Customized Data Delivery through Web Portals

Article excerpt

A Case Study

To accommodate several diverse audiences, the University of Virginia Health Sciences Library is developing a series of Web portals to allow users to tailor library resources and services more closely to their needs. Serving more than a half-million people a year through its physical and virtual doors, the University of Virginia Health Sciences Library is at the center of the University's Health System, comprised of the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, Graduate Programs, Research, and the Medical Center. The library plays a key role across all departments of the University's Health System and at every point in the healthcare continuum--education, research, clinical care, and health system management.

The library's clientele represents a myriad of information needs that cut across all academic disciplines, from basic sciences to business to law. Increasingly, our user base has little time to visit the library, let alone sift through the many resources offered electronically via the library's public Web site, which has a single point of entry, or home page. This "one size fits all" approach is often confusing to users who must navigate through an aggregation of resources organized by media type, e.g., journals and databases.

THE PORTAL IN A LIBRARY SETTING

Unlike the commercial portals that are supported by advertising and links to partnering Web sites, Web portals are increasingly being used by companies as a means to facilitate access to both the internal and external resources of the enterprise. This is increasingly accomplished through a corporate intranet or Enterprise information Portal (EIP), along service or product lines geared toward specific user groups within the corporation. In this instance, portals are developed with little concern for brand loyalty or click rates, but as a way to tailor services and resources more closely to consumer needs--in this case, employee needs. Within large organizations like UVA, libraries are increasingly adopting the portal mechanism to more effectively serve their users.

In 1996, the U.S. West Research & Information Group corporate library was ahead of its time when it offered personalized research services through its corporate intranet. In an effort to facilitate the interaction between researcher and client and foster information sharing among research areas, the library provided researchers with the ability to request information through a personalized Web page. This personalized page, generated on-the-fly following a research request, reflects past research requests, current research status, other research within the organization, and supports interactive chat and file sharing. The U.S. West collaborative research system represents one of the first portal Web sites developed by a library to better serve its users.

More recently, the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Library in Richmond, Virginia implemented portal technology to serve its entire student population as well as users outside the University. VCU's "My Library" service allows users to choose the resources and services they want to have available on their own personalized library page.

Our Health Sciences Library's portal project, Library On Call, is similar to the one at VCU, but offers a variety of customized portals through a central Web portal serving distinct user groups primarily within the UVA Health System.

ONE SIZE [PORTAL] DOES NOT FIT ALL

Some customized portal vendors offer what I call a "buffet" approach to portal design, where all the resources available are laid out on a single page or more, and like a buffet line, users pick and choose as they slide their tray, or mouse along. The user is left to determine their own "cut" of the information and no interpretation is provided by the vendor. This strategy works best for portals that are designed to accommodate a very large user group where no distinction is made between user needs. …