1. It’s not just a cleaning product.
2. This blog is using it right now.
Ajax has many potential uses, from error checking and auto-suggest features on forms to pre-loading content and drag and drop functionality you see on sites like Google Maps Street View. One of the things I learned is that WordPress (the software that provides this blog to the public) uses it to provide some features on their platform. Ajax is also a way to explain the new features you see when databases redesign. EbscoHost, Ovid and Scopus all have a the feature where you can click a link to ‘view abstract’ and immediately the content is revealed, without ever having to reload or go to another page. Ajax is one of the methods that allows web pages to do this.
3. It can help you provide a more dynamic library website.
Ajax has many library applications. It can offer a way to browse subject headings by suggesting likely terms, or alert users to potential number of search results, as Virginia Tech did with “Guesstimate” in their library catalog. It can serve as a substitute for long drop down menus, or keep pages clean by offering a search box only when users click on a link (click on ‘Site Search’ on this page from Montana State University Libraries for an example). You can even use Ajax to write your own federated search engine, as Curtain University Library in Australia has done. Of course, writing your own federated search engine comes with it’s own unique challenges, especially when it comes to authenticating users, which if you’re wondering, can in some cases be done using API keys from vendors.
4. You don’t need a Computer Science degree to use it, but it helps.
One of the things I realized during this class was how much more I needed to learn about xml, css, php, sql, and various other programming-related acronyms in order to implement anything scripted in Ajax on my library site. The workshop instructors (Karen Coombs and Jason Clark), in addition to being highly informative and engaging teachers, were also both self taught, and one the best pieces of advice they gave was to read up on the documentation and just keep practicing and writing pages until they work. One of the other librarians in the workshop wondered about the challenge this offers to those who do not have time to learn a new scripting language on top of their other responsibilities. Karen Coombs had an astute observation in this respect: that it is good for Public Services folks to at least see what is going on behind the scenes on library site design. In gaining an understanding of what the tech people have to do to make something work, you start to understand that it is not all just that easy.
5. Medical Librarians are EVERYWHERE.
Well, this one is not really about Ajax, but I have to point out that out of about 17 people in the CE, 4 of us were from medical libraries. And just next door, Sadie Honey was teaching a class on project management. We’re certainly pervasive, aren’t we?
The workshop’s slide presentation – Ajax for Libraries
Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications brief overview by Jesse James Garret
Getting Started with Ajax from Alistapart.com
Google AJAX libraries API
Foundations of Ajax by R. Asleson & N. Schutta (ISBN 1590595823)