Fostering Robust Library Portals: An Assessment of the McMaster University Library Gateway

Working Paper Authors Publish Date
4 Brian Detlor
Umar Ruhi
Chris Pollard
Dave Hanna
Mihail Cocosila
Wuping Zheng
Eric Fu
Tao Jiang
Demos Syros
Jun. 2003

Library portals are important vehicles by which to support the information needs and uses of library patrons. These systems provide users with convenient, personalized Web-based access to a comprehensive collection of information resources of relevance and authority. Moreover, library portals support a broad range of information seeking activity from browsing to search, provide mechanisms for communication and collaboration, and facilitate knowledge creation and sharing – all through a usable, intuitive interface.

This report proposes an evaluation framework for library portals that assesses the overall robustness of library portals on five dimensions:

  1. the usability of the system interface;
  2. the ability of the portal to support a wide spectrum of information seeking activity;
  3. the personalization of the interface in ways that match individual user needs;
  4. the extent to which the portal fosters knowledge work; and
  5. the degree to which intelligent agents are employed.

To test the viability of the framework, a real-life library portal, the McMaster University Library Gateway, is assessed. Overall, the system is found to exhibit some good characteristics, however recommendations are suggested to improve the overall robustness of this specific library portal’s design.

Immediate recommendations include the need:

  1. to improve the terminology used on the library portal interface to limit or reduce library jargon;
  2. to fix inconsistencies in the screen design; and
  3. to clean-up some navigation problems.

Short term recommendations include the need:

  1. to provide an integrated library portal site design that does not mimic the physical structure of individual libraries;
  2. to make the distinction between the library catalogue and other electronic resources transparent to users; and
  3. to provide better Web log tracking metrics.

Long term recommendations concentrate on:

  1. personalizing the site to individual user needs;
  2. offering communication and collaboration areas;
  3. providing a single browse/search function that is immediately accessible from the portal’s homepage and does comprehensive searching across the entire library’s resource collection; and
  4. leveraging the use of intelligent agents.

As such, the proposed evaluation framework proves to be an effective tool by which to assess the robustness of library portals and to elicit recommendations for enhancements and modifications.

Acknowledgements: A heartfelt thanks goes to Vivian Lewis (Business Librarian, Innis), Ines Perkovic (Reference Librarian, Innis), and Shelia Pepper (Associate Librarian, Reader Services), all at McMaster University, in providing the requisite background information necessary to conduct an assessment of the McMaster Gateway by the students of the Winter 2003 class of K726 Information Retrieval and Intelligent Agents.

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