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Winning With WordPress: How We Simplified Research Database Access.

In the digital age, higher education students expect to find information at their fingertips. But what constitutes a first-rate academic library website? According to ALA, the design should be both eye-catching and appealing, with a timely load of graphics displaying current and relevant content (ALA 2014). Simple navigation is essential because too many options or mouse clicks impede access to resources (EBSCO 2015). To support website endeavors, academic libraries usually acquire third-party software to manage content.

Formerly, websites were static, often built and managed by one administrator using HTML to create webpages and CSS to add common style. Today, websites are dynamic, driven by a CMS that not only renders a prominent design, but also manages content and shares workload. In a CMS, content is retrieved from one central database and distributed and published onto webpages. To share responsibilities, directors and website administrators delegate editing to those who work closely with certain content.

My library at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), a campus of the City University of New York (CUNY), recently migrated its website to WordPress. Previously used solely as a blogging tool, WordPress empowers website administrators to kick-start content management and assign editing tasks as needed. As the library's website administrator, I instituted a research support structure as part of the upgrade to meet the library's objective of providing more effective access to subscription-based research literature databases, which arguably are an academic library's most important resource. With WordPress, I didn't need to be an expert website designer. Employing basic design skills and elementary computer language coding, a modern, dynamic website can be fashioned using the support of WordPress's online user community and products to extend the software's functionality.

Opting for WordPress

By the late 2000s, the trendy library website CMS was either Drupal or Springshare's LibGuides. Drupal was first unveiled to libraries in 2005 when Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan launched a new website (Farkas November 2008). Drupal's appeal was a WYSIWYG editor that allowed content modifications without exceptional webpage coding skills. Likewise, LibGuides allowed librarians to create dynamic subject guides, which included social features such as tagging, bookmarking, RSS feeds, user ratings, and comments (New Product News 2008). Other libraries used WordPress to manage website content. The WordPress advantage is ease of use and plug-ins that increase functionality with minimal or no coding skills required. WordPress also has the capacity to appoint administrators and editors with different account privileges. Administrators add and edit software features. Editors add, edit, and manage their assigned content without the need for advanced technical expertise. This approach supports the idea that administrators should not be responsible for content maintenance, but rather overall system management. In addition to providing a platform to support workload distribution, WordPress offers many ready-made themes, which support fully customizable and professional websites without a lot of development effort.

After being appointed website administrator in 2013, I was assigned to upgrade the BMCC library website. Created in-house by my predecessor in 2009, the existing website was static, employing both HTML and CSS, and webpages were supported solely by the website administrator. Each of the library's 175 research databases was presented on one webpage as part of an alphabetical list, and some databases were an element on one or more of 33 subject pages. If a database entry needed revision, each webpage where it was posted had to be updated piecemeal. This editing practice created risk since there was a potential for error.

My goal was to upgrade to a dynamic website in which editing is streamlined and content management is facilitated across the library using a CMS. As free open source software, WordPress was the best CMS choice.

Institutions use WordPress for simple websites and complicated, multi-level websites. Both the Utah State Library and the State Library of Kansas had established WordPress websites, claiming that it gave control of content to librarians regardless of their technical skills (Farkas October 2008). Following an imposed reduction in faculty and staffers, the Connecticut State Library migrated from Drupal to WordPress because few employees were skilled in Drupal's technical demands (Newman, et al., 2015). Similarly, the University of Mary Washington's Stafford Campus moved from LibGuides to WordPress because budget cuts made LibGuides unaffordable (Boger 2011). Marketing WordPress to BMCC's library administration was an easy sell.

Migrating to WordPress Sites

After WordPress was approved by the library administration, I began the lengthy process of migration. I reviewed and audited the existing website, detailing all webpages into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to determine content needs for the new website. By identifying each webpage and its relationship to others, I was able to group library resources and services in a modern drop-down menu system to replace multiple hyperlinks in the left and right navigation.

Next, I designed and developed the new website. To assist, a committee of five librarians met quarterly to provide feedback. At the outset, a usability study was administered to test the existing website's efficacy. In the study, 10 student subjects were asked to find information while a moderator monitored how they navigated the website. Study results interpreted how students navigated the website and yielded hints for constructing the new one. Additionally, Google Analytics' data was studied to determine the most-visited webpages and how users navigated to them. It exposed what content was most important and how users arrived at it. Accordingly, I could craft simple navigation and avoid too many options or mouse clicks. Once content and design were finalized, I generated the new site.

The new website was launched in 2016. Unlike the old one, it has a modern header and menu system that are common to all pages of the site. Both eye-catching and appealing, the menu guides users to common library elements: Find, Help, and Services. Books and research databases are now available under the Find drop-down menu rather than as a long list of hyperlinks in the left navigation. WordPress also handles accessibility concerns. For example, images displayed on the website are stored in a media library. Each entry is uploaded into WordPress and provided with a title name and alt-text options, which are imperative for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliance. For additional compliance verification, a plug-in can be installed to identify missing alt text in the media library.

Folding in Research Databases

In my review of WordPress literature, unfortunately, I found no simple solution within existing WordPress templates or plug-ins to effectively support website access to our research databases. I had to invent a workaround.

At Johns Hopkins University, a central repository of research databases uses the API Rapier, which was written in Ruby as a Rack application (Hannan 2015). Although I'm pretty well-versed in web technology, I must confess, Ruby was not something I wanted to tackle. Turning to books, Learning From Libraries That Use WordPress: Content-Management System Best Practices and Case Studies suggested content post types (CPTs), which allow the creation of preformatted input fields using WordPress's MySQL database environment. Webpages are populated with records maintained in a central database table by applying PHP code. Although the ability to create CPTs was native to WordPress, it required a programmer to write PHP code and create a plug-in (Jones and Farrington 2013). Although building PHP code to extract data from a MySQL database table was well within my means, I wasn't accomplished enough to successfully write a WordPress plug-in.

Luckily, I didn't have to reinvent the wheel to showcase our databases. I used some of my own PHP coding skills and the extended family of plug-ins. I compiled a list of databases that the library subscribed to. Since MySQL allows data to be imported, I used Microsoft Excel to create a CSV file. Spreadsheet fields had the name of the database, the vendor's URL, a description of the content, if full-text documents were available, and other fields related to whether or not a downloadable application was available for mobile devices. Next, I created a new MySQL database table to accommodate the CSV file. Last, I imported the spreadsheet into the table using the MySQL Workbench interface. In the final step, I wrote PHP code to recall data from the table. However, unlike HTML webpages, PHP code cannot be embedded onto a WordPress webpage. Generally, records are extracted from the WordPress database and uploaded to a webpage by means of PHP code native to installation or within a plug-in.

As a solution, I installed the Insert PHP plug-in, which uses short code to run PHP code in a WordPress webpage. Short code is used in plug-ins to serve as shortcuts or placeholders for other pieces of information across a WordPress website. For example, embedded PHP code on both the alphabetical database list and the History subject webpage retrieves the Academic Search Complete research database by its ID number and posts it for display. However, edits to entries are performed in one location. A relatively risk-free method, data populates several webpages from one central source with minimal room for error.

To share the workload, a second plug-in, Edit Any Table, was installed. It grants editing privileges to faculty and staffers, permitting the electronic resources librarian to revise entries as needed. The new management approach not only streamlines maintenance, it also decreases the time required to add or edit since changes are handled by the person responsible for the content.


BMCC's library website was modernized with the WordPress platform. Resources are now effectively supported and displayed on a dynamic website that complies with accessibility standards. Although crafting a new plug-in to streamline research database support may have been the ideal method, I adopted an adequate substitute to manage research databases. Content management is not restricted to one administrator; it is a shared endeavor. The electronic resources librarian now has database governance control to revise content. Conversely, the administrator is not responsible for maintenance of content, but rather its overall management and the tools to improve website functionality.


ALA. (2014, July 7). "College Library Website of the Month." Retrieved Dec. 7, 2017, from'acrl/aboutacrl/directoryofleadership/sections/cls/clswebsite/websiteofth emonth.

Boger, R (2011). "From LibGuides to WordPress." Library Technology Reports, 47(3), 41-47.

EBSCO. (2015, Dec. 8). "7 Best Practices for Creating a User Friendly Library Website." Retrieved Dec. 7, 2017, from' article/7-best-practices-for-creating-a-user-friendly-library-website.

Farkas, M. (2008, November). "CMS for Next-Gen Websites: Using Drupal to Manage Library Web Content." American Libraries, 39(10), 36.

Farkas, M. (2008, October). "Our New Website Is a Blog: Using WordPress for Content Management." American Libraries, 39(9), 45.

Hannan, Sean. (2015, May/June). "An API of APIs: A Content Silo Mashup for Library Websites." Online Searcher, 39(3), 54-58.

Jones, K., and Farrington, R (2013). Learning From Libraries That Use WordPress: Content-Management System Best Practices and Case Studies. Chicago: ALA.

New Product News. (2008). LibGuides: Web 2.0 for Libraries. Public Libraries, 47(6), 71.

Newman, T., Bagwell, J., Cheeseman, S., and Smith, M. (2015). "A New Website for the Connecticut State Library." The CONNector, 17(4), 5-6.

Derek Stadler] is currently the web services librarian at LaGuardia Community College (which is affiliated with the City University of New York; CUNY). He holds a B.S. in computer science, an M.S. in library science, and an M.A. in history. In addition to library research, Stadler is also an avid history researcher, with a focus on New York City and urban studies.

Caption: Before The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) library's former website was static, built and managed by one administrator using HTML and CSS. Like most old websites, the left and right navigation areas were busy, featuring many hyperlink options.

Caption: After The BMCC library's new website features a modern header and drop-down menu system where common library elements are divided into Find, Help, and Services. An image carousel between the header and main navigation area is used to visually promote library resources and services.

Caption: Before On the old website, the research database alphabetical list provided a hyperlink to the vendor's website as well as a description of the database and an indication if full-text documents were available.

Caption: After The result is a clean display of all research databases in an alphabetical list, complete with a hyperlinked URL and description. Advertisements in the right navigation panel provide extra space to showcase the library's services and resources.

Caption: Before To update a research database listed across the website on multiple webpages, entries on each page needed to be changed piecemeal. Even for the skillful programmer, there was a high potential for error.

Caption: After Once data was imported into the MySQL table, each research database entry is now editable using the MySQL Workbench interface. The table provides one location for the research database inventory.
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Author:Stadler, Derek
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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