In summer/fall 2012, I posted a series regarding the implementation of WordPress as an content management system.  Time prevented me from describing how we decided to configure WordPress for use in the University of Illinois Archives.  In my next two posts, I’d like to rectify that, first by describing our basic implementation, then by noting (in the second post) some WordPress configuration steps that proved particularly handy.

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Thematic Theme Structure, Hooks, and Filters

On April 14, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

One of the most useful resources I found when developing a child theme in the wordpress thematic theme framework was the theme structure document formerly found on the website.

With permission from Deryk, I am reproducing it here:

And, here is another great resource for development using Thematic:

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WordPress Accessiblity

On January 22, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

I have recently been using WordPress heavily on the University of Illinois main website.  We took many step when implementing WordPress to identify a theme framework that made webpages as accessible as possible.  This eventually led us to the Thematic framework–a barebones parent/child theme which provides pretty good accessibility out of the box.

However, there are several accessibility issues that seem to derive from the WP core rather than themes.  That’s way I was so happy today when I stumbled on this post regarding a WP accessibility plugin:

Updated Feb 17, 2014: here is another post about WP Accessibility:

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As I mentioned previously, I selected Thematic as the parent theme under which I am am developing a new website for the University of Illinois Archives.  Over the past several months, I set up the basic site structure, colors, fonts and layouts.  I am preparing to dive into deeper customization, but before doing that, I would like to list some resources that I found helpful in learning about Thematic and in customizing the site.  Then, I will describe some of the steps I took to actually customize the site.  If you want to see the work to date, a screenshot is below the fold.

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In a series of earlier posts, I noted that I am currently using WordPress to implement a new website for the University of Illinois Archives. Over the past several months, I have intermittently worked to choose a theme and begin customizing it.  In addition, Angela Jordan has help me move content into the theme system.

At this point, I have a functional website in place, and by early August, we will be enabling the site.  At the same time Jameatis Johnson, our new Archivist for Outreach and Engagement, will begin a round of iterative usability testing on the site.    Before we begin that project, I would like to describe the rationale for the decisions taken to date, as well as to outline some of the basic work that has been completed to set up the site.

Firs, a bit of review:  In my first post, I described the rationale for attempting to run an archives website as Content Mangement System powered by WordPress. My second post covered the basics of WordPress installation.  After I had installed the site, I decided to blow it away, and to reinstall with WordPress enabled for a multisite installation; I covered this topic in my third post. Finally, I gave some background on the WordPress Hooks  system, since understanding hooks is a necessity if you want to do serious customization work with WordPress.

Now it is time to discuss theme selection.

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Understanding WordPress Hooks

On April 17, 2012, in Research, by Chris Prom

As I noted in previous posts, I am configuring  WordPress network for the new University of Illinois Archives site.  In order to make the generic WordPress install to a fully functional CMS, I will be be selecting a theme framework, customizing the theme, and adding plugins to extend the core WordPress functionality.  Before I start with that, however, I’d like to explain a bit about how WordPress works under the hood.  Over the past year or so I’ve gradually come to see that this knowledge makes one a better WordPress administrator.

Like Drupal and several other CMS systems, WordPress includes a core set of files that dynamically produce the site.  In version 3.13. the core is about nine megabytes in size.

There are many reasons why wordpress is so popular, but underlying all of these reasons is the way that the WordPress ‘hooks’ system operates.  In this post, I’ll explain what the hooks system is, why you should care about it, and how that knowledge can help you select themes and plugins.

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Enabling WordPress Multisite

On April 12, 2012, in Research, by Chris Prom

If you are going to be using wordpress as a CMS for an organization with many subgroups, you may wish to enable WordPress Multisite.

Multisite allows you to run many WordPress sites as a network  within a single installation.  In the case of the University of Illinois Archives, several of our program areas, such as the Student Life and Culture and Sousa Archives, would like to have blogs and other features.  These will be separate from the main site.  They will have a separate set of users, a different look and feel, and some diffierent features.  By using mulitsite, we can provide them a separate identify while also allowing content to feed into and nest within into the main site.

So, to set the basis for long term growth, our first step after installing WordPress is to enable it for multisite usage.  It is best to enable it right away, even if you won’t be using all of its features, if you plan to use it in the future.* Before beginning, it is a good idea to read the pages Before you Create a Network.

First, we enable multisite mode by editing the file wp-config.php to insert the  following code:

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true);

Enabling WordPress Network

Once this has been completed, the option “Network Settings,” appears in the Dashboard, under the Tools menu.  When enabling the network, you make a one-time decision as to whether the sub-sites should be created as sub-domains or sub-folders.

Enabling the Network


In order to use the sub-domain option, your webserver must allow for the creation of new sub-domains on the fly.  You will likely need to see a system administrator to ensure that this is the case.  It is much easier to configure the network to use sub-folders.  It suits our needs better, so I choose that option.

After clicking through, you will need to edit two files on the server: wp-config.php and .htaccess.  WordPress tells you the exact changes that need to be made, and you should cut and past the provided code into the two files, the save them.  You can do this from the command line using vim or by using FTP and a text editor.  (.htaccess is a hidden file that is used by an apache webserver to record rules as to server operations in the directory where it is found; common uses are to include URL rewrite rules.)

After you have save the changes, you will need to login to wordpress, before you can use the multisite features. If the login is not being accepted, you should clear your browser cache and cookies and/or generate a new set of secret keys to replace the existing ones in the wp-config.php file.

*While it is not impossible to enable multisite later in time you will find it harder to do.  You may not be able to create the sub-sites using the folder mapping method described above.

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In my last post, I mentioned that WordPress has been essential to my growth in understanding digital technologies and digital preservation.  That is true not because I am a WordPress end user, but because I have administered WordPress.

Back in 2009, when I began this blog, I faced a fundamental choice: would I used a hosted blog service, such as one provided through or Blogger, or would I install and manage the blog myself?  I chose the latter option because a) I didn’t like the terms of service for the hosted accounts; b) I didn’t think hosted accounts provided enough flexibility; c) I really wanted to learn something about how blogs worked ‘under the hood’; and d) WordPress had the same basic server requirements as Archon, an application I had previously installed and managed.

I’m really glad I chose to host it myself, because installing the software forced me to engage with server administration tasks, theme customization, and user design issues in a systematic way.  I also discovered that the process of installing and managing a web application is not as daunting as it might seem.  In fact, I think it is well within the skill set of most archivists or general computer users.

To illustrate that, I’ll be using my next several posts to walk through basic installation and configuration of WordPress, which is being used as the base technology behind the new University of Illinois Archives website.

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Developing an Archives Website with WordPress

On April 2, 2012, in Methods, Research, by Chris Prom

Even though the topic of this blog is practical approach to e-records, I’d like to take the next few weeks to reflect on web design and architecture issues, since the way I really began to learn something about how web technologies work was by implementing them.  And, since I am in the process of moving the University of Illinois website to a new server and a new architecture, I thought I might share a thoughts as to how anyone can get started working with server technologies to improve archival access. All of these posts will be tagged  ‘websites’ so they can be accessed here:

Today, I’d like to just lay out what I’ll be doing and why, and I’ll try to follow up with additional posts as we go along.


Basically, I’ll be setting up a new website for the University of Illinois Archives.  My library technology group has given me a virtual machine, running Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 6.2.  Apache and PHP were configured, and over the past several weeks we installed some php extensions needed for Archon and for some common web applications such as wordpress, omeka and drupal.  I can access the computer in three ways:

  • via an ssh terminal (I use PuTTy from Window and terminal from my macbook; I have sudo (i.e. ‘administrator’) access to the entire machine)
  • via the file system (for techies, this is via a samba connection; only provides access to the webfolder)
  • via secure ftp.  (In practical terms, I don’t use it since I have file system access)


The existing University of Illinois Archives website is probably the antithesis of user centered design (UCD), and it is also hard for existing staff to manage.  It grew over many years, and many graduate students and employees have developed pages and sub-pages, without a consistent design philosophy.  It is far overdue for an overhaul, as I found out recently, when teaching my SAA workshop “Analyzing and Improving Archival Websites.” 

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