Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Research as Part of the Web Site Development Process: The Case of School Libraries Online

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Research as Part of the Web Site Development Process: The Case of School Libraries Online

Article excerpt

IASL's Webmaster discusses the part that research has played in the ongoing development of IASL's Web site School Libraries Online. Established in 1995, the Web site was 10 years old at the time this article was written; a brief history of the site is provided. Work on the site has been guided by a strategic planning process in the context of which research results have informed decision-making. Desk research provided background information that was important in the establishment of the Web site. This included an "internal environment" scan that focused on developing an understanding of the Association and its members and an "external environment" scan that focused on Internet trends and developments. With the site well established, ongoing environment scanning has continued to inform development. Users' needs have been monitored on an ongoing basis through two main strategies: analysis of the weekly and monthly reports from the Web site search engine, and analysis of the statistical information provided by a user tracking service. User satisfaction with the Web site has been monitored through strategies such as analysis of responses to a Web-based survey form and comments recorded in an online guest book. The results of this ongoing formative evaluation will also feed into a major project, started in 2005 with a literature review, to evaluate School Libraries Online after a decade in operation. The article concludes with some comments about the place of evaluation in the Web site development cycle and the need for this major evaluation after 10 years of operation.

Introduction

School Libraries Online (http://www.iasl-slo.org/) was established in 1995 as the Web site of the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL). It began as a small collection of 12 Web pages hosted on a mainframe computer at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. Today, hosted by a commercial Internet service provider (ISP) in Vancouver, Canada, but still maintained from Reykjavik, it is the largest specialist Internet destination for school librarians with around 1,000 pages of information and a number of online information services for its users. I have been Webmaster from the beginning. The original intention was simply to provide a useful Web site for a professional association and its members in accordance with the then-current Web practices. Continued development of the site, taking into account new Web standards and practices and the evolving needs of school librarians worldwide, has meant that School Libraries Online has moved well beyond the scope of the original vision. Established with no budget, the Web site now receives an annual allocation of funds from IASL. However, it still remains basically the work of a volunteer Webmaster working in collaboration with IASL officers who provide some of the content for the site.

Continuing development of School Libraries Online is supported by a strategic planning process (see Figure 1) that includes monitoring of Internet trends and changes, a focus on users and their needs, strategies for the identification and selection of new content and services, and ongoing formative evaluation. Research has played an important part in this strategic planning process through the years, from the desk research on which the original environment scan was based, to the commercial Web-based monitoring services that provide information about users of the site today. Research has contributed to ongoing formative evaluation of the site and has also led to many changes over the years, so the Web site we see on our screens today scarcely resembles the site as it appeared in 1995. Thus the development of School Libraries Online provides a case study in the application of research results to Web site development, showing how research has informed decision-making even in a situation where financial and other resources are tight. Before discussing the contribution of research to the development of School Libraries Online, though, it is appropriate to look briefly at the history of the Web site. …

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