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Copyright 1995 CAUSE. From CAUSE/EFFECT magazine, Volume 18, Number 4, Winter 1995, pp. 15-21. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information technology in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact Julia Rudy at CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA; 303-939-0308; e-mail: [email protected]

Library Web Implementation:
A Tale of Two Sites

by Ann Koopman

One of the keys to a successful implementation of a Web-based library information system is an effective collaboration between campus library and information technology professionals -- a long-term commitment to the breakdown of organizational barriers, empowerment of individuals, and shared vision rather than protection of turf. This article provides an overview of two such implementations.


The University Library of Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the Academic Information Services and Research (AISR) unit of Thomas Jefferson University have both built exemplary World Wide Web sites. A comparison between these two substantially different academic institutions and their implementations of Web services reveals a pattern of similarities and potential pitfalls. Cooperation and partnership between elements of the campus information infrastructure is crucial to produce such services. Interdepartmental production teams are the winning strategy.

IUPUI - The Urban Experience

Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is the cooperative urban campus of two Big Ten schools. Only 26 years old, it is home to most of the IU professional schools, and over 170 different degree programs reaching over 27,000 students. The range of experiences and abilities of those students is as widely varied as the population is diverse. Much of the student population commutes and attends part-time, or is returning to school after years in the workforce - a classic "non-traditional" student body.

Because of the rapid growth of the campus, the University Library has always had to struggle to provide adequate print resources. Funds simply haven't been available to build the print-based research collections for which IUPUI's parents are both so noted. So it has been natural for the University to focus on the promising new technologies for delivery of electronic information to its client population. When a new library building was undertaken in the late 1980's, it was seen as an opportunity to enter an ambitious new electronic future. The building was completed in late 1993 and dedicated in April 1994 when the information system was unveiled.

The house that IUPUI built

The theme of the IUPUI environment is one-stop information shopping. Students may come to the library, use printed materials, and turn immediately to nearby workstations to access video and audio libraries or Internet resources. Using their personal information storage space, several methods of electronic communication, and access to a wide variety of applications on every station, students may create text or multimedia products in a single session. Those products may be stored for future use or shared electronically on the spot.

To make this possible, IUPUI built a 250,000 square foot library, equipped with over 1,700 fully networked work sites. Delivery via both fiber optics and twisted pair cabling is duplicated for backup. Both raw power and conditioned power are provided to each station as well. The building may contain only 28 linear miles of book shelving, but it has over 125 miles of fiber optic wiring. The work sites include clusters in the middle of the print stacks, private carrels around the periphery, individual sites in group study rooms, and clusters in Reference, in a teaching classroom, and in the media library.

Only the clusters are actually populated with machines (over 75 as this article is written). The other sites are available to students who may bring their own portable equipment or check out one of the library's laptops. Such personal equipment is common on campus - some IUPUI programs even require that students buy particular products for the sake of compatibility.

The platforms chosen for the initial implementation were IBM 486 stations running Windows and Macintosh Quadra 440AVs. All use 17" SVGA NEC monitors, and share laser printers (4 workstations to 1 printer). Headphones attached to each station channel some of the noise away from passers by. Video production and scanning equipment is located in special areas of the building. Of course, as new stock is added, a mix of machines has been introduced, making for interesting maintenance issues. No significant down time is allowed in the public areas. In-house storage and repair facilities allow staff to "swap" components immediately.

The IUPUI LIS

IUPUI formally unveiled its "http://www-lib.iupui.edu/">Library Information System (LIS) in April of 1994, but the system had been under development since 1989. When the new building was authorized, the library director commissioned a feasibility study by AmeriTech for development of an ambitious, integrated information service. It was to be based on complete self-sufficiency at a single workstation, point and click graphics, availability of multimedia, and accessibility for remote use. Clearly the system was ambitious for its time, pre-Gopher and pre-Web.

The library then undertook a joint application development program with IBM, and began to forge a what would become an ongoing relationship with the campus computing service, Integrated Technologies (IT). The IT unit comprises over 200 employees on campus, all administrative and academic computing, responsibility for the information infrastructure of the campus, student labs, all communication and AV services, and more. IT leaders agreed to commit several programmers to the development of the system, under the general guidance of the IBM project leaders and the library systems officer. At this point, the relationship was structured with the library as the client, IBM and IT as producers.

A series of focus group discussions was initiated to dream of a future without limits. Members of faculty departments, students, administrators and librarians were chosen to participate in the focus groups on the basis of interest or expertise. The 50+ hours of group discussion were used to produce a list of functional requirements ranging from specifications of help screens and understandings about accessibility for students with disabilities, to general statements about reliability of performance. The discussions also ensured all interest groups on campus a voice in the eventual product.

All further development proceeded from the functional requirements. The programmers broke out into groups addressing the various components of the system, such as the graphical user interface (GUI), and worked independently, albeit with frequent "touch base" sessions. The initial development of the LIS got underway with visual BASIC and HyperCard. However, while all of this in-house development was going on, the Internet virtually exploded around us, first with Gopher and then with the introduction of Mosaic, the first popular graphical Web browser. While programmers grappled with developing our own hypertext, software which could easily overcome our obstacles arrived.

As the pressure to build the LIS mounted, the IU-Bloomington parent campus provided additional leadership and resources to the effort. Bloomington IT leaders saw the potential in the new Mosaic browser and the infant Web, and urged consideration of the product. Mosaic was a "mixed bag," but promising overall. On the plus side:

On the minus side, the early instability of Mosaic was almost a show stopper. Plans for user authentication upon initial entry had to be discarded. However, this problem was solved by requiring identification of patrons at each point of use for licensed products or restricted services. Also, this was a problem only for users outside the library building. Within the library, the decision was made to provide all services to any user on every LIS station.

The final decision to switch development to Mosaic was made less than two months before the scheduled public release of the LIS. The crunch was on. The IUPUI and Bloomington IT staffs threw tremendous resources into the project. And for the first time, staff librarians joined the team as more than just clients. Now it was up to the librarians to learn html, to discover, describe and to organize local and Internet content for the system. 1

After the dust cleared

When the dust had finally settled after the mad dash for the finish line, the LIS looked very much like it does today. Of course, the system has since moved to Netscape, and resources have increased well beyond the initial offering of approximately 100 Internet links. Certain basic features are striking:

Since the initial introduction of the LIS, IUPUI has further developed technology for delivery of video and cable broadcasts to selected workstations, and continues to explore developmental partnerships. For example, the library is a test site for Xerox Corporation's project to deliver reserve readings in fulltext.

Marketing the LIS

The new information system was unveiled at the formal building dedication amidst great hoopla and publicity. The media were understandably interested in what tax dollars had supported, and all parts of the university community were intently focused on the resources now available. The new library was, of course, featured prominently in student and campus publications.

System orientation programs and building tours were conducted regularly, and the subject-specialist librarians began to incorporate LIS instruction into their course-related presentations. Use of the teaching cluster was particularly important to give patrons an opportunity for hands-on practice. Initial attendance at orientations was low, due to the normal summer drop in enrollment, but this period gave the librarians time to study patron reactions and plan strategy for the fall, and to conduct the general staff training needed to support the new resource. The subject specialists also worked directly with their faculties to demonstrate system capacities and suggest course-related uses.

The computers drew students individually like magnets, even if only for e-mail, games, and word processing. Once patrons were attracted for common uses, the other parts of the system sold themselves, so to speak. Welcoming documentation, signage and roving attendants were all used to capture attention and suggest paths for exploration.

Contrast: The Jefferson Experience

The environment of Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) presents an almost total contrast to IUPUI. A private school with a long and rich tradition, Jefferson serves fewer than 3,000 students, over half of whom are graduate students in medical or scientific fields. In addition to serving the student body on campus, Jefferson information services are also available to affiliated hospitals in the Philadelphia region, such as Pennsylvania Hospital. The library is esteemed for its strong research collections in print. However, because of the far-flung placement of its students in clinical settings and affiliated programs, the planners of academic information services depend on the use of electronics to bridge the distance.

Another contrast is that in 1993 Jefferson combined the Library, the Office of Academic Computing, and Medical Media Services administratively to form a single unit: Academic Information Services and Research (AISR). This group is led by the University Librarian, and has provided in its very organization the partnerships and mutual support necessary to press forward with innovative services. The campus organization structure is such that administrative computing and telecommunications are considered separate from academic computing. While the Department of Information Services operates the main administrative TJU homepage, AISR provides the academic substance. In effect, the partnership structure was already in place before the project was undertaken, and team-based problem solving was already part of AISR's culture.

TJU is a campus where student e-mail was only introduced in 1993, the library building is 25 years old, and the campus is only partially wired for networking. Few open computer labs exist, and the range of equipment spans VT100 terminals to the most current Power Macintoshes. Challenges abound, yet the promise of distance education, the use of electronics to teach and model health situations, and the need for immediate access to information in clinical settings has driven AISR to develop JEFFLINE, its web-based integrated information service.

JEFFLINE was built steadily, by increments. 2 Prior to 1992 it was essentially an in-house system, providing an automated catalog and a few databases. In 1992, VAX technology and ethernet access opened the system to remote users and provided Internet access via telnet. The next year JEFFLINE expanded to provide a gopher service, which was highly popular on campus. But by 1994 it was clear that the most promising future lay with web development. In fact, the systems director studied the IUPUI model, among others, when planning the web version of JEFFLINE. The IUPUI model influenced the design of JEFFLINE substantially.

AISR could draw entirely on its own staff in forming a JEFFLINE production team. Not only were librarians, library systems experts and academic computing specialists included, but also an educational psychologist and a professional artist. Because models were already available, there was no need to invest in a complete "build from the ground up" approach. JEFFLINE was merely growing from one logical stage to the next. Unlike IUPUI, which had designed the all-in-one workstation to meet both research and multimedia production needs of researchers on the premises, JEFFLINE was designed from the beginning as a long-distance delivery mechanism for unique content. The academic computing specialists had computer-based learning programs and curriculum support materials to load immediately. As soon as the system was operational, AISR staff went looking for external resources with which to build more content. Grant projects currently underway include a Learning Infrastructure Project, development of a dental hygiene network and knowledgebase, and the digitization of archival images. Also, JEFFLINE was able to capitalize on the emerging awareness of departments and university offices in order to offer campus-wide services. Some free developmental support is available to all departments; more extensive projects are fee-based.

The visual metaphor

JEFFLINE revolves around the visual metaphor of the digital office. Some of its distinguishing features include:

Selling the system

In tandem with the April 1995 introduction of the new JEFFLINE, AISR promoted the system heavily with educational workshops and events. The Education Services unit undertook series of workshops with names like "JEFFLINE Overview," "Internet Overview," "Internet Tools for the IBM," and "HTML: Learn to Design World Wide Web Pages." Librarians, systems staff, and academic computing personnel all participate as teachers in one or more workshops. Some have been merely popular; others have been so oversubscribed that extra sections have had to be added to meet demand. Connections, the AISR newsletter, also features JEFFLINE information regularly.

Building on the popular fever, an "Internet Day" was planned as a sort of fair for all interested faculty and students. Workshops, demonstrations, and special topics presentations lasted all day and into the evening. Response was positive enough to warrant repeat every semester, while some of the special topical workshops are offered on a more frequent basis.

Use of the system can be measured in a relative way on the basis of numbers of hits. The Netscape browser includes this record-keeping capability in a variety of combinations. Of course, one "hit" on the server only reflects one request for information - not a measure of individual patron sessions. Individual machines can be traced in the building, also, by machine name. Such measurements, relative though they may be, indicate an increase in the use of machines in the reference area alone by a factor of about six since the introduction of new JEFFLINE and the workshops that promote it, with obvious implications for reference staffing, equipment support and space planning.

In fact, the popularity of the resource is now bringing more faculty to AISR for inclusion in the system. In October a monthly interest/discussion group formed to bring together interested faculty, students, and AISR developers on a monthly basis to talk about the future of JEFFLINE. The group also maintains a listserv for announcements and exchange of information. This is a reverse approach to the focus groups that IUPUI used so heavily. But rather than start from scratch to dream a completely new future, the Jefferson approach was to build steadily on its solid base. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages.

Shared Management Issues

The University Library project at IUPUI was clearly visionary in its concept and development. The accident of timing that converted its expression to a web site by no means reflects change in the intent of the developers. In fact, it points out the flexibility demanded of everyone in the information technology field today. The developers of JEFFLINE also reflected sure-footedness and flexibility in the growth of their site.

However, once the extraordinary effort to build each system was over, the more mundane issues of ongoing maintenance, development, and responsibility took over. Both sites developed similar mechanisms over time. Both opted for a two-pronged approach, using interdepartmental teams, though because IUPUI had started out with the consumer/producer model, it took longer to discover the need, adopt and develop teams. At each site, members of the computing service, the systems department, and librarians formed two groups. One group deals with policy and technology issues. The second sponsors the building of content and "collects" new Internet sites.

Both sites grapple with similar issues, often coming to similar solutions. Points to consider in the development of new services include the following, although an attempt to answer them all would require a sequel to this article.

Many of these are the topics of on-going discussion, on campuses or on listservs. The Web4Lib and PACS-L listservs are particularly good resources for practical library experience.3

Conclusions

At the heart of this comparison is the operating model. Interdepartmental teamwork, fueled by mutual interests and guided by an intimate knowledge of user needs, proved the effective organizing principle for both sites. A year apart in time and contrasted in so many ways, both IUPUI and Jefferson came to the same conclusions about what was needed both to create the initial product and to maintain it afterwards. This has profound implications for the traditional hierarchies of academic life. Much has been written in the business and management literature about team building, team processes, and their effects on organizations. Successful implementation is a long-term commitment to the breakdown of organizational barriers, empowerment of individuals, and focus on shared vision rather than protection of turf. Libraries are expanding their scope, becoming publishing houses, entering the education arena in partnership with teaching faculty, and serving as research agents. By stressing teamwork, interdependence, mutual interest and problem-solving on behalf of information consumers, librarians and technologists come together both personally and organizationally.


Footnotes:

1 For further description of the librarians' role, see Ann Koopman and Sharon Hay, "Swim At Your Own Risk - No Librarian On Duty: Large-Scale Application of Mosaic in an Academic Library," Electronic Proceedings of The Second International WWW Conference 94: Mosaic and the Web (Chicago, IL, October 1994).

2 For technical background on the implementation of JEFFLINE, see Edward V. Michalak III and David A. Gitlin, "JEFFLINE - The Information System of Thomas Jefferson University - Migration to a Client/Server Version Using NCSA Mosaic and Lynx," presented at the Computers in Healthcare Education Symposium (Philadelphia, PA: April 1995).

3 Subscribe to the Web4Lib listserv at [email protected] Send an e-mail message from your personal account, leaving the subject line blank. In the body of the message type subscribe web4lib yourfirstname yourlastname. Subscription information and basic description for PACS-L are available at URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/pacsl.html


Ann Koopman ([email protected]) is the Coordinator of Electronic Information Services at Thomas Jefferson University. She co-chairs the team which develops content for JEFFLINE and teaches workshops related to JEFFLINE access and resources. Previously, she was the Science and Engineering Librarian at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, and Content Editor of its Library Information System.

Inquiries about the IUPUI system may be directed to the current Managing Editor Robin Crumrin, ([email protected]).


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