Library Web developer wins national award for innovation

Julia Murphy, marketing and volunteer coordinator, and Colin Tomele, Web developer, test Book-a-Room software.

Colin Tomele, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System's Web developer, has received the Public Library Association’s 2015 John Iliff Award.

The award honors the life and accomplishments of John Iliff, an early adopter and champion of technology in public libraries, and recognizes the contributions of a library worker, librarian or library that has used technology and innovative thinking as a tool to improve services to public library users.

Tomele received the award for creating a custom online calendar and room reservation system, called Book-a-Room, using WordPress, a free, open-source software. He created the system to replace an expensive, third-party reservation system that both staff and library customers found difficult to use.

Nancy Levin, library director, gave his idea the green light in 2013, when he suggested he could use his years of coding and Web design experience to create a better, more affordable system.

“I figured that I could write something that would be easier for our customers and staff to use, and more suited to the specific needs of libraries,” said Tomele. “The old system was a cookie-cutter product that did not allow for true in-house control of things that we needed, like the ability to allow nonprofit and for-profit customers to have separate registration forms.”

“Book-a-Room is the first application that I’ve designed as a WordPress plug-in, so I had to learn how to code for the environment by studying and learning WordPress,” Tomele continued. “I had a lot of support and help with brainstorming and bug testing, thanks to my fellow team members.”

“The new system is so much easier to use than the old one, we hardly even notice it,” said Julia Murphy, marketing and volunteer coordinator, who uses the system more than any other staff member. “I went from spending three hours a day managing meeting rooms online to about a half hour a day. Book-a-Room is just really simple and intuitive."

Tomele designed the program to improve a cumbersome process for staff and customers, and also to share it with other libraries. “Since this is something that can help libraries all over the world, we decided that we would release this for free, as open source software, on the WordPress Repository,” he said.

As of March 6, more than 40 organizations have downloaded the software and are actively installing it.

Locally, Wickliffe Public Library is using the software, and libraries as far away as Wales are working on installing it.

The award provides a $1,000 honorarium, a plaque and a bouquet of roses for the workplace.

“I’m going to give the roses to my co-workers,” said Tomele. “Without their support and feedback, I wouldn’t have been able to create Book-a-Room.”

Sheryl Banks

Sheryl Banks is the marketing and community relations manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 1:27 PM, 03.28.2016