iCONN News

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Blog from Sirsi VP on Library Technology and Innovation

K. Chapman, on the CEMA listserv, mentioned this blog - Stephen's Lighthouse - from Stephen Abram, of Sirsi fame, on library technology. So I took a look ... Today's posting on the "boom and bust" cycle of web technologies - be they intranet or public portal - makes a good point about the approach we all too often take in our online projects. Intranets, websites, portals -- none of these things should ever hit a comfort zone - they should always be growing, evolving, striving, responding, and leading.

I've heard (and witnessed from the user end myself) the discomfort felt by librarians and patrons when iCONN moved from its old format to the "all-in-one" (metasearch/federated) search format. The adoption of that technology was a bold move with its share of consequences, both positive and negative, intended and unintended. I'm not saying that it was perfect, or even perfectly executed (and admit it, who among us has executed every moment of growth in their lives perfectly), but it was part of a larger attempt to respond to users' concerns. In this case, the change was designed to respond to many of our non-librarian users' desire to search all iCONN resources simultaneously, without having to know if it was InfoTrac OneFile or Wilson Biographies that would best meet their needs. They had gotten used to a Google world - one stop for everything and we had to move iCONN forward to start to meet the challenge raised by this new perception of how we should search.

And I'm not saying that the metasearch technology is perfectly executed by vendors even a year later, but I can tell you that iCONN is always looking toward evolution and often pushing their own vendor in that direction. The process is imperfect and too slow for many of us who tend toward impatience, but the philosophy that drives the evolution is "right on" and will lead to even more improvements and refinements over time. Ultimately, the product will better meet all of our users' needs.

I remember our Webmasters' Roundtable last week (was it just last week? geez...) featuring Miranda Creative that focused on website redesign. And even there, the presentation focused on sort of one-time (or at least semi-permanent) efforts to redo a library's website. While the presentation rightly pointed out the importance of an ongoing website maintenance plan when doing a redesign, I think the term "maintenance" is not necessarily powerful enough. "Maintenance" is like keeping an old technology going, often long past its prime. And there's no reason for a website to ever be static and "maintained" or, at most, "updated". It should evolve. As Abrams notes, we should constantly be working on "organic websites, portals and intranets". That means - of course - that the administrators of our libraries and of the organizations that our libraries may be a part of (local governments, for example) will have to recognize that web mastering is not just a fun little thing we do in our spare time, but that it is a discipline unto itself -- that it must be respected and, thus, that resources must be dedicated to it. Resources might include specialists in web work, but perhaps a better choice might be to expend resources in training or further developing existing librarian-webmasters and in giving them the tools they need to make their jobs easier.


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