Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

A Conceptual Framework for Gateways

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

A Conceptual Framework for Gateways

Article excerpt

The complexity of today's information environment is resulting in the creation of unified front ends to library resources called gateways. A gateway consists of a set of interrelated tools that enables library users to identify and locate materials relevant to their study and research. The tools are presented in a common structure or framework that facilitates the rapid identification of and navigation to the material. A gateway may include the catalog, supplemental databases to online resources, tools that link citation databases with online content, real time assistance, and help or user guidance components.

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Today's electronic environment has become very complex, not only because of the sheer number of resources, but also because of the many types of resources now available. Libraries are finding that it is not enough to simply list the catalog and some electronic databases in their Web pages. There are too many resources to be easily contained in traditional Web pages and there is a need to organize the resources into meaningful categories.

Users may be confused when presented with the volume of resources currently available. They often have to page through screen after screen of resources to find what they want, if they can find it at all. Many of them cannot pick an appropriate resource tool or category that matches their current need. Thus, they spend an inordinate amount of time floundering about or pursuing the wrong pathway. They may be sifting through lists of e-journals when they should be searching an index, or they may be using a general purpose index when they should be using a discipline-specific one.

Because user expectations have been conditioned by the use of the Web and Internet-search tools such as Google, they are accustomed to using nonlinear search techniques. They are also accustomed to using tools that will turn up some information for nearly every query, even if it is not of the highest quality or reliability. The specificity and linearity of library catalogs and online databases often defeat their expectations of finding a quick and easy answer.

The use of the Web also has led users to expect that everything online is somehow connected. The essential fact that research tools are both discrete and proprietary comes to be understood by users only after considerable experience.

For all these reasons, libraries have a huge task adapting their Web sites to the often unspoken needs of library users. Somehow, libraries must harness the volumes of resources and present them in logical fashion. They need to provide users with guidance on how to make the appropriate choices for their research and study needs, and they need to integrate resources in whatever ways possible so that the information universe that users expect to find actually begins to emerge from the existing landscape. Developing a gateway is one way to start addressing these needs.

What Is a Gateway?.

A gateway is a set of interrelated tools that enables users to identify and locate materials relevant to their study and research. The tools are presented in a common structure or framework that facilitates the rapid identification of and navigation to the material. A gateway may include the catalog, databases to other online resources such as e-journals, tools that link different databases together, real-time assistance, and help or user guidance components.

Nearly every library catalog will form an essential part of a gateway. Besides being the primary link to print and audio-visual materials, most catalogs provide access to electronic resources. Nearly all of them have Web interfaces, allowing for easy navigation to and from the library's Web site and other electronic resources. In addition, most catalogs can be accessed by means of predefined or canned searches, which extend their power to additional environments.

Databases also can play a major role in a gateway and can supplement the catalog by providing access to other types of material or by providing retrieval capabilities that the catalog does not have. …

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