Interview with Cody Hennesy

Cody Hennesy is the E-Learning Librarian at the University of California, Berkeley. He has coded a variety of academic library sites and tools and recently developed the front-end for the online resource maintained by Library Juice Press, Alternatives in Print: A Directory of Alternative Publishers and Critical Periodicals. He is going to be teaching a class in Drupal for libraries next month with Library Juice Academy. He agreed to do an interview here to give people a clearer idea of what will be covered in the class, as well as a bit about him and his background and interests.

Thanks for doing this interview, Cody. I’d like to start by asking you to talk about your background and what brought you to the point of teaching this class – how you became qualified and why the topic interests you.

My first experience with Drupal was building the CCA Library website. I’d coded in HTML, CSS, PHP and MySQL for a number of years while designing and maintaining library-related web services and I found that Drupal solved a number of problems that maintaining a static hand-coded site presented. One major advantage was that library staff who wanted to contribute to the Library website could, using Drupal, simply log in and edit their content without dealing with HTML or FTP uploads of new content. Drupal also makes it easy to extend the functionality of your website to include common features like web forms or staff lists without hand-coding custom pages.

In my current position at UC Berkeley I was part of a team that recently recommended the migration of our Library website to Drupal. Academic and library communities have both widely adopted Drupal, so itís good to know that the system will continue to improve and to include more library- and academia-related features over the years.

So, for people who don’t know what Drupal is, can you explain what it is and say what you like about it, what its other advantages are over other ways of doing the same thing?

Drupal is a free and open source content management system. In other words, it’s a software package for building and maintaining websites. The main advantage of using Drupal is that you can build a coherent and feature-rich website without being able to code HTML, PHP or other web programming languages. You can use Drupal’s administration menu to add, edit and delete web content with the press of a few buttons. You can even spin up more advanced features like blogs or discussion forums without having a web-programming background.

Makes sense. So, what exactly will be covered in the class and what can people expect to be able to do when they have finished it?

This class will cover the fundamentals of building a Drupal website. A student will come of out of the class with hands-on experience working with basic Drupal tools and concepts such as content nodes, blocks, themes, menus and modules. Using a free cloud-hosted Drupal platform students will build their own mini-site focused on a specific common element of a Library website. A student might choose, for example, to organize and provide access to a small group of electronic resources such as article databases, or to design a site to organize a list of branch libraries. The idea is that a student will not only learn her way around Drupal, but also begin to see how Drupal can be leveraged to confront some of the challenges of designing user-friendly library web services.

What is involved in starting to use Drupal in a library, besides this?

Drupal is a highly extensible framework and there’s always more to learn. One critical area we won’t have time to cover in class are Drupal’s system and hosting requirements. Hopefully library staff have access to a systems administrator or IT department who can help in those areas. There’s a large open source community available to support further learning though, and library staff interested in moving to Drupal should continue to experiment with the platform, especially with advanced features such as Views and Panels.

There are also web fundamentals like usability, content strategy and accessibility that anyone developing a new website, Drupal or not, should consider closely.

Well, this seems like an extremely practical course. I know a lot of people want to learn Drupal. I’m wondering if you could say a bit about your other interests. And if you had a chance to teach anything you wanted with Library Juice Academy, what would it be?

I’m interested in how information technologies are adopted in particular cultures and how their uses change over time. I’m particularly fascinated with “old” communication technologies and the communities that build up around them. Along those lines, I have a weekly show on a local FM radio station and spend much of my free time digging into the history of psychedelic world music (the global spread of recording and broadcast technology is of particular interest).

Thinking about classes I would like to teach, I keep instead coming up with classes I would like to take (finding and working with data sets, intro to digital humanities).

Okay, well I will keep those ideas in mind. Does your radio show get streamed on the web?

It does, every Sunday night, 9pm-midnight (PST):

Cool. Well, thank you for this interview. It was informative. Best of luck with the class, and with your radio show.

Thanks Rory, I’m looking forward to the class and seeing what kinds of cool sites the students build!

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