ARL Library Catalog Department Web Sites: An Evaluative Study

Article excerpt

User-friendly and content-rich Web sites are indispensable for any knowledge-based organization. Web site evaluation studies point to ways to improve the efficiency and usability of Web sites. Library catalog or technical services department Web sites have proliferated in the past few years, but there is no systematic and accepted method that evaluates the performance of these Web sites. An earlier study by Mundle, Zhao, and Bangalore evaluated catalog department Web sites within the consortium of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) libraries, proposed a model to assess these Web sites, and recommended desirable features for them. The present study was undertaken to test the model further and to assess the recommended features. The study evaluated the catalog department Web sites of Association of Research Libraries members. It validated the model proposed, and confirmed the use of the performance index (PI) as an objective measure to assess the usability or workability of a catalog department Web site. The model advocates using a PI of 1.5 as the benchmark for catalog department Web site evaluation by employing the study tool and scoring method suggested in this paper.

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No library could function in today's information society without well-designed and well-maintained Web sites. Individual departments within the library also need adequate Web presence. Clientele for departmental library Web sites is different from the general library Web sites. For catalogers, their department Web site should provide access to sources for cataloging and classification, local policies and procedures, a departmental staff directory, and other useful and relevant information from within and outside the unit.

Background

Although many catalog departments or technical services operations have developed their Web sites, the published literature reporting their existence, development, or design remains scanty. Catalog department Web sites act as a gateway to important local and external cataloging-related resources in an organized way. Catalogers use these Web sites to get information about their department and its local policies and procedures, find out about recent changes to rules, and educate themselves about emerging standards, new trends, and other developments happening in the field. Cataloging is a dynamic and constantly evolving field; thus, catalog department Web sites must undergo periodic assessments or evaluations to determine if updates or revisions are necessary. Although a few attempts were made in the past at evaluating general library Web pages, assessment of departmental Web pages, particularly those of technical services, catalog departments, or both, have been missing. The authors sought to bridge this gap with an earlier pilot study that evaluated the catalog department Web pages of thirteen member libraries of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), (1) Their study proposed a model to evaluate the performance of a catalog department Web page and recommended desirable features for such Web sites. To assess their recommendations, and to test their model, authors of this paper studied a larger group of research libraries--members of the Association for Research Libraries (ARL), which includes the thirteen CIC libraries. The specific objectives of the current study were to:

* test the model devised previously by expanding the study to 123 ARL member institution libraries (including all CIC libraries); and

* assess whether recommendations made in the earlier study enhance the performance and workability of the catalog department Web sites.

ARL is a not-for-profit membership organization comprising most of the leading research libraries in North America. In the world of library and information sciences, ARL member libraries are leaders and early adopters as well as adapters of cutting-edge technology. Member libraries investigate, implement, and disseminate best practices; assess services; and monitor trends in the library world. …