SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issueshttp://marylaine.com/
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May 25: model railroading, science search engines, a week of spam, child safety, and more.
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Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for presentations I've done, click on Handouts
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What IS Ex Libris?http://marylaine.com/
The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.
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Highlights from Previous Issues:
My Rules of Information
- Go where it is
- The answer depends on the question
- Research is a multi-stage process
- Ask a Librarian
Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
Information can be true and still wrong
THE FUNDAMENTALS FOR CREATING AN ACADEMIC LIBRARY WEB SITE
Christopher Hollister, Webmaster, ILL & Reference Librarian, D'Youville College Library
For several months it had been painfully obvious that the D'Youville College Library needed to create an entirely new Web site, and during the spring semester of 2001, that job was assigned to me. While excited by the prospect, I too, was tempered by the knowledge that building a new academic library Web site, if done properly, would involve a substantial time commitment for the research, analysis, organization, writing, designing, and tagging. In addition, there were fundamental decisions that needed to be made prior to the actual creation of the site itself. Such decisions would not only serve to facilitate the overall ease of navigation of the new site, but also to provide meaningful structure and control.
Based upon my research, which among other things, included a thorough review of over 75 academic library Web sites, I identified several common Web design and structure problems. Then, in an effort to avoid those same pitfalls, I wrote development policies to guide the creation and inevitable expansion of the new D'Youville College Library Web site. The site would need to meet the following guidelines:
Users will never need to go more than 3 links beyond the homepage to locate the information they are seeking. Among my other duties at the D'Youville College Library, I am also the Coordinator of Interlibrary Loan Services. As such, it is not uncommon for me to seek ILL contact information for other libraries, and when doing so via the Web, I am often aghast at how many links I need to pass through to retrieve the information I need. In one instance, I was forced to pass through 11 links before retrieving the phone number I sought. In disbelief, I repeated the search several times, and there were no easier ways of retrieving that information. So, when the D'Youville College Library Web site was first launched, it was 47 [online] pages long, but never more than 3 layers deep.
Screens will be short, especially with the site's primary and secondary pages, and navigational aids will be provided when longer pages are necessary Among the many problems that existed with D'Youville College Library's prior Web site, the homepage was so long that, indeed, the name of the library itself did not appear until one scrolled down to it. Common sense dictates that simplicity and brevity are crucial for the creation of a site that is designed to assist users with their informational needs. Further, when additional space is required, navigational aids should be mandated.
Pages will be standardized, uncluttered, and easy to look at. The academic library Web site should conform not only to its host college or university's Web site, but also to its own. That is, any one page within the Web site should resemble any and all of the others in design, coloring, fonts, etc. Furthermore, those pages should be uncluttered by unnecessary artistry.
Every page will load quickly. Not everyone has the benefit of an Ethernet connection, and waiting for unnecessary graphics to download is a frustrating waste of time.
Every page will contain a link to each of the site's primary pages, a link to the college, a site index, and a link for contacting the library and/or the library's Web developer(s). To facilitate the ease of navigation, each page must have multiple access points, even when the user is uncertain how to go about retrieving the information that he or she desires.
Navigation will be easy, unintimidating and uncluttered by academic or electronic jargon, but not simplified to the point of being insulting. It must be remembered that the library Web site is to assist users with their informational needs, and fancy language will serve only to confuse them.
Information will be current and accurate. This point should go without saying, but a review of library Web sites today will yield some shocking results -- dead links, inaccurate information, etc.
Each page will be designed to be modified and/or built upon. The library Web site is an ever-growing and expanding entity, and to design it as static is simply foolish.
Design will allow for an acceptable balance between the Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator Web browsers, and will display professionally with all of the most commonly used display resolutions. There are numerous variables involved in the display of Web sites. As the library's literal face to the world, its Web site must take into account all of these factors.
Did we succeed? You tell us. Please visit the new D'Youville College Library Web site at http://www.dyc.edu/library/index.html, and let me know what you think .
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I found the site to be neat, uncluttered, and user-centered, which is hard to do. The web page is such a wonderful opportunity to tell people all the wonderful things we do that we sometimes forget the central principle of good design is making it easy for USERS to accomplish THEIR goals -- which is why unclutteredness, clarity, and lots of white space are rare virtues in library web pages. The navigation system has just ten easily-understood content divisions -- ten things users would want to use the web page to find -- which remain available throughout as a navigation bar across the top of the page.
I was impressed with the pathfinder approach to course-related material. For each subject, appropriate databases were linked in, along with excellent web pages, but each page also included a list of the library's journal holdings in the subject and all the Library of Congress call number areas for the subject matter. Too many libraries, I think, simply point users to the web resources, which feeds into the prevailing misconception that everything you need is available on the net; this pathfinder approach is a good way to make it easy for students to use all the library's resources.
I had just one small quarrel with the design. I resented the way it seized control of my browser and made it full-screen against my will. I've set my browser the exact size I want it, and I'll thank web designers to leave it alone.
Aside from that, though, I thought the site's design radiated intelligent decision-making and selection.
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"Okay. So you go to a search engine and you enter in 'Saturn' and 'size,' and what it does, it comes back and it's got like five hundred sites and you click on one and it says Saturn has a wheelbase of fourteen feet. . . What my software does," the Rockefeller-in-waiting explained, "it figures out what you really meant because it knows what other stuff you've been asking about while you've been writing this paper, and it knows what you really meant is the planet and not the car, so what it does, it reformulates the query and submits it again."
"Are you telling me that all your software does is something a user could learn to do himself, and better, in fifteen minutes?"
Plotkin, who'd clearly had enough of this conversation, scratched his rear again. "Users are lazy and stupid, Mr. Hanley," he said, as he began to turn away. "And there's no money in making them smarter."
Lee Gruenfeld. The Street. (I recommend the book, a fascinating story of chicanery, stupidity and greed among high-tech start-ups.)
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You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.
Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.