About 18 months ago, we at the reference desk of the Vigo County Public Library (VCPL) in Terre Haute, Ind., noticed a troubling fact. Many of our small, local, nonprofit agencies did not have Web sites, making it difficult to locate and share information about these groups with the community. We began to ponder that if we, as information professionals, had trouble locating information about these groups, how would the rest of the community ever learn about their valuable services and programs?
Doing Market Research
Several VCPL staffers, including Clarence Brink (the head of our reference department), Chris Schellenberg (the community services librarian), and I (a systems and reference librarian), decided to investigate why so many of these groups had chosen not to maintain their own Web sites. The groups, we began to discover, had not decided against having Web sites; rather, most felt that they were unable to afford the luxury. Many of us today take Web sites for granted. We automatically assume that all organizations will have easily accessible and informative sites. However, for many of our nonprofit organizations with severely limited budgets, designing and implementing a Web site can seem like a completely unattainable goal.
We sensed an opportunity and began to formulate a plan. What if the library could partner with these nonprofits to help them create, post, and maintain informational Web sites? The nonprofits would benefit, as they would get a Web presence at no cost; the library would benefit, as information about these local groups would be easily accessible when needed to answer reference questions; and the community would benefit, as it would be far easier for the general public to learn about the value of these local groups. The potential benefits of this type of community-building partnership seemed to far outweigh the liabilities, but, as with all projects that demand library resources, this project had to be formally evaluated before it could be approved.
Developing the Project
When we presented our idea for approval, we were disappointed to find that not everyone was as excited about our partnership proposal as we were. The library administration and board of directors were concerned about how much time it would take library staff to build the sites, how and how often site updates would be made, how much library server space the sites would consume, and which local groups would be eligible for participation. Rather than allowing these concerns to dampen our enthusiasm or quash the project, we decided to try to use them to our advantage. We addressed each concern and incorporated the limitations into a library policy and a partnership agreement that the library would enter into with each nonprofit organization that chose to participate.
The issue of how much staff time would be necessary to build each site was easily addressed. We opted to create a simple design template that would be used for each organization, thus dramatically reducing the time it would take to build each site. We also decided to ask each nonprofit to send us the information they wanted on their site electronically so it would not have to be re-entered by the library staff.
The VCPL systems staff members were extremely concerned about the project. They were afraid that we intended to give each group access to the library servers so that the groups could regularly update their own Web sites. We decided that this access was impractical. Not only would it pose a serious network security risk, but also, since most of the organizations targeted would have little-to-no Web authoring or posting experience, this access would provide no actual benefit for them. Instead, we decided to offer to update the sites for the groups involved. To limit the amount of work that this would impose upon us, we stipulated that groups could send updates on a quarterly basis. …