Internet Librarian 2006 – Day 1: Open up the Network

After teaching the Ajax workshop with Karen Coombs, I guess I should have been tired, but I wasn’t. Someting about being around all kinds of people with novel ideas… Props to one of our workshop attendees, Josh Kline, who made me rethink how my library might use ContentDM and JPEG2000 to display our large maps and architectural drawings. Met up with Karen and Michael Sauers (Travelin’ Librarian) for a bite to eat. More good conversation. Took a stroll along the Monterey pedestrian path, talked about book publishing, library tech skills and all matter of things.

All of this reminds me that chance meetings and frank conversations can easily be the best part of the conference. When you have an opportunity, strike up a conversation and learn about your colleague’s work. Open up the network and see where it takes you.

Proof of concept – Ajax page update

Yesterday, Karen Coombs and I had the opportunity to conduct an “Ajax for Libraries” workshop at Internet Librarian. The workshop went pretty well and it was encouraging to work with a group of attendees who were engaged and willing to learn. (Note to self: create a cross-domain Ajax query to show workshop attendees.) I wanted to start with Ajax basics so I created a simple Ajax example that pulls WorldCat data and a WorldCat “find in a library” search form onto a page. It’s very basic, but it showcases the fundamentals of the Ajax method – take a look at the demo here.

The example uses the XMLHttpRequest object to make a micro-HTTP GET request behind the scenes creating a seamless date update without a full page reload. Feel free to download a zip of the sample files in an active server directory. Use modern browsers – Mozilla, Firefox, IE 6 and up.

Just wanted to share a bit, dig in and learn…

Update: Karen has posted links to the workshop files: presentation (.ppt) AND handout (.pdf)

Conferences – Gettin’ Pushy!

So, I’ll be attending and presenting at Internet Librarian later this week which has got me thinking about the circles we, librarians, travel. It seems we’re awfully comfortable talking to each other and that’s a good thing in small doses. But, we have to ask ourselves, “Who is listening?”

What really got me thinking about this was Mark Hirschey’s piece in Lawrence Journal World questioning the need for the modern library. Sarah Houghton has responded and John Blyberg pushed her thoughts even further. The gist of John’s posting is a call to activism and engagement of citizen concerns: listen to the valid criticisms and make moves to answer them. I’m down with that, but I’m going to take this in a different direction. Part of answering citizen concerns is recognizing that the library as an organization needs to change. I’m going to throw library professional development into the mix. Talking amongst ourselves only gets us so far. It’s great for sharing knowledge but there are other opportunities here. To name a few…

  1. Show others outside of libraries what we can do for them
  2. Get conversant with the issues in the larger digital world
  3. Learn from the expertise of other professionals and bring that knowledge back to the library community

What does this have to do with conferences? I’m advocating moving outside of our various library circles. I’ve seen similar calls from other library bloggers (See Stephen Cohen’s Challenge), but it bears repeating. I can’t say it much better than Stephen:

“Remember my challenge? Present at or (at least) attend one non-librarian conference this year. Has anyone at least attempted to move beyond their comfort zone? We can speak to each other until we’re blue in the “facebook”, but we will not succeed until we expand our user base and “mashup” with other professions. Community building involves more than library communities…”

So, get out of your comfort zone. Stretch out a bit and check out how the other half lives. Here are a few tech related events to get you thinking…


I work at Montana State University Libraries. The writings and thoughts contained in this blog are in no way associated with Montana State University or Montana State University Libraries. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of myself, Jason A. Clark.

about jason a. clark

Jason A. Clark builds digital library applications and sets digital content strategies for Montana State University Libraries. He writes and presents on a broad range of topics ranging from XML and copyright to interface design and metadata.

Jason first became interested in the intersection between libraries and technology while working as a web administrator for the Division of Information Technology at the University of Wisconsin. After two years, he moved on to lead the web services department at Williams College Libraries. It was here that he began to apply cataloging principles for search and retrieval in general library applications.

When he’s not thinking about metadata, Jason likes to hike the mountains of Montana with his wife, Jennifer, and their dog, Oakley.

What’s up with Ruby on Rails?

Yeah, I’ve been playing around with Ruby on Rails and I gotta’ say it’s pretty slick. Where should I start? Intuitive functions, easy mapping of database table relationships, simple templating (using layout views), MVC (model, view, controller) application architecture…

The MVC structure is nice, but it took me a little time to realize where each piece of the application lived. It also has some data model quirks – all tables must use a plural format naming scheme (e.g., table = users), foreign keys must have a format of “name_id” (e.g., users table foreign key = user_id), column names created_on and updated_on will automatically be populated correctly, etc. You get a sense of these rules as you start to use the framework. The documentation should catch up with these problems eventually. (I hope.)

So it has some limitations, but the real advantage is the generate scaffold command that reads data tables and maps simple html forms and pages for all CRUD (Create, Read, Update, and Delete) functions of a database web app. And this is where it seems to leap ahead of php – you can have a functioning dynamic web app in about a half hour. It’s bare bones, but it works. Lots of tutorials and introductions out there. Amy Hoy’s Really Getting Started in Rails is one of the better ones. If you are into book learnin’, Agile Web Development with Rails: A Pragmatic guide is a good place to start. Check it out at


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