Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
This study provides an overview of the range of characteristics among Association of Research Libraries Physics web pages. Current academic web literature was examined and organized into three streams: design-oriented literature, function-oriented literature and goal-oriented literature. From these streams, a series of six benchmarks by which ARL physics pages could be measured, were developed. From the first category, design-oriented literature, the following benchmarks were developed: 1) Ease of navigation; 2) Logic of presentation; and 3) Representation of all forms of information. From the second category, function-oriented literature, the following benchmarks were developed: 4) Engagement of the discipline; 5) Interactivity of page. From the third category, goal or mission-oriented literature, the last benchmark was developed: 6) Identification of audience. It was hypothesized a) that adoption of the benchmarks derived from the design stream would be "established", b) that those derived from the functional stream would be in a "transitional" phase, i.e., moving toward an established adoption and c) that the benchmark derived from literature concerned with goal and mission issues would be in the "emerging" stage of adoption. Results indicate the validity of these assumed adoption patterns.
While reviewing the literature, three streams were identified: "design", "functional" and "goal or mission" orientations. The author hypothesized that for those benchmarks derived from the "design" stream of library web page literature, e.g., literature concerning the navigation, presentation and organization of information, the majority of the ARL pages would be well-established as adopters of these criteria, leaving only a few non- or marginal adopters at the lower end of the scale and a few sites fully adopting these criteria at the higher end of the scale (see the bell-shaped distribution in Figure 1).
Secondly, for those benchmarks derived from the "functionality" stream of page construction, e.g., engagement of the discipline and interactive development, there would be partial adoption among ARL libraries, wherein many would have integrated these features to some degree into their physics pages, while many others would not, making this a transitional distribution, with the possibility of established adoption in the future (see the uniformly high distribution at the lower end only in Figure 2).
For the benchmark developed from the "goal or mission" stream of academic web page literature, i.e., concerning audience identification and outreach, it was expected that very few would have yet implemented this last benchmark, this being a more "emerging" feature of academic web pages (see the triangular distribution in Figure 3).
Lynch and Horton outlined a book length series of basic design principles for creating web sites that apply well to academic pages. As with Stover and Zink, Lynch and Horton's recommendations for site and page design issues, informed by the principle of maximizing and maintaining a professional presence on the web, are now widely found in academic library pages. This is especially true for their recommendations concerning coherent visual hierarchy, page layout in logical units and fixed page elements.
Another specific perspective on web page design considerations for academic libraries is offered by Shemberg (2000), who addresses design issues as facilitators of academic communication through her navigation analysis of 125 ARL Web sites. Describing the detail and frequency of impediments to navigation that she encountered while seeking information about the libraries themselves, she concludes that, as part of being an information tool, a page must present material in a clearly negotiable and coherent manner; otherwise, it fails as a medium of information exchange. Finding the design of ARL libraries inconsistent in the presentation of information about themselves, Shemberg concludes by offering a set of rubrics to improve this aspect of page design.
In an evaluation of electronic subject resources (Dahl 2001) emphasizes that, these rich and useful sources of academic information can only "be the case if they are easily found on a library's web site"(Dahl 2001). Dahl further notes that links labeled merely "services" or "reference" or even "subject guide" are ambiguous and do not clearly indicate, even to a librarian, where a valuable information tool is located (Dahl 2001). Middleton et al. (1999) describes the optimal design principle as "meaningful labeling to enable instant identification of purpose."
Based upon the design literature examined, an academic library subject page should present specific headings, provide access to specific resources within two clicks of those headings and provide links to contact, reference, research and instructional information. Summarizing these prescriptions is Benchmark 1: the ARL Physics web page should offer simple navigation with predictive headings.
Middleton et al. (1999) suggest that the academic web page needs to provide, rather than merely to store information: provision of information is greatly enhanced by its organization and presentation. In order to present physics information coherently, the physics web page should have materials arranged in such a way as to demonstrate the relationship among what the library owns and what the library makes accessible. Diaz (1999) notes that "to ensure that a web presence is...coherent, deliberate, [libraries] must determine which are priorities for that organization." As librarians use their web pages to organize subject information, the literature reflects a primary concern with the impact of design characteristics on the effectiveness of the page's collection information. Cunningham (1999), for instance, developed a set of 10 design rubrics or measurements which facilitate greater information access, such as coordination with other related web sites within the parent library's system, provision of a dedicated search engine and the creation of easily updateable content modules. King (1998), focusing on specific web design problems and solutions, describes common characteristics of current front end designs, of a typical library home page. He highlights specifically the common presence of the following design characteristics on ARL pages: document headers and footers, document body, page length, number of steps to library home page from parent institution web site, and domain name server. Providing an overview of current design standards as well as deviations from that standard, King suggests that library "web masters can create or improve their own library home pages, combining uniformity with originality so that visitors...can quickly find the information they seek" (King 1998).
Based upon the design literature examined, an academic library subject page should annotate its links to add value to its inclusion on the page, e.g. a teaching page annotates links to highlight its educational value. The page should provide subject or keyword indexes as well as a table of contents reflecting the discipline's information hierarchy. Summarizing these prescriptions is: Benchmark 2: the arrangement (logic) and presentation of content should enhance access to information on the ARL physics library web site.
Design literature describes the optimal library subject page as a tool that enhances access to all information types. Taking advantage of the web's multi-media capabilities, the library page should provide the user with a readily apparent overview of differing information formats. Dahl (2001), in raising the issue of standardization of the design and selection practices for electronic pathfinders, identified the necessity for interfiling both print and electronic resources within a pathfinder. A coherent presentation of all facets of a subject's information will not fracture or introduce false dichotomies among resources: "it forces the students who want to explore and use the full range of listed resources to look at several pages" (Dahl 2001). Physics librarians are performing a disservice if they do not direct users to as many relevant information resources as possible. The rationale for the direction to specific resources must also remain clear throughout the structure of the web resource. Since boundaries between "completed" and "developing" work are often blurred, the need for clear, helpful pointers to various information forms on physics pages is great. McGeachin (1998) suggests as a guideline for science library page selection issues that both "free and fee information" be accessible and organized within the same page, thus integrating both information form and format. Dahl (2001), in her evaluation of academic subject pathfinders, states that these tools should present a universal snapshot of the subject/content presented, regardless of form or format differences, while providing the reader with a seamless interface among all listed resources. Dahl's proposal that the integration of information, regardless of format, be a design requirement for an electronic pathfinder supports this further. McGeachin (1998) goes on to suggest that web page information, regardless of format, must be subject to committee-determined standards to ensure comprehensibility to the greatest number of users.
Dean (1998) suggests that the infusion of a librarian's subject knowledge in her or his web page compared with a list of search engine hits is "value added in its overarching structure and arrangement of individual hypertext links, reflecting human intelligence." Based upon the design literature examined, an academic library web page should represent, provide and integrate information forms and formats both held and not held by library, e.g. links to print as well as electronic resources, integration of the discipline's information forms, e.g., books, theses/dissertations, journals, etc. A summary of these prescriptions is: Benchmark 3: the ARL physics web site should present a coherent yet multi-dimensional view of subject information in all its forms.
Cohen and Still (1999) signal an acceleration of interest by academic librarians in the service or function of their subject pages. To aid in the selection, organization and representation of information for library web pages, they outline a series of questions by which to identify the purpose or function of the page in their comparison of 50 university and 50 two-year college library web sites. They ask whether the web page is an information tool, a reference tool, a research tool or instruction tool. Responses to these queries then determine the functional orientation of the academic library web page in a quantitative comparison. It was demonstrated "that individual research library sites were more likely to fulfill all of these purposes" (Cohen and Still 1999).
Bao (2000) measures the functionality of library home pages by determining whether there is a direct link to the main institution's home page and by demonstrating whether the library page provides access to commercial online databases. He concludes that the "library's home page [functions as] a new platform for the delivery of library services" (Bao 2000). Cunliffe (2000), creates a model for the construction of the ideally functional web page, while addressing common challenges to the web developer, through analyses of usability and information-seeking behavior.
In a discussion of specific collection management functions for the digital library, Jones (1999) provides a textbook overview of considerations for building an electronic collection through the library's web page: special emphasis is made upon the functional aspects of information provision. Jones' is a prescriptive essay, which outlines the increasing imperative for collaboration among librarians when selecting and mounting Internet resources: the concluding arguments include a case for increased library page functionality through cataloging and cross-referencing of web information.
A way that librarians may engage their discipline is through reflection of their own skill in the provision of information about the information. Medeiros (1998) notes that the academic audience benefits substantially from the implementation of embedded metadata into subject web pages to "enhance scholarly resource discovery". Use of standardized data input afforded by metadata initiatives in academic subject pages are now increasingly expected of library pages by their academic audiences (Medeiros 1998).
In summarizing the complexity of web page functionality, Diaz (1999) asserts that, while every librarian constructing a web page must begin its development with whatever materials are in his/her possession, the ongoing engagement of the page must remain vital, up-to-date and demonstrably engaged with the discipline over time. A key to customizing the functionality of a library subject page is to "reflect current themes whenever possible" (Middleton et al. 1999). A physics subject page that does not mention a recently acclaimed recipient of a prize or honor awarded to one of the faculty it serves may leave the reader wondering about the omission. Dean (1998) proposes thorough engagement of the discipline through development of its subject page through committee so that all aspects of the subject are represented on the page and nothing is overlooked. Whereas Diaz (1999) states that the "deli-sandwich" model is acceptable for an academic page's beginnings, it must develop into a more inclusive and thorough engagement of the subject(s) it presents.
Based upon the literature examined, the academic library web page dealing with functionality should reflect and demonstrate a partnership with the institution's physics faculty/program, offer currency of information, e.g., ensure that the list of departmental research and faculty liaisons is up to date, and demonstrate expertise in the area of physics information. A summary of these prescriptions is: Benchmark 4: the ARL physics web page must be developed and maintained in ways that "that engages the discipline."
Scholarship is the ongoing synthesis of new ideas with existing knowledge. Such ongoing intellectual activity is particularly meaningful for librarians in the physical sciences: the "turnaround time" of scholarship in the physical sciences is increasingly fast. Is the breakneck speed of new scholarship accommodated in physics web pages?
Middleton et al. (1999) describe an ideal site as one that allows "space for scholarly use and learning new ways of exploiting the new medium...[creating] a "vibrant web culture that encourages usage." To facilitate the readers' feedback, they recommend providing an arena within the page for user questions, name and contact information of the librarian provided, as well as instructional or usage guidelines. Middleton, et al. (1999) go further, suggesting that not only should information be directed to the user, but that somehow the satisfaction of the user's needs should be an ongoing design imperative.
Interactivity also connotes the provision of meta-information, e.g., are any clues or indicators provided as to why particular links have been selected and others have not? Is it demonstrated how information selected has been evaluated? Lederer (2000) outlines how Colorado State University interacts with classroom faculty in the creation of web pages for composition courses. To maximize the effectiveness of her page, she uses "hit lists" as well as surveys to determine the level of functionality of her instructional web pages. Lederer uses this knowledge to inform her page development, underscoring generally increased functionality of academic library web pages through built-in interaction. Misic and Johnson (1999) explore interactivity as a criterion by which to improve their academic web page. Gathering ideas to improve functionality of their college's web page, their conclusions offer a blueprint for the academic page.
Based upon the functionality literature examined, an academic web page should identify its creators, provide tutorials or usage guidelines, and solicit as well as incorporate feedback. Summarizing these prescriptions is: Benchmark 5: the ARL physics web page must be informed by its interactivity.
Bent's (1998) analysis of the considerations involved in creating a class web site lists a set of goals, based upon experience, for the development of a teaching web page. While addressing exclusively classroom rather than library teaching issues, Bent's perspectives on goal setting are highly applicable to academic library subject web pages. According to Bent, the first goal is developing an overall mission for the page. The second goal is to make a superior product, e.g. a page that is "fast, reliable and easy and enjoyable to use". The third goal is to bring students to a "wealth of primary and secondary materials". Goal four strives to "take advantage of the unique capabilities of web technology", while the fifth is articulated as "expos[ing] students to the depth and breadth of [pertinent and scholarly] materials on the web". The final goal is to "build a site of general interest to others beyond [the institution]." To facilitate the setting and fulfillment of these goals, Bent (1998) states that an introduction to the overall function of a page precedes the information provided on his teaching page. Such a statement provides the user with an indication of what information may and may not be found there. An introductory statement would serve the equally useful function of directing users away from a page not designed to meet their information needs.
Other goal-oriented papers are similarly less specific and more philosophical in their prescriptions for establishing a goal or mission for an academic library web page. For instance, in his summary of the prevailing "fingerprint" of typical subject content on an academic library page, Osorio (2001) concludes that as an entity, the goal of "science-engineering libraries [seems] to make their home page a content-rich environment" (Osorio 2001).
Medeiros (1999) outlines how academic library web sites have progressed from a mere "presence on the web" to a more "proactive...focus on the users' information needs". He notes that demands for goals and results put upon an academic library subject page warrant the balance and structure of committee creation rather than the "ad hoc enthusiastic contributions of a few librarians working independently" (Medeiros 1999). Committee-based construction and maintenance result in greater attention to the goal and mission of the page, he notes, simply because of the diverse perspectives of its members.
It was difficult to derive more than one benchmark from goal or mission oriented web literature. The components of this stream are also less specific than those attending benchmarks derived from design or function oriented literature. Based upon goal-oriented literature, an academic library web page should establish and communicate its mission through the inclusion of addressing comments, effective targeting of the intended audience, maintenance of a consistent comprehension level throughout the page and acknowledgement of - and, where possible, provision for - those who may require information not found on the page. Benchmark 6: The ARL physics web page information must be directed to a specific audience.
One point was assigned for the presence of each of the following measurement criteria:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned for the level of navigation for simplicity:
0 = non-existent
1 = rudimentary
2 = fair
3 = good
4 = outstanding
Benchmark Two: The ARL physics web page should offer logic of presentation. One point was assigned for the presence of each of the following measurement criteria:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned for the level of logic of presentation:
0 = no organization
1 = poor organization
2 = some organization
3 = marked organization
4 = clear organization
Benchmark Three: "The ARL physics web page should represent all forms of information".
One point each was assigned for the presence of each of the following measurement criteria:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned for the level of coherence of information integration:
0 = no coherence
1 = minimal coherence
2 = fair coherence
3 = good coherence
4 = full coherence
Benchmark Four: "The ARL physics page must be developed and maintained in ways that engages the discipline"
One point was assigned for the presence of each of the following criteria:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned to each ARL library for the level of acknowledgment of the discipline:
0 = no engagement
1 = minimal engagement
2 = fair engagement
3 = good engagement
4 = clear engagement
Benchmark Five: "The ARL physics page must be informed by interactivity"
One point was assigned for the presence of each of the following criteria:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned to each ARL library for its level of interactivity:
0 = non-interactive
1 = limited interaction
2 = fair interaction
3 = good interaction
4 = clear interaction
Benchmark 6: "The ARL library must identify and maintain a commitment to a clearly identified audience"
One point was assigned for the presence of each of the following:
Based upon the above point assignments, the following scores out of a possible 4 were assigned to each ARL library for its level of audience identification:
0 = non identification
1 = minimal identification
2 = fair identification
3 = good identification
4 = clear identification
Thirty-nine out of 82 pages had at least a fair competency for the ease of navigation benchmark with fairly even distribution of good and rudimentary competencies. The empirical distribution of "ease of navigation" resembles the hypothetical distribution for this benchmark given in Figure 1. As a design-oriented benchmark, the distribution reflects that its adoption overall in ARL pages is established, thus deviating substantially from the hypothetical transitional and emerging distributions (see Figures 2 and 3). The chi-square test in Table 1 indicates no statistical difference between the empirical distribution of ranks for benchmark 1 and the hypothetical distribution for established adoption (Figure 1). On the other hand, the rejection of the null hypotheses for Benchmark 1 to match either the transitional or emerging distributions is indicated in Table 1.
The data indicate 28 out of 82 pages apply at least fairly logical principles to the presentation of the page's information. The number of pages with good organizational characteristics is higher than poorly organized pages. The empirical distribution for the "presentation logic" benchmark resembles the hypothetical distribution for "Established Adoption" of design-oriented benchmarks in Figure 1. The results of a chi-square test (Table 1) indicate no statistical difference between the two distributions. The distribution in "Presentation logic" deviates substantially form the other two hypothetical distributions (see Figures 2 and 3). See also the rejection of the according null hypotheses in Table. 1
Twenty-seven out of 82 pages demonstrate at least fair coherence among information resources with somewhat more (22) pages featuring good coherence than minimal (16) coherence. The empirical distribution for "Representation of all forms of information" benchmark resembles the hypothetical distribution in Figure 1. The results of a chi-square test (Table 1) also indicate no statistical difference between the two distributions. As this benchmark was also extracted from design-oriented literature, its "established" distribution deviates from those hypothesized for transitional and emerging benchmarks. See also the rejection of the according null hypotheses in Table 1.
For this fourth benchmark, the highest number of pages (30) demonstrate "fair engagement" of the discipline, while 21 show minimal or no engagement of the discipline. The presence of a few good and clearly engaged pages - 7 and 3 pages respectively - suggests that ARL pages are moving through a transition phase in which the practices are becoming more common. The empirical distribution for this benchmark resembles the hypothetical distribution for transitional adoption in Figure 2. The results of a chi-square test (Table 1) indicate no statistical difference between the two distributions. As this benchmark was built from function-oriented web literature, it deviates from the hypothesized "established" (see Figure 1) and "emerging" (see Figure 3) adoption distributions. See also the rejection of the according null hypotheses in Table 1.
For this benchmark, 28 out of 82 pages reflect a "fair" level of interaction, with greater numbers at the lower end of the scale, 20 and 26 respectively, reflecting minimal or non-interaction. The empirical distribution resembles the hypothetical distribution in Figure 2 for benchmarking in the transitional phase. The results of a chi-square test (Table 1) indicate no statistical difference between the distributions for what was observed in ARL pages for Interactivity and what was hypothesized for a function-oriented evaluation stream. The distribution for this benchmark deviates from the hypothetical established and emerging distributions (see Figures 1 and 3). See also the rejection of the according null hypotheses for "Informed by interactivity" in Table 1.
While the highest number (28) of ARL physics pages demonstrated no indication of audience identification whatsoever, the gently sloping triangle pattern of this distribution toward the higher end of the scale suggests the emergence of some identification with an audience. The empirical distribution for this benchmark resembles the hypothetical distribution for emerging benchmarks in Figure 3 the closest. The chi-square test in Table 1 indicates no statistical difference between the two distributions at the p-value of 5.4%. The p-value with respect to the transitional distribution is 2.3%, which indicates that this emerging web page characteristic already is in the process of moving toward a more transitional pattern of distribution. As it is a benchmark culled from "goal-oriented" literature, the observed distribution deviates substantially from the established hypothetical distribution (see Figures 1). See also the clear rejection of the null hypothesis for benchmark 6 in Table 1 with respect to the established distribution.
|Hypothetical development stages
|1. Navigation ease
|2: Presentation logic
|3: Represents all forms of information
|4. Engagement of the discipline
|5. Informed by interactivity
|6. Audience identification
Table 1: χ2-test comparisons of the observed counts for each benchmark against the hypothetical counts for the development stages. Non-rejections of the identical distribution hypothesis are in bold. The p-values α are displayed in the parentheses.
ARL physics web pages have begun to adopt function-based characteristics, as shown in the transitional patterns for the benchmarks derived from function-based literature. Benchmarks four and five, with their well-defined focus on a page's purpose, resonates with the current re-workings and renewals of library service commitments in a virtual environment. Movement of the benchmark "engaging the discipline", from a transitional to a more established adoption pattern, may be achieved through increased and ongoing collaboration with physics faculty, greater acknowledgement of the various streams in the study of physics, and through continuous refreshment of the page to reflect rapidly evolving research activity. Development of benchmark five, "informed by interactivity" to an established distribution may be achieved through greater involvement of the physics librarian with the user, e.g., through the use of surveys, requests for reader responses and solicitations of page development suggestions.
ARL physics pages demonstrate a pattern of emerging adoption for the sole benchmark six derived from goal or mission-oriented literature, "identification of audience". As the exchange of information moves quickly in the physics community, physics librarians could enhance the efficacy of their page as a communications tool through more aggressive targeting of their page's audience. By achieving and maintaining a specific audience identification, it is possible to construct a series of overarching goals for that audience, as well as a means by which to measure their fulfillment.
The method of measurement in this paper could also be applied more broadly to a comparison study of these benchmarks for ARL pages of different subject areas, e.g., geology or chemistry. Such an application would be useful to determine the strengths and areas of improvement for web pages relative to specific disciplines.
Smaller questions raised within discussion of specific benchmarks from this study may also be explored more deeply. From the discussion of benchmark three, for example, it may be asked why are some free Internet sites cataloged and not others? Benchmark four raises another possibility for future investigation of the current emphases of physics web page content: How much of the content of ARL physics pages is instructional? What percentage of physics pages is devoted to research assistance?
As greater numbers of physics librarians move into the arena of the assembly and publication of web pages, all aspects of their design, function and stated goals must constantly be examined and advanced.
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