Doors Open Ottawa 2011 (Part 1)

It was actually two weekends ago now that Doors Open Ottawa 2011 happened (June 4-5). Although it doesn’t quite fit in with the usual library related things I post, it was too cool of an experience not to blog about it.

A quick list of first half of the places I visited (in alphabetical order):

I somehow did all of this in one weekend. Took a day pass, a map, and a bit of planning, but it worked! Be warned: this post will be fairly image heavy. In visited order:

View Doors Open in a larger map

Billings Bridge Artifact Collection (Routhier Community Centre)

Billings Bridge Estate chair and pianoBillings Family Photos

This was a neat little collection of various furnishings and other items that are part of the Billings Bridge collection (exhibited at times at Billings Bridge Estate. I admit that after seeing the LAC Preservation Centre, the storage facility itself was not particularly impressive, but they definitely thought it through (complete with raised floors, humdifier, temperature control, and flood detectors). Nevertheless, as they recently redid the museum to be less showing of what it was like in the old times to more interactive screens/videos, it was nice to have the opportunity to see some of Ottawa’s history.

Blackburn Building

Blackburn Building
The Blackburn Building is really just an apartment building, but the indoor courtyard done in the Art Deco style was neat.

Bytown Museum & Rideau Canal

Bytown Museum and Rideau Canal

Bytown Museum was very interesting as the tour guide gave us a quick history of Ottawa, focusing on how Ottawa started as Bytown, the building of the Canal, and then how it got renamed. In doing so, she also talked about why the Bytown Museum (which was a warehouse and guardhouse) is the only building in Ottawa in the Georgian style architecture (though not quite true to it). Apparently, the Rideau Canal took so long to build, by the time it was done, the Georgian period had passed. While there, I also happened to see one of the Rideau Canal gates open and close. Not something you see everyday!


Dragon Lamp

This is actually restored building done in the Georgian style as the original was burnt down in 1978. It mostly has offices with some retail on the ground floor. This was another building that had balconies and walkways indoors (much like Blackburn), plus some neat lamp decorations.

C.D. Howe (green roof)

C.D. Howe Green Roof

C.D. Howe is the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) building with retail shops on the lower levels. The building itself, however, was not the point of visiting the building, but rather to see Ottawa’s first ever green roof. The initiative is great for not only having a nice place to lounge with greenery for wildlife, it also helps to reduce energy use and the heat in cities.

Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat

Islamic Delegation building foyer
The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building was really neat. Of all the modern buildings I saw, I think I enjoyed this one the most. Other than the impressive dome, the metalwork you see around the foyer area is inspired by Islamic art created as a sort of screen where it is easy for those on the upper floor to see into the open space, but difficult for someone on the ground floor to see up to the balcony-like upper floor.

Islamic Delegation Courtyard

The courtyard was interesting too since originally it was supposed to have a fountain, but for whatever reason they could not put one in. So the architect found different ways to include water thematically. The courtyard floor is slanted so that water will collect in the center and drain away. The floor is even heated to accelerate the melting of snow during winter. The bushes are also shaped into a wave pattern so that when it snows, it becomes quite obvious.

Embassy of France

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hadn’t really planned on going to the Embassy of France, but I’m glad I did. It’s a modern building as you can see from the images. The tapestries were very impressive: very large, well made, and some are quite old. The wall sculpture decorations were very nice as well. I thought the mix of decor styles was quite interesting. My only problem with the experience was that I felt like part of a herd.

Originally, I was going to post all the places, but the post was getting way too long. Stay tuned for Part 2.

MediaWiki Image Link Workaround

So, in playing around with my user page and trying to make it look pretty, I found out that you can link an image to an internal or external link like you might normally do instead of the File: page. That’s great, but the problem I found was that except for the basic internal and external link, when you linked the image to something that inherently has a little icon next to it (e.g. mailto link gives you a little e-mail icon), then it would show the icon next to the image (see below left).

So, it turns out that there is a workaround to hide the icon (see above right). You can add this bit of code to the main.css file:

#bodyContent .plainlinks a {
background: none repeat scroll 0 0 transparent !important;
padding: 0 !important;

Or if the CSS Extension is installed, you can hack it by using the same code, but you’ll probably want it to be context dependent if you can.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Preservation Centre

So our group actually went on this tour back on May 18th, but I somewhat forgot to write about it.

I apologize for lack of pictures. We weren’t really allowed to take anything in with us, so the best I can do is describe it. Click on the image below though, they have a few pictures on their own site.

Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre

The architecture is really interesting since it’s inspired by the Prairies. The towers look like oil rigs, and the various connected buildings in and outside look like barns or silos. The Centre itself is also separated into two sections. The inside vault is basically in a big cement block and then there’s a large hallway space with a glass building surrounding it. To give you perspective on the size, it’s two football fields big and could fit 2 boeing 747s if the vault wasn’t in it.

The inside has 4 floors of vault and then an open floor above for work areas. Each vault floor has numerous vaults separated into rectangular rooms much like most places that store materials. Humidity and temperature is different depending on the format of the material inside as to be expected. Audio/video is of course as challenge due to the shifts in format/technology. The paintings are pretty neat. There were a number of Laurier portraits, the Churchill one was nice, and copies of the original Proclamation of the Constitution Act. The original we’ve been told is in a top secret vault (no kidding).

Proclamation of the Constitution Act

The top floor is the “village” where they have little huts with all the equipment they need to do restoration, preservation, and format transfers. They’re considered huts since they can be reconfigured (I imagine they don’t do it all that often though). Particularly neat was the page remaking process where they remake and fill in what’s missing of each page from a book, and also the cover remaking/rebinding. We got to watch a short video on the comparison between before and after a film restoration which was pretty cool.

It was a very cool tour. It’s definitely worth going if you have time!

Adjusting Management Styles and Organizational Cultures

I’m sure everyone has experienced it when they change jobs. Everyone has experienced the shift and the need to adjust to a new job, manager/supervisor, and organization. I think what’s really hit me is that I’ve gone from one end to the pendulum to the complete opposite (or so it seems).


At my old job, I was basically given a one liner on what I should be doing, “go do x, and if you don’t know how, just read up on it and give it a go.” If I needed help though, my coworkers would be more than happy to. I used my time as I saw fit in working on projects, and attended workshops on campus.

Now, I get lots of detail on what is being asked of me. I also send everything to be vetted by my manager and sometimes other coworkers. I keep a list of everything I’m working on and completed as well. I ask permission to go to anything my manager hasn’t directly sent me to.


In general, yes, things were divided by units or departments, but we got good response time for the most part and had a fair amount of control over what we could do. It was fairly easy to contact people and find out what information you wanted or needed.

Now, things are not only divided, things sometimes frustrate me, because we get minimal to little support in some areas. I also find it difficult to get information, having to through unusual ways to get it frequently. Though I admit, I think a lot of it is having no control and being allowed to be given any. It’s irking especially to know that you could probably fix it yourself, but it’s not your job. Then again, it seems I’ve just been “lucky” to encounter a number of issues and it’s not that common for a lot of the little things to happen that have been bothering me. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things do go very well. I have found people very helpful and willing to help, and IT help desk is great!


There is no better, just different and what fits better with your work style.


general, yes, things were divided by units or departments, but we got good response time for the most part and had a fair amount of control over what we could do. It was fairly easy to contact people and find out what information you wanted or needed.

Traffic Curbing in a “Collaborative” Environment

So, it seems like lots of social media is used here and a lot of it is done in house. WordPressMU blogs, MediaWiki install, video/audio repository, RSS feeds, SharePoint… you get the idea. However, other social media wouldn’t really make sense to do in house, like Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc.

However, bandwidth is limited for Internet usage (i.e. outside of the Intranet), but perhaps because general Internet usage is needed by many, it’s only certain types of sites that are restricted. Chat/external e-mail is just blocked, but some sites are simply limited by bandwidth; primarily social media sites (Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc.).  Facebook… okay, you got chat, games, apps, pics, vids… very bandwidth intensive stuff.  But why Twitter? It’s all just text. (Use of Google tools too is somewhat encouraged for the collaborative bits, and I have no problem with maps/reader/calendar, but google docs just stalls…)

The Solution? Third-party apps. As long as your supervisor approves of it, you can request to get it installed. So, I now have TweetDeck to post on twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, and whatever other social media I’d like to, and keep track of friends too.

In the end, I can’t complain too much, because they’re already way ahead of others in promoting and encouraging use of collaborative tools and social media for work purposes compared to many other organizations, non-government included.

About Portal

So the About portal really was just a redesign for the most part. The process was the usual inventory of pages of the current About section (see below left), trying to put them into cateogries, then coming up with a preliminary information architecture. For this portal, we also consulted with the Communications department to ask about what else might be added.

Attempt #1
The first attempt at the redesign was to use the existing design from the Help and Services portals (see above right). If you look at the full version, you can tell that the problem with using the existing design is that there is a lot of white space since each category only has 2-4 links. Everyone, who looked at this first attempt, agreed that it just didn’t work. We concluded though that since the About portal didn’t serve the same sort of purpose as Help, Services, and Find, it would be okay to use a different design. So, it was back to the drawing board.

Attempt #2
When thinking about how we might do another design, one of the ideas was to somehow bring the University Librarian’s message back to the foreground. We essentially ended up with the layout of the old design, just with the set of links organized in the new way. This didn’t work either since the navigation of the portal was essentially lost.

Attempt #3
Finally, I thought perhaps we could go with a simpler design. I looked at a bunch of other sites (library and otherwise) to see how they dealt with the layout and organization of their About sections. Based on those layouts and suggestions from others, we came up with the current design.

screenshot of current about
New About

The new About design uses the same organization as in the first version, but simply lays out all the links underneath a heading. It also has the first two paragraphs of the university librarian’s message, where if you click on the title, you will see the full message. We agreed that this was a nice balance between the first and second attempts.

Contact Us page
Most pages/posts were simply moved over, but all were in agreement that the Contact Us page needed a redesign. So, a redesign it was. We felt that the old page had too many links (all users who saw this page during the usability test said as much), especially since a lot of these links exist elsewhere on the site (namely on the Services Portal) and the front page as well in many cases. A couple of the forms were merged or updated to par down the number of links further.

Migration of all the pages have been done and everything has been setup, but since the Newsletters were moved into Issuu, issues were embedded to posts (which worked fine), but then didn’t show up on aggregated pages (the embedded object would just be stripped out). Styling has yet to be done as well. Hopefully it’ll be live soon though.

The Ever Changing Project and Timeline

The Original Project
Not many people know, but when I began my current project/job, I was hired to revamp the Instructional Resources pages of the library website. Essentially, it was two pages. That’s right, two.

The Growing Project
Of course, trying to compile a list of all the instructional resources at such a large university still took a long time. And since part of the goal was to centralize these tutorials into one place and also migrate them to wiki, a whole web portal came out of it, which of course involved various staff and committees. The idea was to get it all done by the end of summer, but of course, because the tutorials also needed updating, that didn’t happen. To date, we have not migrated even half of the Help portal (of the list you see under Finding, only Journal Articles comes from the wiki). Nevertheless, we launched the portal page itself.

Redesigned Help Portal
Current Help Portal

The New (Related) Project
Out of my work on the one portal grew the plan for another portal, the purpose of which was to list the services the library provide. Our library has apparently never had such a page, which seemed odd to me, but true (I had never known of a page like that in all my time here).

Interestingly, this portal had much more user testing than consultation with others, because it was putting together a new portal and would not affect any existing parts of the website. We also rethought the design so that we minimize the amount of screen space we’d be using and in our testing, we found people had no problems with the navigation and those who tended to skim through pages found this design better/more useful than the older Help portal design, because they were forced to read the headings to move further on, and thus were more likely to read them than to skim.

Services Portal screenshot
Current Services Portal

Although some pages have yet to be migrated into WordPress/wiki, most of it is done even if it’s not all public. We prefer not to change things so close to the end of term (especially since some of them are really popular pages) and there’s a bug or two that need to be fixed with the WordPress pages. Soon though, I hope.

Two More Projects
So with Services launched, the plan for this term was basically the rest of the main site minus the home page (and Branches since that only really needs a migration). One is the Find Portal to replace the current navigation of Catalogues/Journals/E-Resources, and the other is About Portal to replace the current About Us section.

Ever Changing Timeline
It became fairly clear a few weeks ago that due to the need to prioritize other projects, my co-worker was not going to be available to do usability testing for the two new portals. After discussions with my supervisor, we decided that we’d have to push the timeline back for testing and we could really only go as far as preparing for it. Nevertheless, we’ll be pushing forward with About since that’s an area that is not used quite so much by our users and most of the decisions would come from other divisions. Find will go as far as a prototype site with preparation for usability testing.

Find Portal prototype screenshot
Find Portal prototype

Unfortunately, I struggled with the organization of the Find Portal, so another look will be needed before and after usability testing.

Here’s hoping that the new timeline goes through.

Ever Continuing Projects
So, beyond launching the actual portal pages, a lot of work has continued with migrating everything to WordPress and encourage staff to help update existing pages or provide us with new content. As I mentioned, much of Help is still simply linking to old pages (some were so out of date, we had to take them down), but Services is moving along and I hope to get it all done by the end of next month. Nevertheless, as all websites, it’ll be continual project that will be taken up by the rest of the team (and perhaps a new co-op student in the summer).