Adult learners versus children learners. Children learn effortlessly, picking up languages, bodies of knowledge, athletic skills, all seemingly effortlessly, while we adults lumber along, struggling with grammatical context of new languages, including, the language of the web and computers. This is one of the reasons I am beginning to hate kids.
Perhaps because it keeps us humble, we tend to learn more from our mistakes. If you think about something you learned via an error, I bet you its a lesson youve never forgotten. So with that in mind, Ive titled my talk.
In that spirit, here are the things I wish I knew in 1996, when I was relatively new to the world of the web, yet confident I could conquer it. After all, I had been to the EAD FASTrack workshop, had taught myself HTML, and could use Netscape composer to build pages with tables! I was the lead tech person in my building, but I now realize that it was more a matter of being the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Beware my folly and learn from my errors:
The earliest Mudd Homepage with two links to the two collections lists. Not difficult, but we did know to put a picture on the page, albeit without a caption.
How many people had an early primitive web page similar to this? How many still do?
Now here we evolved to our next stage. The earlier version of this page lacked the online exhibits link, and it also had a different picture. But it was fairly complex page to build and manage. Did not have as much interlinking at the lower levers as I initially imagined. They do call it the web after all, but rather than connections, it was just pages burrowing down. Also lacked links to external sources.Todays page looks more professional and thats because we had an outside designer take the old page and upgrade its look. But we also put in more links among the pages and to outside resources. Our first web pages file structure. You can see its pretty simple: the home page is linked to two files.The second version was much more complex, and you see what I mean about the long lists of files. There was a bit of linking from one file to another, but not that much.OK, this is, I admit, a joke. Our current web page does not link to all seven continents. But when I was preparing this, the number of files listed was too great and it looked too cramped to show well on one screen. But it is 16 folders containing over 300 files, with a fair amount of interlinking.
So now that I hope I have proven that Ive done enough work to screw up multiple times, on to my lessons learned.Naming conventions. When you embark on a web page, how you name things is initially so small a project that you dont even think about how to name your files. Once you decide the extension will be .HTML or .HTM, you think you have it all figured out. When two years later you are dealing with the morass of haphazard naming of web pages and you wish to fix it, youll spend a fair amount of time doing so. So heres what to do:
Upper vs. lower case vs. mixed (we decided everything is always in lower case. Just easy to remember that rule.).htm vs. .html (we decided on .html, and with server-side includes or ssi files, well talk more about that in a moment.)collection formula (1st 8 characters etc.) How do you formulate the name?
You can also decide on the major sections of your web page and then come up with a name for all the pages that fall into that section which then allows you to simply use numbers to distinguish the pages, i.e. news1.html, news2.html, etc. and exhibits1.html, exhibits2.html, etc.
More importantly, if you put finding aids online, consider how will you name them. We have some collections with similar names and had an incident where the file for the smith.html collection was overwritten when we put another smith.html collection up. We did, of course, have a backup of the overwritten file, but if I started now, I would probably use collection numbers for the file names, i.e. MC001, MC002, etc. rather than proper names. Also, multiple files for one finding aid (a,b,c,d or 1,2,3,4, ).
If youre going to use a database for photographs, you need to consider your numbering system, naming convention for entire collection, not what youre working on at the moment. Anticipate additions and how to handle. Also, take advantage of relational databases that allow you to limit the input of certain fields for consistency. We started entering information in a dBASE III+ file in the mid-1990s and have since converted to Access, but we have not fully exploited Accesss abilities.
Also remember to put up small photo files that cannot be easily printed out. Saves you disk room and prevents illegal use of your images. Make sure everyone on your staff who scans understands this.
Students can work very well on tedious, repetitive data entry, but they can also get off track and end up in Dorchester when you want them to be in Rochester. They might sound or look the same, but theyre miles apart. Theres a story here, but its not a very interesting one, but the moral is: check data entry work before there are over a thousand entries.
WordPerfect 5.1 was a wonderful program and it had a flush right feature that one could use for folder lists that, and when used with tabs, it made everything look like it was in a table. However, converting these to HTML was a hairy nightmare. Now I make sure that every folder list is done in a table, and that saves oddles of time converting it to HTML.
HTML vs. SHTML .shtml allows you to create headers and footers for every file by putting in a simple call to one file. If anything about your contact info changes, or you want to add more information, you simply change one file and all the finding aids pull up the new information. Using .shtml files does require adjustments to your server and you should talk to your systems people before deciding on doing this. They may not want the added work, and it does increase the load on the server. But in any case, with or without using .shtml extensions, every file loaded onto your web page should provide a connection back to your with home page. ACLU: split the 750 page finding aid into many smaller files, and Google searches will land right in the middle of the finding aid. W/o navigation back to your home page, researchers will be stymied in finding you.
Meta data tags for Dublin Core
No Frames! If you ever came across a page that used them, and they were quite popular several years ago, you will know why. Dont even consider it, as it doesnt allow specific URLs to be captured and sent in e-mail.
Small files for modem users? Our limit is 150 KB, but I do wonder now if anyone is using modems for this type of research. In 1998, lots of people were using 28.8 KPS modems, but they are faster, and many people at home have cable or DSI modems.
Tables being relegated to data, DIV tags coming on. Tables were designed originally to hold figures, not to serve as layout templates. DIV tags will be able to provide formatting for pages. I cant say for certain if DIV tags will be fully adopted or if people will continue to use table tags, but what this means is that you should try to anticipate what is coming down the road technically-speaking. You dont want to necessarily be an early adopter, you dont want to be using HOT DOG as your HTML editor either.
Remember, they dont call it the web for nothing! You can get entangled in this stuff and end up doing nothing else if you dont consciously set deadlines and make yourself stop working on your web project and move on to other things, like processing records and answering reference questions. You have to accept that there will be errors of fact or needs for updates on your web pages at any given time, but you should decide to do only the critical ones for a while and let the others pile up, otherwise youll be in a time sink.
While Ive been conscientious about this with the librarys home p