Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Step by Step to Information Nexus

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Step by Step to Information Nexus

Article excerpt


Library websites play an interesting role in the universe of digital resources we now take for granted. We rely upon them daily, yet we seem to have much to complain about. Many colleagues of mine are quick to find fault with large research library websites, citing poor usability and missing interactive applications. Worse still, they argue, is the stodgy webmaster who keeps too tight a rein on data owners who want to create a dynamic site out of a departmental page. These two beefs I cite are valid, and the full list of complaints is long. Yet the very "Dullsville" websites that receive such complaints are nonetheless workhorses that refer very heavy traffic to content in demand. Even with all of the complaints you could gather to create a "diss session" on library websites, the fact remains: They work.

Here's one local factoid. My colleague John Kupersmith recently reviewed traffic on some resource pages he oversees. One of the resources was not linked to the University of California- Berkeley Library's main page, while others were. Download traffic for that site was just a few hundred, while the linked sites averaged nearly 30,000 downloads over the same period.

Connectivity is the name of the game. Two years ago Google's Sergey Brin dropped in on a class at UC Berkeley's iSchool, to talk informally about a variety of topics. He made the point that Google's search approach can quickly distinguish between resources in the Berkeley region and locate quality content at sites like UC Berkeley's library, versus local information for the City of Berkeley. Brin's point was that referral traffic, original content, and the scope of web "holdings" pushed the University's sites to the top. Usability, whatever its state, was a factor but not a deterrent to overall success.

Radical, Yes-But Carefully, Please

I think the majority of information professionals are looking for some bold new changes in our static websites. In my view, both the critics and current custodians of library webs have something to offer to the process. Library webs came of age early on, emphasizing stability in a volatile era. Static referral sites that aggregated links to deep resources such as digital archives, databases, and original research were great examples of good design at the turn of the century. Indeed, they have been a huge success over the long term, creating thematic and topical directories that put high-quality content in front of web users. That success began in the mid-1990s and continues to this day. The e-metrics we can extract from traffic logs are astonishing, fascinating, and enormously useful in political and budgetary contexts. So whatever their shortcomings, I tend to regard library websites as the most important gateway to our world, including the physical libraries we manage.

At the same time, I am all for change and growth. Indeed, I've taken advantage of every workaround I can find that enables us to add new services without having to bring in third parties. It's another long list: blogs, wikis, Meebo, podcasts, library domains in social networks, delicio. us tagging-the list goes on and on. These services reside elsewhere, they're free, and they dovetail perfectly with a welldesigned library website. They add considerable value even to mediocre sites that aren't keeping up with the times. They can do this thanks to enterprising staff who want to experiment and who will take the risks necessary to pull together web environments that may run on many servers but are linked underneath it all to that good old library website.

In my opinion, the profession has stretched the life span of the static web without really trying to-everything interactive that we might want to do we can do for free on the "open" web. Locally built content, such as digital libraries, appears at a slower pace, unless institutions partner with vendors who offer repository solutions in a box. …

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