When the team at Santa Clarita Library reached us with a few questions about OpenPublic, we wanted to find out more about their project. Their beautiful new site just launched on July 1st, and Santa Clarita’s Webmaster, Ryan Drake, sat down to answer a few of our questions.
Q: What made you choose OpenPublic as the CMS to work with for this campaign?
A: Having used a proprietary CMS for the last few websites that we developed for Santa Clarita, I wanted to explore an open source option for our upcoming Library site to compare experiences. After deciding on Drupal, I started to look around for templates or some out of the box solutions, as this was my first experience using Drupal. Unfortunately, what I was finding was not even close to what I was looking for. After a few failed starts, a former colleague and current Code for America fellow Ryan Resella pointed me to Open Public. As soon as I saw the layout, I thought it was something we could make work with the design comp we had created.
Q: Your site looks very different from the two theming options that come out-of-the-box with OpenPublic. How difficult was it for your team to create a unique look and feel for the site?
A: Since this was my first foray into Drupal, I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to modify the original Open Public theme to match the design we had come up with. I started off by modifying the basic elements that were already in place with the basic OpenPublic theme. Those initial modifications were very straightforward and easy to do. There were some issues that I ran into that I’m sure someone with more knowledge of Drupal would have been able to power through. I was able to hack my way through a couple areas, like adding the buttons next to the Home Page Feature images. I’m sure the workarounds that I came up with would make experienced Drupal developers cringe, but it’s working.
Q: How long did it take your team to build the site? Was anything harder than you expected? Easier?
A: I’ve spent close to three months on the site. The majority of that time was on the implementation of our custom design. However, had I used one of the two base themes from OpenPublic I could have literally been up and running in a couple of days. Again, that’s with never have installed a Drupal instance before. The hardest things for me in this whole process have just been learning how to tweak and modify Drupal modules and get OpenPublic to work with our custom design.
Q: Can you describe some of the main challenges you were confronted with in this project and how you overcame them?
A: My main challenges were getting the buttons next to the home page feature photos and modifying the email signup form to link up to our iContact account. Being a Drupal virgin made some of the simplest tasks more difficult than I expected. I knew what I needed to do, but I just wasn’t sure how to do it. But that comes with any learning curve and was something that I was prepared for when I chose to venture into new territory. That being said, the Drupal.org community forums, GovLoop forums and even Phase2 staff were very helpful in helping me overcome issues, or at least pointing me in the right direction to work through any obstacles.
Q: What are a couple of your favorite features on the new Library site?
A: My two favorite features of the site are the Home Page Feature images and, now that the site is in production, the ease of adding and updating content. City Staff members that have been able to begin adding content and use the CMS are all impressed on how easy it is to update/add content. Same thing goes for the Home Page Feature images. When we first created the design for the site I was wondering how our new librarians would be able to upload those images on a consistent basis. Now that we are set to launch, I’m confident that staff will be able to handle all of the content updates with minimal assistance from our team.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I’m very happy with OpenPublic so far. As I’ve said with this being my first go at Drupal, OpenPublic really helped me start way ahead of the game. We are also planning on using one of the base themes to rework our local Sheriff website. There a couple minor bugs that I hope will be fixed sooner than later (like the stubborn Leadership Nav option). I would also like to see the Calendar module integrated into the basic theme more. Most municipalities utilize community calendars, something that OpenPublic is lacking out of the box.
Congratulations to the entire Santa Clarita Public Library team! We hope their great site will inspire others to get started with OpenPublic.