WordPress as a Library CMS

Free and open source technology to enhance your library’s web presence

June 13, 2011


Engaging with library users on the web is no longer restricted to simply putting a static HTML file on a server and calling it a successful website. Yet without technical assistance and forethought, content management can be an actively complex and frustrating process.

A content management system like WordPress lets you manage your website more efficiently by separating the tasks of design and maintenance from the job of adding content. Administrative users can configure, customize, and add features to the site, while editors or contributors can add, edit, and manage their own contributions without worrying about the more technical aspects.

But defining what exactly a CMS is can be daunting. First, how do we define content? Certainly pages and blog-like posts are content, but so are link lists, calendar events, social site updates, image and video galleries, comments, and much more. Each type of content is related to its own form of authorship and maintenance. As more content features and types are added to the publishing environment, the CMS becomes more complex. Organizationally, a CMS promotes content creation by multiple authors via user roles, system permissions, and appropriate and usable publishing interfaces.

Library website content must be viewed in much the same way as a physical collection:

  • What are the user roles for staff and visitors?
  • What is the content strategy for publication on it?
  • How can users access it from desktop and mobile devices?
  • What is its editorial schedule?
  • What information architecture and taxonomical systems are applied to its content?
  • What are its social features?

A library website, to apply S. R. Ranganathan’s Fifth Law, is a growing organism and must be treated as such, especially with the complexity of web content.

Why WordPress?

In our work training library staff to use WordPress websites and building WordPress websites, we’ve seen what a perfect fit the CMS is for many types of libraries and educational organizations—large and small. Here are some of the selling points for libraries:

  • It’s a free, flexible, full-featured tool for building a dynamic, easy-to-navigate website.
  • It’s easy to get started. You can build a simple website in just a few hours.
  • It allows web-based administration. Sites can be administered from any computer with an internet connection and a browser. You’re no longer tied to one computer that has Dreamweaver (or an outdated version of FrontPage) on it.
  • You can share the workload. Set up user accounts for anyone who will be updating the site. A number of different user statuses help you control who can publish information and who has access to the more powerful administrative features.
  • It’s easy to keep the content fresh. Adding a frequently updated news page is simple. News updates (posts) are automatically displayed on either the main page site or another page you specify.
  • The commenting features boost communication. They encourage increased communication with your library’s users while providing lots of options for thwarting spam comments.
  • It’s flexible and extensible. If you find yourself saying, “I wonder if WordPress can do XYZ,” there’s likely to be a plugin available that can help. And if not, someone with some programming skills can probably create the custom plugin you need.
  • It allows updating from your mobile device. With apps for various smartphones (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry) and devices like the iPad and Android tablets, updating on the go is very easy.

KYLE M. L. JONES is is a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies. POLLY-ALIDA FARRINGTON is principal of PA Farrington Associates. This is an excerpt from the April 2011 ALA TechSource on using WordPress as a library content management system.