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(This site has been set up specifically to help libraries in the CEF system take advantage of the free hosting plan offered to not-for-profits.  While the website can be used for any type of software or website building platform, these instructions cover the use of WordPress.  Included are at least 5 free WordPress themes that have been slightly edited to better fit the needs of what most small public libraries wish to accomplish with their sites.)

The Problem…

…or the aspiration, to keep a positive spin on it all, is to have effective, attractive websites for our libraries that do not break the bank but still give us ease of use and full control over the content.  As with many CEF libraries, we knew we should have a better presence on the web, but struggled with how to best do it.  Cost was a factor, as was technical know-how, and the desire to have our staff able to manage the content ona day to day basis.

The Possible Solutions…

…are many.   The CEF newsletter has discussed the issue, and a quick glance at the various websites of the member libraries shows a wide range of solutions.  Briefly, the options range from totally free websites (where you are required to carry display ads, have a subdomain, very limited space and little design control) to a full blown web designer who will create and host your site for you for a few hundred dollars.  All of these are appropriate for different situations.  In Wilmington we did not have the money to pay someone (either to build the site or to host/maintain it year after year) but we still wanted to move beyond the simple site we had had for a decade (which had been generously hosted under The Northern New York Library Network).

The easiest and most common solution is to sign up for a website host which allows  you to build a simple site for free, and for a small extra charge will perhaps take the advertisements off the site or let you use your own domain name.  While this is effective, you do end up compromising a lot of control.  For example, you cannot easily expand or change design.  However, if you are able to interface with and design a site with this type of service you should have no difficulty using the solution we have used in Wilmington.

Perhaps the best and easiest solution is to hire a local web designer who will also host your site for you.  The cost is $200 to $500 to set it up, and $100 to $200 per year for the service.  The benefits are that you get a very nice site with no ads, and someone will do the work for you.  You do not need to know the ins and outs of programming.  The drawbacks are that it is not easy to update, as you need to tell your programmer what you want, and pay extra if you make too many updates.  The other drawback, of course, is that it costs money.  Additionally, you do not get the wide range of programing and other options that a fully hosted plan comes with, such as email at your domain, a wide range of software to choose from in addition to a straight html design, and the ability to add subdomain, which can effective work as fully independent websites (which is what I have done here with this tutorial and the accompanying template examples – effectively six additional websites all as part of the hosting plan.)

What We Did…

…was set up our own hosting account with DreamHost.  Dreamhost is the type or website host that provides you with a large anount of web space to do with what you want.  It is a bit more involved than the standard cookie cutter web hosts in that you need to know a little bit about setting up your own programs.   With all the easy to use programs available these days, however, it is fairly straightforward.  It is also more involved than hiring a local deigner and host, and for this reason may not be the way to go if you would prefer someone else do all the work.  WIth this tutorial and the templates I have adapted, it should not really be too hard.

The main reason we went with Dreamhost is that they provide one of the best packages for not-for-profits.  Basically, if you have a determination letter from the IRS proving your 501 (c) (3) status, then you can get totally free hosting, complete with your own domain name and no restrictons, hidden requirements like advertisements on your site, or other stipulations that almost every other “free” site I have come across put in the deal.

They can do this primarily because webspace and bandwidth are fairly cheap, and the amount of space most small non-profits use is relatively small.  By offering their top-of-the line plan for free, they get a nice tax write off, I am sure, and they also further their own charitable and social goals.  They also provide certified carbon neutral, or green hosting, which is an excellent benefit.

The hardest part is getting it set up; after that it is as easy as you want it to be, and a lot more flexible than many of the other choices.  I am able to help you with the hardest part of setting it up, and as long as you have someone on your staff or board (or another volunteer) who is able to spearhead the project you should be up and running fairly quickly.

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