Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Getting out of the HTML Business: The Database-Driven Web Site Solution

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Getting out of the HTML Business: The Database-Driven Web Site Solution

Article excerpt

Library Web sites have grown in size and complexity over the last several years without a corresponding growth in the sophistication of the underlying technology. Web managers are struggling to control their sites using only the primitive tool of HTML. Under this constraint, it is hard for the library to deliver information with multiple access points and via user-defined displays. CGI (common gateway interface) scripting, the tool traditionally used to deliver dynamic content, finds limited use on most library sites due to the programming skills necessary to support it. Fortunately, there are new tools available that allow Web managers with minimal technical skills to create database-driven Web sites and, at the same time, streamline the Web management process within their organization.

* The Challenge

Today's library Web site plays a central role in meeting the library's mission of delivering information and services, a role it did not play even three years ago. This is true for all types of libraries. Like most Web sites, library sites undergo a major redesign about every two years. Significant resources and organizational commitment are being invested in current efforts to revamp Web sites, which is indicative of the Web's prominent role. One new area to which resources are being devoted is usability testing, which tends to reveal a range of navigational and other problems. By creating "Web manager" and "electronic resources" positions, the library acknowledges that managing its site is no longer a one-person job. Thus, whether or not they are conscious of this evolving dynamic, libraries are taking steps to address the substantial technical and organizational challenges posed by the second-generation Web.

As the library continues to replace traditional resources and services with their electronic counterparts, the webmaster model of Web site management has become inefficient. The webmaster model fails because it lacks flexibility and scalability. From the early days of the Web, staff have been trained (or learned on their own) how to code HTML and then write pages for the Web site. HTML editors play a greater or lesser role here, but the picture is basically the same: the author submits pages to the webmaster who links them into the site. Either by design or de facto, the webmaster has become responsible for soliciting content, ensuring stylistic conformity, and handling other coordination tasks. Inevitably, some staff resist learning HTML or learn it poorly, resulting in time-consuming recoding. As sites grow both in size and the number of people involved, the sheer volume of HTML-coded pages and the links they contain have become unmanageable. Templates, validators, and link-checking utilities can stave off the chaos only so long.

The role of a Web site in the library is also continually evolving. Library Web sites circa 1995 gave the library a presence within its larger context (e.g., the university, the community) and provided basic information about the library such as its hours, links to locally held electronic resources such as the online catalog and citation databases, and links to selected Internet resources. Now, at the end of the decade, the library's Web site is on the ascent, while the catalog is in decline.(1) The Web is the logical point of integration for nearly all library resources and services, and serves as the preferred access point for local as well as remote users. One of the reasons catalogs are being "relegated to a smaller and smaller role"(2) is because their data are not easily interchangeable with other data, particularly Web-based data. The Holy Grail for users of journal literature is the direct link to the full text from the online citation, which is a rapidly emerging reality. Online books are not far behind. With delivery of library resources highly focused around a single medium, it becomes incumbent upon libraries to utilize the tools necessary to adapt their expertise to that medium. …

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