The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library is pleased to announce that its web developer, Colin Tomele, has received the Public Library Association’s (PLA) 2015 John Iliff Award.

The PLA John Iliff 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.

Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator Julia Murphy and Web Developer Colin Tomele test Book-a-Room software.

Tomele received the national award for creating a custom online calendar and room reservation system, called Book-a-Room, using WordPress, a free, open-source software known for both its sturdiness and simplicity. He created the system for Heights Libraries to replace an expensive, third-party reservation system that both staff and library customers found difficult to use. Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin 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,” says 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 plugin, so I had to learn how to code for the environment by studying and learning WordPress,” Tomele continues.  “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,” says Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator Julia Murphy, who manages Heights Libraries meeting rooms and 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.”

Murphy also says calls from customers and staff asking for help reserving meeting rooms have completely disappeared now that the new system is in place. “I used to get several calls a day but now I get none. Book a Room is just really simple and intuitive.”

Tomele designed the program not just to improve a cumbersome process for Heights Libraries’ staff and customers. Tomele also designed the program with an eye to sharing 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.”

As of February 17, 2016, over 30 organizations have downloaded the software and are actively installing it. Local Wickliffe Public Library is currently 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 coworkers,” says Tomele. “Without their support and feedback, I wouldn’t have been able to create Book-a-Room.”

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