During April, while researching information for a client, I became curious about whether using a corporate Web site as the front-line mechanism to evaluate library automation systems could be effective. That was only six short months ago and yet, in the life of Web development, it feels like an eternity. At the time this idea started to take hold, it was clear to me that each site had a unique personality, style, and message or messages that it wanted to convey. I wanted to determine what--if any--decision about a vendor could be reached just by visiting its Web site.
Since April, each vendor has gotten better at maintaining its Web site in terms of keeping information current, correcting typos, improving site navigation, making graphics more interesting, involving the "surfer" more with the site, and starting to use the power of the Web in general as opposed to just posting printed documents. But, have any of them gotten better at informing their constituency?
Absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the answer is yes.
Web Page Evolution
Because of a recent employment change, I have become intimately familiar with the Web and the challenge of designing a site that conveys a company's business image and products to its best advantage. In my new capacity, I'm in charge of redesigning the Web site to better communicate the company's mission and to introduce new Internet products to the marketplace.
Some of the sites I've visited to research this column were professionally designed; others were designed in-house by the vendors themselves. Neither method is right or wrong. I've seen commercially designed sites that are dismal and homegrown sites that are spectacular.
While I have concluded that it is not possible to select a system by merely spending time at a vendor's Web site, I do think it's possible to develop a short list of library automation systems for serious consideration based on visits to vendor Web sites. The selected sites mentioned below were first visited in April and again in June. Final visits were made during the week of August 26.
In my opinion, the best library automation Web site belongs to VTLS. VTLS wins hands down for graphics, maneuverability, use of the medium, amount of pertinent information, and the indefinable "wow" factor. The VTLS site provides corporate information, full product information, referrals, a copy of their recent newsletter, and access to customer sites. I did link to a customer site for a look at retrieving graphics as a byproduct of a subject search. I was impressed. Retrieval was fast, and the quality as it appeared on my monitor was quite good. It was exciting to watch as Virginia history came to life on my screen from hundreds of miles and several sites away.
The site that has gone through the most reiterations since last April (and always with improvements) has to be the SIRSI Web site. Not only has it changed, but the interface to its OPAC has some interesting new choices for customers ready to try imaging. During one visit, the SIRSI home page had colorful circles to click on. One week later, the SIRSI site had gone on an interplanetary voyage. I especially like the touch of animation and the ET-like alien pointers--very progressive. SIRSI also gives prospects good corporate information, a nice overview of product information, and access to customer referrals and sites.
What I especially liked about SIRSI's site was the opportunity to try the new OPAC interface. The new OPAC photo image icons are outstanding. SIRSI has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of each icon's meaning, which is no easy task.
Data Research Associates
DRA has taken a different and interesting design approach to its Web site. Imagine a rectangle in the center of your screen with icons at the top and down the right-hand side. You click on the icons to go to various pages within the DRA site. …