How to COPE Create Once, Publish Everywhere

By Schofield, Michael J. | Computers in Libraries, December 2014 | Go to article overview

How to COPE Create Once, Publish Everywhere


Schofield, Michael J., Computers in Libraries


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

We made plans last summer to build another library website. No, it wasn't a redesign. And we weren't building a new entity from the ground up to replace what we have. This was another website-a second one-to assure that the general public using our library could have a more customized experience.

You see, Nova Southeastern University's Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center (Sherman Library) is a unique joint-use academic and public facility, which made for something of a disjointed homepage.

Divide Sherman Library's users into its broadest audiences, and there are still plenty to account for: faculty, undergraduate and graduate students (local and distant), alumni, and the public. Chunking the latter into one big patron base isn't particularly useful, but the allocation of the homepage's real estate restricted our ability to finely tune things. Our incentive to accommodate the academic community crowded out our ability to accommodate the audience who cared about events and entertainment-and this is precisely where our usability studies drew the line. While public cardholders appreciated but asked for more prominent access to new popular materials and programs, students and faculty were pretty clear about what they didn't want.

When we chose to spin off a new website-different look and feel, tone, and even address-just for our public library services, colleagues weren't shy about voicing concerns (increased workload maintaining two sets of content and whether this decision would, for example, obfuscate research services from the public or programming from the faculty). Content locked away in a silo is, after all, locked away in a silo. There's risk that a graduate student using the academic library website might not see that a favorite author is visiting when the event is only posted for the public.

This is a big problem, but not one exactly unique to this project. Libraries have been suffering these pain points for years. Assuaging this grief is the selling point for discovery layers. The "library website" we refer to in the singular is more like an organism of microsites and applications: There is the catalog, a static homepage hosted by the institution or county, maybe a one-off Drupal site on a server the library controls, subject guides, an event management system, a room reservation system, and an iPhone app. Silos are a library's present and future.

The increasing device complexity and capability of the web continue to reinforce silos. As libraries approach their mobile moment, library websites that try to do too much will fail, whereas sites and apps that focus on one audience doing just one thing well will succeed. If an app is too feature-rich, Mozilla recommends developers consider breaking out their app's functionality among multiple apps. This is a sentiment echoed by just about everyone.

Libraries are in a good position to benefit from this trend. So much of the library web presence is already single-purpose, so it wouldn't take much to retrofit. Rather than roll the catalog into the same template as the homepage, treat the catalog as a stand-alone web app with its own unique purpose-driven user interface (UI). Without the pressure of inheriting the homepage's header menu, the library can be more judicious with the catalog's design. This makes sense for library services when patrons are task-driven. Time is better spent optimizing for engagement rather than making the sites identical.

Silos aren't inherently bad for discovery. Organizing web content into silos, in the way that news sites have sports sections, is good practice for SEO. Robots and crawlers have an easier time indexing content when there is a delineated path in which similar content is clustered and interlinked. The machines are cool with it. What makes discovery tricky for humans is that content on one site isn't usually available to be displayed on another. …

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