago, I spoke to my future boss on the phone and then a couple months later, Polly reached out to me about co-teaching WordPress. Everything fell into place from those two generous acts. I’m so grateful.

What happens after this? How can one keep jumping ahead? I had a strange obsession about turning thirty. Now I’m three weeks into this new decade of my life. One of the new opportunities presented to me appeared on the day of my 30th birthday. I don’t feel so afraid anymore about stepping into a decade that others promise me will be much better than the last.

And finally, I can’t look ahead without thinking of the ones I lost during my twenties. Next month will be nine years since Forest died. It’s four years since Grandpa and Dollbaby. I promised myself at Forest’s death that I’d live twice as hard. I can’t waste the time he lost in my own life. So let’s go.

Supporting Small Biz: Digital Tools for Startups Slides

Mallory Arents and I presented this 45-minute presentation at Computers in Libraries in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Download the slides for the speaker notes to see what we said about each slide. The transcript by Slideshare is garbage and our notes aren’t showing up.

Wanted: a better place to share slides which includes speaker notes.

Party Like You’re 30

Birthday cupcakes

Birthday cupcakes

My coworker, Daniel, asked me last week what my favorite cupcake is. He danced about and then confessed that he wanted it to be a surprise for my birthday, but he wanted to know what I’d like best. I told him strawberry. He had never made strawberry anything before, but he absolutely outdone himself.

The strawberry on top was just sweet enough. Then the icing was delicious. Ah, and the cupcake itself? So moist and it melted in your mouth. I think I — and everyone else — had a religious experience consuming these.

Funny part: word of the cupcakes went through the building so the UX office turned into an impromptu party.