Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Pioneering Portals: MyLibrary@NCState

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Pioneering Portals: MyLibrary@NCState

Article excerpt

MyLibrary@NCState is a user-driven, customizable information service hosted by the NCSU Libraries. First conceived in January 1998, the service emerged from a series of focus group discussions with faculty, students, and staff on the provision of electronic resources at NC State. The MyLibrary model supports a framework to provide enhanced access to local and remote sets of data, information, and knowledge. At the same time, it was designed not to overwhelm users with too much information because users control exactly how much information is displayed to them at any given time. This article describes the design process, technological specifications, usability testing, marketing, and publicity efforts that began the project. The transition from a research and development environment to a managed production environment is also discussed, as well as the initiative that led to the free distribution of the MyLibrary@NCState source code. The article concludes with an explication of future developments and scenarios that further integrate MyLibrary@NCState into the teaching and learning environment.

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In early summer of 1997 the newly formed Digital Library Initiatives (DLI) Department of the NCSU Libraries was charged with the development and administration of the annual user survey. For 1997-98, the area of electronic resources and services was selected as the second topic in a systematic program of user surveys.

Over the last decade, library expenditures for electronic resources and computing equipment had increased dramatically, and the library had introduced new services and staff to serve users' information needs. As new information technologies permeated teaching and learning activities, library resources were stretched thin in an effort to meet the emerging demands of the digital environment while continuing to support user needs for print collections.

With the help of tuition increase monies starting in 1996-97, the NCSU Libraries were able to make a commitment to expand their collections further and to establish the "digital library." Library administration recognized the importance of ensuring that library expenditures truly address user needs on this campus and of determining those needs in the rapidly changing digital environment.

While the general topic of this survey was digital resources, the specific mission was to determine what users required in the area of digital resources and services, how well the libraries were meeting their needs, and what might be changed to better meet those needs. The survey took the form of focus group discussions, the results of which were equally distributed between comments expected and unexpected. One interesting discovery from the focus groups was that many members of the university community, while happy with the digital largesse manifested in the increasing number of databases and electronic journals, were also concerned about their ability to assimilate and manage this electronic bounty. Many participants in the focus groups looked to the libraries to provide guidance in managing an environment that was rapidly threatening to become overloaded within formation.

What was to become MyLibrary@NCState had its genesis in conversations regarding a possible application to the spring 1998 National Science Foundation digital library grant program. During the first meeting, on January 16, 1998, the idea of applying autonomous agents and intelligent profiling to build a personal library information manager was discussed. Such a tool could allow members of the campus community to define for themselves which of the many available library resources were most important to them. At the time of this meeting new Internet personalization services such as MyYahoo or MyExcite recently had become available. It was clear the digital resources and services of the libraries were obvious candidates for personalization and customization options. …

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