Moderator: Henry Pisciotta, Head of Fine Arts and Special Collections, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
Martin Aurand, Architecture Librarian and Archivist, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
Jane Carlin, Design, Architecture, Art & Planning Librarian and Acting Head of Training and Educational Services, University of Cincinnati Libraries
Mary Molinaro, Team Leader, W. T. Young Library Information Services, University of Kentucky Libraries
John Slatin, Director of the Computer Writing and Research Lab and Associate Professor, University of Texas, Austin
The session was introduced by Henry Pisciotta who, as moderator, invited three web authors to discuss the creation of their web pages and the issues they faced in the process. The three web pages represent "types": a library instructional page, an archival page, and a "pointer" index to other web sites. John Slatin was invited to respond to the issues raised by the speakers about writing in the web environment.
Martin Aurand opened the session with a discussion about creating the Architecture Archives web page for Carnegie Mellon University Libraries (http://www.library.cmu.edu/Guide/Architecture/). Librarians at Carnegie Mellon were instructed to create web pages in their areas of expertise. To start, the author reflected upon what librarians use the web for, such as access to the OPAC, descriptions of collections, pointers to other web pages, and instruction. The fact that the web allows individuals to "make things," to promote an institution, allows distribution of information, use of graphics, and can provide in-depth information were all qualities that appealed to him. He began concentrating on promoting his institution and collections, and on creating specific products for the web.
Initially, Martin transferred available information about his collections to the web page: descriptions of collections and brochure information. But, whereas brochures provide minimal information, he could add detail to the collection level descriptions on the web page. In the process, he realized that the web was allowing him to share his inventory with other colleagues and their patrons. Previously, two methods for distributing archival records existed: descriptive records accessible through a union catalog or archival finding aids arranged hierarchically from collection level description to the item level. Neither provided adequate delivery to remote users. However, projects such as the Berkeley Finding Aids Project, incorporated now with the Encoded Archival Description Project, have developed standards for creating electronic versions of finding aids which can be searched across the database structures and are providing new access to archival holdings. However, in Martin's case, much of his data was non-standard. The inventories he had were available in word-processing format, which were imported into a single database. An in-house programmer, using Pearl script, create a searchable database which allows item level searching across the architectural archives collections. Users, searching this database, find inventory information. Although Martin characterized the database at this point as primitive and home-made, he found the effort to make something using raw materials, and distributing the information via the web, exemplary; instead of the typical effort to make something using raw materials, and distributing the information via the web, exemplary; instead of the typical superficial web site, this web page offers users a glimpse into a unique collection which he feels is far more useful than an abundance of snapshots of Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
Martin concluded that the web offers librarians the chance to complete those projects they always wanted to do, such as scanning architectural drawings or old periodicals, creating biographical dictionaries, and creating web exhibits. As an initial step, librarians can repackage existing information that describes their unique collections to the web environment. In the future, attention can be drawn to the existence special collections or unique items, and linked to OPAC records to provide the user with access information. The web is a vehicle to increase interest in our collections which have seen little exposure in the past and which offers librarians the opportunity to be creative in the process.
Jane Carlin is a librarian at the second largest state funded institution of higher education in Ohio with 35,000 students. University of Cincinnati exists in a complex information network environment: Ohiolink, LAN, standalone cd-roms, and print resources. This environment can prove frustrating to students. In cooperation with others on her campus, the librarians began to seek ways to help students become comfortable with this information overload through online instruction via the web. Students use inappropriate electronic tools rather than print because it is easier, which became one of the issues the librarians needed to address through this project. Full-text articles from Lexis/Nexis were turning up in bibliographies rather than articles found through Art Index. Working with the faculty, the librarians created a web tutorial to teach students how to use the library appropriately (http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libinfo/freshman.html). As a first step, the librarians decided to the library to the most commonly shared instruction course: library instruction for the large freshman class. In the past, the librarians taught 90 sections of shared instruction course: library instruction for the large freshman class. In the past, the librarians taught 90 sections of freshmen library instruction, but felt this method of teaching was not successful. Instead, through the web tutorial, they felt they could achieve several goals which would include teaching students correct library use: teaching students to work independently, saving staff time, allowing students to learn at their own pace in their own time, and giving the faculty the flexibility to introduce library skills at the appropriate point in the curriculum. This phase of the project was simple: to teach students to search the OPAC and Ohiolink, identify and use basic reference tools, the role of the librarian in the research process, to implement basic research strategies, and to create an awareness of the need to evaluate materials. This "How to Use the Library" web page was made available through the library home page with links from departmental home pages. To test the students success using the web site, assignments were created, but, because these were not very exciting, the librarians want to develop new assignments with faculty.
Through this experience, Jane and her colleagues found that good web design is a collaborative effort: the librarian, a technician who understands HTML, and a graphics or communications expert who can provide good design. The commitment is and continues to be time-consuming. At her institution, two library staff positions were not filled in order to reallocate human resources to two web positions. A committee, the "Web Development Management Team," consisting of the webmaster and webmistress, reference librarians, the systems manager, support staff from circulation, and others was established. Faculty members come in for consultation on particular projects. The ultimate goal will be to take this freshman English module and create other modules off of it. Future projects include accessing electronic reserves via their III OPAC. At this time, they feel they are on a successful path: librarians have been leaders in web design and access on the University of Cincinnati campus and are using this mode of communication to teach students to work independently.
The author of Artsource (http://www.uky.edu/Artsource/artsourcehome.html), Mary Molinaro, gave an historical overview of her web site. In March 1994, she learned HTML and set up a web site to share the information on URLs she had been collecting. Her intentions were to create a page which pointed to all the art sources on the web and which her colleagues could use. Initially, the list fit onto one page and the first month the site was available she had 230 users. As more web pages became available, she began to arrange the sites hierarchically using her own subject headings. Times changed rapidly, and she realized that comprehensive coverage was unreasonable: instead, she decided to be selective. The Internet is not like the library: it is as though every day all the contents of the Library of Congress had been put in a box, shaken, and returned to the shelves. She is developing the sense that her web site serves as a "virtual library," that web users need to find pointer pages which have been created by someone with judgment who will organize the material and tell them what is important.
Maintaining Artsource is time-consuming because sites go away or move with no notice, so that, on her time off, Mary must check the links to make sure they work. People who know her web page send her 10-20 sites a day to be added, many of these inappropriate to the scope and purpose of the site. In addition, because of her association with Artsource, web users ask her art reference questions. She has developed a form email for the latter, telling the questioner to ask their local librarian for help. Last month, she had over 95,000 hits, a far cry for the initial 230 that first month in March 1994. If she knew at the beginning of this adventure what she knows now, she would do things slightly differently, especially using established subject headings to organize the site. Now, her challenge is to organize the material in a meaningful way, taking advantage of new web authoring software which does not require programming skills to use. At this point, she uses frames.
John Slatin, author of This Will Change Everything (about hypertext), is an English teacher by training and knowledgeable about computers by accident. He began using hypertext in 1987 and quickly recognized that it would change the nature of writing. On the web, the simple elements of hypertext - nodes (pages) and links - have been used to create a complex system. Any one piece of the web is simple, but it is the interaction of these parts that is complex and drive everyone crazy. In addition, writing on the web is very public in a way writing has never been before: one's audience is potentially in the millions and worldwide.
There are several different ways of, as Martin Aurand said, "making things" on the web, and all are valid. Web authors, depending upon their choice, make different decisions but still have to implement the same writing strategies learned as freshmen: 1) identify purpose, 2) identify topic, and 3) organize materials. Hypertext allows both hierarchical and network organization, which means that individuals can jump around at will. The web author must compose for multiple audiences, provide multiple pathways that are coherent for different types of users, from the stable user to the oddball wandering in, and think about the identification and placement of links. When considering the evolution of the web, the initial pages tended to be list of links an individual liked, that then needed to be organized and then, as things mushroomed, grouped. Initial lists had no information about what the link contained. In the next stage, annotated hot lists evolved which proved to be indispensable because web users often don't have time to explore but need information up front about the contents at the other end. In this context, the placing of links becomes problematic because the author does not want the user to leave too soon. On the web, information is not the precious commodity, the "attention economy" is. Authors of web pages have to compete for the attention of people with access to millions of pages of information and the ease to go anywhere but where they are right now. So, their attention must be caught, retained for as long as the web author needs it, and then released, but released so that the individual goes where the author wants them to go and not somewhere else. This is interface design. Finally, the author needs to think about graphics, design, and accessibility issues. Graphics are great, but think about the user with the 9600 or 14.4 baud modem, or people using text-based systems, or the blind or the visually or impaired who "listen" to the web. For the latter audiences, standards for web design have been made available by such institutions as the National Center for Accessible Media. Using these standards, web design is not complicated and will make web pages easier for all populations to use, not just those with visual or motor impairments or special needs.
In conclusion, John then examined the web sites of the three authors who spoke. Martin's page was characterized as clean and elegantly designed. John suggested Martin think about giving greater visual importance to the collections database links so that users knew where the heart of the site is located. He looked at the University of Cincinnati's gateway (not the web site Jane helped design) and noted that there were two interesting things going on: the page has both a horizontal menu bar and a vertical list, but the two are different which was confusing. However, the instructional modules he found to be tightly structured and could see these would be helpful teaching students, through a series of activities, about the library and what is in it. And, finally, he found the use of frames in Artsource to be thoughtfully utilized for the user does not have to leave and come back. The menu remains constant as one pane on the left, the large white pane on the right is where information changes and scrolls, and the bottom (and third) pane has contact information. This arrangement allows the user to stay still and let the information come to him or her. He found all three sites successfully fullfilled their purpose, yet remained simple in their presentation. Too much glitz, John concluded, is often because someone can, and that is not justification for its existence.
University of Denver