Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Medium-Sized Universities Connect to Their Libraries: Links on University Home Pages and User Group Pages

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Medium-Sized Universities Connect to Their Libraries: Links on University Home Pages and User Group Pages

Article excerpt

From major tasks--such as recruitment of new students and staff--to the more mundane but equally important tasks--such as providing directions to campus--college and university Web sites perform a wide range of tasks for a varied assortment of users. Overlapping functions and user needs meld to create the need for a Web site with three major functions: promotion and marketing, access to online services, and providing a means of communication between individuals and groups. (1) In turn, college and university Web sites that provide links to their library home page can be valuable assets for recruitment, public relations, and for helping users locate online services.

Goals for Web sites may vary for different users. Colleges and universities have a number of potential user groups: current students, faculty, staff, prospective students, donors, alumni, businesses, and media. (2) Because the "fundamental organizing principle in Web site design is meeting users' needs," the organization of the home page should reflect the specific needs and interests of these user groups. (3) By segmenting their home pages into distinct user-group pages, universities may be better able to meet the needs of their various users. Segmentation into subsites for distinct user groups is an effective navigational device that manages complex Web sites with numerous pages and a variety of audiences. (4) As an added benefit to this structure, users should feel more welcome at a subsite that is designed specifically for them. (5)

Middleton, McConnell, and Davidson divided the users of a university Web site into two categories: internal (faculty, staff, and students) and external (prospective students, alumni, donors, parents, community, visitors, and news media). (6) While the needs of these groups overlap, internal users primarily need accessible, useful tools that will help them become productive and successful in their work or educational life. In contrast, external users primarily seek details on academic programs, campus environment, news and events, and contact information.

Along with the university home page in general, the representation of the library on the Web site has also diversified to meet the needs of these different user groups. Faculty, staff, and current students (internal users) may seek out the library for access to information that assists them in the completion of their work. Internal users need access to library services and resources such as course reserves, online databases, the catalog, and interlibrary loan. In all likelihood, internal users frequently will seek a wide variety of information on the library Web page. For external users, however, the library Web site's primary function is for promotion of the institution. As an example, prospective students and their families may compare the library to that of other universities under consideration. Donors, alumni, and members of the business community may be interested in visiting or contributing to the library. Consequently, external users are more concerned with such characteristics of the library as the size and age of the collection, electronic resources, and the actual facilities. Hence, a link to the library is expected to appear more often on the subsites for internal users than on subsites for external users.

Link placement is also important. Web site usability research has demonstrated that links in the upper part of the page in either corner are much more likely to be noticed than links placed elsewhere. (7) Therefore, access to the library from the university home page and associated user group pages can be affected by spatial placement of the link, the need to scroll (below the fold), dropdown menus, direct links, and terminology used for the library. A direct link to the library in a prominent position with comprehensible labeling maximizes the university's investment into the libraries' online resources.

It is important to note that the representation of the library on the university's home page and subsequent user group subsites is not an indication of the worth of the library as perceived by the institution. …

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