PNW Pest Management Handbook Websites

Growers and gardeners have 24/7 access to pest management information in print, online, and now...on their phones.

Situation

Weeds, insects, and plant diseases hassle home gardeners and hinder growers’ ability to turn a profit. These people, as well as the Extension specialists, master gardener volunteers, and industry crop consultants who serve them, rely on research-based advice to manage pests efficiently, safely, sustainably, and cost-effectively. They often turn to a trio of Pacific Northwest (PNW) Extension handbooks published by EESC.

To be useful, the information must be easy to access and updated regularly. That’s a big task for handbooks that average nearly 700 pages (each!) in print.

For several decades, EESC collaborated with a team of lead editors—who in turn manage more than 150 contributors—to revise the printed handbooks annually and distribute them throughout Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Other OSU departments managed the handbook websites, which were developed in the late 1990s.

Jennifer Alexander, an EESC publishing manager and project manager for the handbooks, said there were several reasons for change.

“The websites were becoming more of a burden than a benefit,” said Alexander. “Annual website updates were time consuming and often delayed. In addition, the departments that managed the websites could no longer support dated technology or fund subject-matter faculty to maintain websites.”

Advances in web and publishing technology provided an opportunity to not only modernize the websites but also update the handbooks more easily and more often. Because $2 from the sale of each printed handbook supports development of online handbook information, EESC had the resources to take on this project.

Our Approach

In 2010, EESC spearheaded a multi-year project to overhaul the handbook websites. The primary goal was to provide convenient online access to handbook content. But this wasn’t just a website redesign project. There’s still demand for the printed handbooks, so EESC also needed to develop an efficient print-to-web publishing process.

EESC tackled one handbook a year, each time beginning by meeting with the lead editor to discuss audience needs, content organization, and website features.

“There was a lot of behind-the-scenes programming work, but we also planned time to do demos for and get feedback from the lead editors,” Alexander said.

Weed (2011): First, EESC established a standard print-to-web publishing process (InDesign to HTML to web) and built website templates using the Drupal content management system. We also added custom modules that allow the lead editor to add supplemental content, such as photos and related links, without altering the peer-reviewed, published handbook content.

Plant Disease (2012): Next, EESC automated parts of the web-publishing process by developing a custom upload script. This website also features print-friendly website pages that can be used as handouts and a more attractive photos display.

Insect (2013): The insect website uses the automated upload script and also features a responsive, mobile-friendly design.

“Because Drupal is open source, it’s always improving,” said Bryan Mayjor, EESC’s technology-assisted education developer. “Drupal is also very intuitive and user-friendly, so it’s easy for the lead editors to add and edit supplemental content.”

Results and Impact

In 2013, the plant disease website had the most visits (205,765), followed by weed (59,215) and insect (34,567). On average, 19 percent of visits to all three websites are from smartphones and tablets, which supports EESC’s plan to upgrade the weed and plant disease websites to responsive design in the future.

The upload script is extremely efficient. EESC can complete updates that used to take days and weeks in just hours. This, combined with print-on-demand hard-copy books, allows lead editors to update the handbooks biannually or quarterly, if they choose. EESC also saves expenses associated with warehousing and recycling unsold print copies.

The lead editors are now able to focus on content revisions, rather than website maintenance. However, it’s also easy for them to add supplemental content at any time, which keeps the websites useful, fresh, and interesting. And EESC provides the lead editors access to Google Analytics, which they use to make informed decisions about content revisions.

“Without EESC, I do not know how we could ever have accomplished what we have done in the last four years,” said Ed Peachey, OSU Extension weed specialist and lead editor of the weed management handbook.

Partners

Jay W. Pscheidt and Cynthia Ocamb, OSU Department of Botany and Plant Pathology; Ed Peachey, OSU Department of Horticulture; Craig Hollingsworth, Department of Entomology, University of Massachusetts; OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Integrated Plant Protection Center; PNW Publishing Cooperative