Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bug Scrunches Toolbar! Compatibility ...

First a note about compatibility; I have a friend who tried to run the Engineering Toolbar in the beta version of Firefox and they were unable to do so. I'll have to look into why this is the case. Now for the fun part:

What happened to my toolbar??!?

I initially ran into this problem the first time when I was working on getting a resizing gripper to change the size of the toolbar.

Then I also had a student report this error which was even worse than the first one!

The sequence to recreate the problem that I first found is to do the following:

Click View -> Toolbars -> Customize
Then click "Restore Default Set"

I mention this so you will know that there is a bug in Firefox that has yet to be fixed and what specific actions create the bug. You do not need to repeat the steps but if you do I have instructions on how to fix it.

So how do we fix this? A word of warning this process is destructive if you have customized your toolbar. As such you may want to take a screenshot of the changes that you have made so you can re-implement your changes.

Here is how you fix the error:

1. Exit out of Firefox.
2. Click on the start menu
3. Select Mozilla Firefox (Safe Mode)

4. Click on the option box for "Reset Toolbars and Controls".
5. Click "Make Changes and Restart".

That should fix the problem. :)


Special Instructions for Macintosh Users:

In order to open Firefox in Safe Mode, go to the Utilities menu and launch Terminal. Then type the following command at the Terminal prompt:

/Applications/ -safe-mode

Then, a new Safe Mode window will pop up; follow instructions as for Windows (above).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

OU Engineering Toolbar - Release

Today is the soft roll-out for the OU Engineering Toolbar. If you want to play with the toolbar you can download it from the ENGR Wiki where it lives. You will also find instructions about how to install/uninstall the toolbar there.

I will be showing this to a class of 20 graduate students in Engineering my first real crop of beta testers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The OU Engineering Toolbar and Breakdown of the Components

Here is a picture of the current engineering toolbar that I am coordinating beta testing with my faculty. For a better view of the toolbar just click the picture.

The first thing to note is that there is a nice OU Engineering Toolbar pull-down menu which allows me to provide useful links to pertinent information that our students may need. This functionality is very useful as the Russ College of Engineering is one of the departments that is located furthest away from Alden. The links that I selected are basic services: Library account information, Document Deliver/Interlibrary Loan, Contact Information, Etc.

Databases that have been selected to be included in this pull down menu are ones that are useful to Engineers. I included subscription databases that we have access to that do not allow us to redirect searches through a persistent url (those databases that do allow this are handled in the Search section of the Toolbar). I also included needed free resources. I am open to suggestions for additions of resources that Engineers will find useful though at this time my faculty have indicated that these are the ones that they prefer. I think the goal here from a development standpoint is to reduce the amount of clutter and to fine tune for efficiency. If students want to look at all the resources we have available to them that link is in the regular OU Engineering Toolbar menu under the Infotree heading.

Chat functionality has been setup so that any students, faculty or staff who are making use of the OU Engineering Toolbar can just click the CHAT button and it will connect them straight to me via the web client Meebo. If I am available I can then attempt to answer their questions and requests or direct them to appropriate resources. The advantage of Meebo is that since it is an application delivered through your web browser no one needs to install a chat client to ask questions. If I am not available there is a link to Other Help Options which leads to our Alden Library chat and would put users of the toolbar in touch with our reference service which is open all hours that the Alden Library Learning Commons is available.

Searching is a two part process. The user of the toolbar first selects the database they want to search in. If they click the go button at this point it will take them straight to the database that they have selected. If they add a search term then it will search in the appropriate database. On campus this is a seamless process as there is no need to authenticate via proxy. Off campus all links are run through the proxy service so people will be able to access there resources wherever they need to.

I will be posting a link to a working copy of this application. I can also go through examples of code if there is enough interest.

Developing Custom Toolbars for Firefox as Portals to Knowledge

After a bit of discussion it was felt that Ohio University could benefit from having a custom toolbar developed for our resources for Mozilla Firefox.

Chad Boeninger and Wanda Weinberg two colleagues of mine pointed out to me that Scott Rice developed a toolbar for UNC Greensboro for Mozilla Firefox. Chad also provided me with a link to an excellent tutorial on toolbar implementation by Born Geek. If you are interested in developing your own toolbar I would suggest checking the links that I have provided.

Scott Rice's toolbar is excellent in that it puts the resources that students need to perform better research right in front of them. At the present time most resources are buried within the library's homepage and this makes it difficult for students as what they want from the library is something that is closer to Google. Federated searches are great for placing a large amount of databases within easy reach of students but I have found that toolbars are easy to use and can provide a Google-like environment.

Degree of difficulty. This kind of project will either require you have a dedicated programmer or someone who has understanding of CSS, Javascript and XUL. I have several years of experience developing computer programs and this experience helped quite a bit.

At this point we have three working prototype toolbars. There is a generic toolbar which was developed for the main library. The generic toolbar will require more polishing as since the purpose of it is to be installed on our public image here in the library it just has a longer developing cycle. There is a Business Toolbar that is being developed by Chad Boeninger. There is an Engineering Toolbar which I have developed and have already started testing with my faculty and select graduate students in the Engineering department.

The Coding Librarian - Purpose

The Coding Librarian has been created to share ideas with colleagues and to discuss the modern day technical aspects of providing Reference and Instruction to students, faculty, staff and patrons of different types of libraries. I will attempt to examine the issues of technology and what can be done to keep abreast of different technical and non-technical methodologies for delivering the best possible service to our users.

As an coder and a developer I also have projects that I am working on that are meant to enhance what can be delivered to students here at Ohio University. I will chronicle the development of these applications I am hopeful that you will find them to be useful.