Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 1998

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

Development of Web-Based Tutorials For Online Databases

Anne M. Prestamo
Science & Engineering Reference Librarian
Edmon Low Library
Oklahoma State University

The explosion of electronic resources available in academic libraries is causing librarians to reflect on and evaluate the ways in which instruction in the use of these resources is provided. Bibliographic instruction has typically taken the form of face-to-face encounters, either in a classroom setting, or on a one-to-one basis in the library. Many libraries have also created extensive collections of printed materials to assist users. However, remote access to electronic resources allows users to utilize these resources without physically coming to the library. While this is a great convenience, remote access leaves users on their own, without the benefit of a librarian's assistance or printed instructions. These remote users may be accessing resources from elsewhere on campus, and may come to the library if their need for assistance is great enough. Many who might benefit from instruction are reluctant to admit their need for assistance. Increasingly, however, these remote users may be far from the campus, as evidenced by the growth of distance education programs, and new methods of providing instruction to serve these needs are required.

Local Development Process

Needs Analysis - As described in the introduction, a need for remotely accessible bibliographic instruction materials covering a variety of electronic databases had already been identified. For the purposes of this project, and as a prototype for future development one database, ProQuest Direct (PQD), was selected as the tutorial subject. Selection of PQD was based on the following:

  1. PQD is a new product, which will replace three databases available through the Library's PETE system (Periodical Abstracts, ABI Inform, and Newspaper Abstracts). These three databases have been the most heavily used of any electronic indexes to which the Library subscribes, and are used by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. PQD usage is expected to be extremely high, due to the fact that it indexes over 5000 journals, magazines, and newspapers, with approximately 60% available in full text format. Although user training on PQD has been limited, and Periodical Abstracts has continued to see very heavy usage, 13,595 searches were logged in PQD during October 1997 (ProQuest 1997). In addition, it provides access to the electronic version of Dissertation Abstracts.

  2. The web-based interface used to access PQD makes it accessible to anyone associated with OSU who has access to the world wide web, on campus or off campus.

  3. Training users on accessing PQD began in September. It will be a major focus of bibliographic instruction during the Spring 1998 semester. Based on personal experience, there are times that the PQD server, which is located in Michigan, is inaccessible. Creation of online tutorial material would be of great assistance to librarians doing training sessions.

PQD does provide extensive documentation and on-screen help. This may lead some to question the need for this tutorial. Initial feedback from users and librarians has shown that many ignore the links to on-screen help. Many who have used it tell us that the information is too extensive, making it difficult to locate the answer to a specific question. Others have commented that the language used is often more technical than a beginning user might understand.

As development progressed, it became evident that supplemental material would be required in order to make the PQD tutorial effective. Therefore, separate material was developed to cover the process for locating material not available in full text format through PQD, as well as a Basic Internet/web tutorial.

Audience/Environment Analysis - The potential audience for the PQD tutorial includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and librarians. Based on the experience of librarians at OSU, many graduate students, faculty, and staff are reluctant to attend training sessions. The ability to access the tutorial from the convenience of one's office, lab, or home would be a benefit. In addition, as the number of distance education students enrolled in OSU courses increases, many students are infrequently, or never, on campus.

In terms of use by librarians, the tutorial could be used in conjunction with face to face instruction. It could be used as an outline to insure consistency in training, as well as serving as a back up method of instruction when the PQD server is inaccessible.

There is nothing to prevent non-OSU web surfers from accessing the tutorial. They would not, however, be able to access the PQD database unless they are at a location that also subscribes to the service. It will be interesting in the evaluation to review the Library's web server logs to see if the tutorial is generating traffic from outside the OSU domain, and the domains of major providers in the area.

Strategy Analysis - Since one of the overriding goals of the project was to reach remote users, delivery via the Internet was the preferred method. While other multimedia authoring tools were considered, it was determined that web pages were the most logical choice. Accessing the tutorial would require no special software other than a web browser. In a web page format the tutorial would be platform independent. Librarians often conduct training sessions in labs across campus so ease of access is important for librarians, as well as for remote users.

It was further determined that each unit should include descriptive and illustrative material, as well as review questions with immediate feedback to allow users to evaluate their understanding of the material. The possibility exists to construct a more sophisticated method of conducting the review, using either forms with CGI scripting or Java applets. However, each of these presents some potential problems for users, due to the fact that not all web browsers support forms and/or Java. Therefore, for this initial project, the review questions were implemented using simple hyperlinks.

These conclusions were reached after an extensive review of literature, listed at the conclusion of this paper. In addition, extensive web searches were conducted to locate and examine existing examples of web-based library instruction materials. The author was also able to draw on her experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where she served as a member of the development team and webmaster for the University's online Information Literacy program ({http://www.uwp.edu/departments/library/}). Completion of the Information Literacy program is one of the General Education requirements for all students at the UW-Parkside.

Basic skills needed to search PQD effectively were examined. The following components were selected as the primary units of the tutorial:

Unit 1 - Introduction
Unit 2 - Main Menu
Unit 3 - Basic Search Techniques
Unit 4 - Search Results Display
Unit 5 - Refining Your Search
Unit 6 - Display Formats
Unit 7 - Saving & Printing
Unit 8 - Search Assistant

While the primary intention is for users to complete the entire tutorial, it was decided to break the tutorial down into small, specific units. This will allow users who have specific questions, or need a refresher to use the tutorial as a "Help" system.

Unit Configuration - The specific content and skills to be included in each unit were outlined and goals for each unit were identified. Review questions at the end of each unit would serve as a measure of whether these goals had been met.

Unit 1 - Introduction
Goal - Understand how to access PQD
Unit 2 - Main Menu
Goal - Understand the "connect" & "disconnect" process
Unit 3 - Basic Search Techniques
Goal - Demonstrate the ability to construct basic search statements
Unit 4 - Search Results Display
Goal - Understand the concept of full text, and the possible benefits and pitfalls of the full text option
Unit 5 - Refining Your Search
Goal - Demonstrate the ability to narrow search results
Unit 6 - Display Formats
Goal - Understand the content of each of the available formats
Unit 7 - Saving & Printing
Goal - Understand the technical procedures to secure a copy of the desired material
Unit 8 - Search Assistant
Goal - Understand the concept of field specific searching to limit and refine search retrieval

As the goals for each unit were determined it became evident that additional material might be needed for users to make effective use of the tutorial. Two additional tutorials were linked to the PQD tutorial. One of these links was a basic Internet tutorial, linked to Unit 1. The second was placed in Unit 4, and covered the procedures for locating periodicals in the Library. Although much of the material indexed in PQD is available full text, users will encounter instances where only an abstract is available online. Therefore, the need remains to understand the process of locating the material in the Library.

Unit Detailing - The process of writing and designing of the individual units was accomplished with the assistance of two software products. The first was HotDog Pro, an HTML editor package. The second was PaintShop Pro, a graphics package.

Sample searches were conducted, and the screens detailing those searches were "captured" using PaintShop. The graphics were then converted to .gif format. The screen captures proved to be one of the biggest technological challenges of the project. Given the current state of web technology, it is extremely difficult to anticipate all of the possible variables that might effect image display. These variables include monitor size and resolution, users' selections of font size, browser software in use, and connection speed. An attempt was made to create graphics that represented the best "middle of the road" alternatives. However, balancing file size, image display size, and quality is a difficult task. Before putting the tutorial into wide use, the author would seek out the assistance of a graphics expert to try to arrive at a better solution.

Once the screen captures were done, descriptive text was written to explain the processes, procedures, and results. Extensive review of PQD's online documentation was done to insure that consistent language and terminology was used. The descriptive text was written simultaneously with the HTML code, and tested in a web browser as it was being written. This is strictly the author's personal working style. Others may prefer to write the text first, and then add the code (or have someone else code it for them!)

The review questions were added at the end of each unit. Each question required creation and linkage of two feedback pages, one for a correct response, and one for an incorrect response. If the user chooses the incorrect response, the linked page informs them that they made an incorrect choice, and provides a link back to the paragraph in the unit that contains the correct response. The development of these feedback pages required the creation of uniform system of file names and linkages that were mapped out on paper to serve as a roadmap for the author. In total, the tutorial incorporates 41 HTML files, and 20 graphics files.

Implementation - It is anticipated that implementation will take place during the Spring 1998 semester. The files have been uploaded to the Library's web server and will be linked from numerous locations within the Library's existing web pages. Prior to implementation it is likely that revisions will be necessary. The author has just been notified that PQD will be implementing an updated search interface on December 21, 1997.

Evaluation - Formative evaluation was conducted during all steps of the process. The author consulted with librarians who conduct bibliographic training sessions throughout the process. Once an initial set of material was developed, the author asked all OSU librarians to review and comment on the content, design, and mechanics. Detailed comments were received, reviewed, and implemented where appropriate.

Once the tutorial is implemented, summative evaluation will focus on a number of areas:

  1. usage will be tracked through monthly web server access reports.
  2. feedback will be solicited from users through a web form linked to the tutorial.
  3. input will be requested from faculty who schedule PQD training for their students.


As traditional methods of instructional delivery in higher education are influenced by new technologies, the need to continually re-examine and refine existing methods of bibliographic instruction will be critical. This project represents a first attempt at moving in a new direction, and will require evaluation, updating, and refinement.

It will be vitally important for librarians to be informed and involved as higher education moves into new areas in distance education, particularly through partnerships with institutions like Western Governor's University. The impact of such programs on bibliographic instruction is only one small area of concern for libraries. Other equally important issues include the provision and delivery of services and materials, staffing needs, and technology infrastructure.

The tutorial can found at: {http://www.library.okstate.edu/dept/sed/prestamo/nettrain/pqdento.htm}

For information on ProQuest Direct, including latest additions to the database: {http://www.il.proquest.com/}

For information on UMI's Digital Dissertations: http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/

Other examples of interactive online tutorials can be found at:

http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/ LEO: Literacy Education Online - St. Cloud State University

Finding Information on the Internet - University of California, Berkeley

Library Tutor - University of Northern Colorado, James Michener Library

PLUTO - Purdue Libraries Universal Tutorial Online

Introduction to HTML - Case Western Reserve University

Virtual Pathfinder - University of New Brunswick
Note: This is not truly a tutorial, but is a very interesting example of an interactive pathfinder.


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