Cool Plugins & Themes for a WordPress Library Blog and Resource Directory

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WordPress remixed by lloydsscreenies @ Flickr

This week, I will be reviewing some excellent themes and plugins for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla in my search to decide which content management software (CMS) to use for the Library Currents Beta website blog. I will be going a little deeper into certain themes and plugins in order to determine how the look and functionality of each CMS will fit into the concept of a LIS resource blog such as Library Currents. The three areas I will be rating this week are: 1) the design experience: finding themes, loading them, customizing them and choosing one to use; 2) finding a directory plugin with flexible capabilities at low cost and creating a few listings; and 3) finding and activating a plugin that can facilitate user conversation in the blog, such as social sharing functionality (buttons that share articles on social media sites).

This post will take a look at some WordPress themes and plugins that will be necessary for the initial launch.

WordPress Design Experience

The Mesocolumn Theme
The Publish Theme
The Sampression Lite Theme

WordPress scored high on the themes rating last week, so it was time to put its theme search tool to work. I decided it was important to find a responsive theme which makes the website a flexible width so that it can be viewed on smaller screen mobile devices like iPads and smartphones. The themes search function brought up a number of template which looked fine, but three stood out for me: Mesocolumn, Publish and Sampression Lite. I’m grateful that I was able to find one I really liked, let alone three!

What I like about these designs are that they look clean, professional, yet always have a character that is still unique. It’s really difficult to walk that line between doing too little and too much, but I think these themes do well, especially as free themes (I did not consider paid themes at this time for budget considerations, and because it would be difficult to demo paid themes for three content management systems). The themes were tested, and none of them were buggy or filled with errors. WordPress shines again in finding a theme with ease. If WordPress wins the CMS contest, I think I will be going with Mesocolumn. Although I love Suppression Lite visually, the layout could be distracting for some viewers. Mesocolumn speaks “Professional, but safe.”

Design Experience rating: 10

WordPress Directory Capabilities

Business Directory Plugin

WordPress does not have a native link directory as of version 3.5. As a result, the user must search for a plugin. Thankfully, WordPress provides a plugin search tool that allows the user to find useful apps.

I decided to look for a directory that was highly customizable with a variety of fields. I also wanted to be able to include different types of resources in my directory: websites, books, physical libraries and organizations. Many of the directories in the search database seemed pretty straightforward, but wouldn’t allow me to include a library without a website, for example. The most customizable plugin seemed to be Business Directory Plugin, which allowed for link categories and the ability to add extensions, such as the ability of users to rate and write a brief review of the resource. This would be an excellent way to engage users in conversation, but it has a $49.99 price tag for this extension. Additional extensions could drive the cost upwards. So the choice here would be to go with a less than ideal directory plugin for free without many features, or to invest money into a social directory with great user experience. On the positive side, the base model for Business Directory Plugin is still free, which allows the user to purchase additional modules as they can be afforded.

Directory Capabilities rating: 8

WordPress Social Sharing Functionality

JetPack Plugin Package

Sharing content to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, is a key consideration for creating dialogue about library innovation. Information highways must be set up that are easy to maintain and can help automate the process of getting the word out. Not only that, but the social sharing should be user intuitive and entice the reader to engage in conversation, whether it is a like, a share or a comment. Since this functionality is not native to WordPress, a plugin must be found to facilitate this conversation.

Perhaps for the first time, the plugin search tool in WordPress was a disappointment, but not for the lack of trying: it provided me with a bevy of social sharing plugins, some good and some bad. I felt a bit overwhelmed and wondered if I would have to test a good 5 to 10 plugins before deciding which to use.

Then I came across a free plugin package called JetPack. This bundle of plugins could almost be considered native, as they are created by Automattic, the main developers of WordPress. Useful plugins include statistics, comments integrated with social media, gravatar hovercards, contact forms, mobile themification, video uploading, and, yes, even social sharing! Not only does the plugin package automatically posts new articles to such sites as Facebook and Twitter, but it also sets up buttons for users to Like and Share blog articles on their own news feeds.

30 for the price of 1! And that price is free!

Social sharing functionality rating: 10

WordPress score this week: 28/30. WordPress total score so far: 74

Next up: More cool themes and plugins from Drupal

Series Navigation<< A Demo and Review of the Joomla! Content Management System (CMS)Trying out useful themes and plugins for a Drupal site >>
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Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at librarycurrents1@aol.com.

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