Magazine article Online

Turbo - Powering the Flat Portal: The University of California's Labor Research Web

Magazine article Online

Turbo - Powering the Flat Portal: The University of California's Labor Research Web

Article excerpt

Even the most cursory glance at recent literature reveals that enterprise information portal software has come of age. Portals continue to be hot. Prices are coming down, and many libraries and information centers have been trying them out. At the high end, packages like Livelink and IntraSmart offer a wide range of DHTML power and collaboration tools, though it's not hard to find critics. At the lower end, open source products like Zope have developed loyal followings and large communities. However, it's not always necessary to make a new technology investment to leverage a Web site into a content-based portal. The big surprise in today's Web portal sector is the continued effectiveness of flat Web design.

Flat Web sites: We've done that already, right? Yes, but in the era of the Invisible Web, flat is good. Flat Web sites are picked up by today's Web crawlers and can generate heavy repeat traffic. What's more, flat portals are ideal for libraries and information centers that don't want to get into the hardware business or get locked into a single product family. The challenge is to turbo-power them and link them to what searchers crave most: solid, reputable content.

This article profiles the University of California's new Labor Research Portal, which was designed by the Institute of Industrial Relations Library. The portal and its related Web sites all reside on central university campus Unix servers running various flavors of Apache Web Server software. With nothing fancy running in the background, this tale of portal production focuses more on those perennial "killer apps" that sprout in the soil of proactive libraries: a focus on community and relationships, with a bias for reference and outreach. The content strategies employed took their cue from the communities served-even when this ran against conventional wisdom.


Founded in 1945 at UCLA and UC Berkeley, the Institutes of Industrial Relations (IIRs) are "organized research units" that support faculty research activity across disciplinary boundaries. Within the IIR communities, sociologists, economists, business professors, anthropologists, and even city planners form a diverse community to study work and employment issues. In June 2000, the California legislature established a new program that would span the entire UC system and build upon the two IIRs. Called the Institute for Labor and Employment (ILE), the new institute brought a new, $6 million annual revenue stream to the University of California--serious money in the social sciences. Suddenly, it was possible to formulate a new statewide research community.

This was a golden opportunity for library-led content development. The library staff was ready with a vision that was simple but powerful: Create a Web presence that linked purchased digital resources with original research, and throw some reference and outreach into the mix.


Activist librarians are always looking for opportunities to channel effective information services to where these servers are needed. These activists share a common trait: They diagnose the patient before prescribing the treatment plan. This is a vital step and is often harder than it may seem. For example, effective knowledge management strategies that work in a law library may fail at a pharmaceutical firm. What's more, it's not just the industry sector that defines how organizations succeed or fail in effective use of information resources; more than anything, it's the people. In the case of the IIRs, a seven-fold increase in funding brought growing pains--and an enormous opportunity to create a content strategy that fit the patient.

The Institute of Industrial Relations Library had a proven record in Web administration. Since 1995, the library has managed Web services at Berkeley's IIR, with considerable success. Like many Web sites, it was a cottage effort, and by 1998 it housed several thousand documents on hundreds of directories. …

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