Improving Library Services with Ajax and RSS

The room is full for this session by Hongbin Liu from Yale and Win Shih from University of Colorado — despite the number of other really interesting-sounding sessions in this time slot!

Hongbin had done a web site redesign project for both the public and internal sites at his previous job in New Orleans. The analysis included usability and information organization, and turned up problems including terminology (undergraduates not understanding the term “catalog”).

In the past web sites have been either static or database-driven. Now we have “Web 2.0,” about which people have different definitions, but includes high interaction/collaboration sites like Flickr, as well as advanced user interfaces that make a site highly responsive.

Look at a value co-creation matrix:

  • Britannica Online – low personalization, low collaboration
  • Personal web sites – high personalization, low collaboration
  • Wikipedia – low personalization, high collaboration
  • MySpace, Flickr – high personalization, high collaboration

Blogging is used in libraries for things like

  • What’s new – promoting library events
  • New books
  • Course-specific resources

The advantage is that not only do you get the updates on the web site, but the user can also subscribe to the RSS feed and doesn’t have to go to the web site to get the updates. Blogs can also allow the users to comment on or contribute to the web site content.

Blogs + Content Management System: enables going beyond blog functionality.
At Hongbin’s library, access to the library web site has gradually dropped. Users don’t come to the library web site unless they have to. This means going closer to the user’s world: Google, MySpace, My Yahoo, MSN, etc.

More than three dozen libraries have implemented “My Library” services similar to My Yahoo. Hongbin asked the audience members involved with “My Library” services how their services have worked out. The response was that people have not actually used these services, and some have been discontinued. This matched up with Hongbin’s next slide, which said an irrelevant My Library is a burden and these services often have low adoption rates.

Google/IG allows you to personalize your home page. Hongbin asked the audience again about their use of Google/IG and the response was very positive. is a similar services from Microsoft. Why do companies set these up? If you keep users with your personalized home page, they will come back again. Can the Google/IG approach be used to improve My Library?

A look at what goes into Google/IG: An RSS aggregator that collects RSS updates. Ajax technologies to provide interactivity. (Ajax is not a technology but a set of technologies that work together: HTML, CSS, the Document Object Model, JavaScript, and the XMLHttpRequest object to exchange data with a server, using XML format.) Some uses of Ajax include: real-time form data validation and auto-complete; sophisticated user interface controls; and refreshing data on the page in real time.

Ajax pros: more interactive, seems speedier to the user, a rich web browsing experience

Ajax cons: requires JavaScript to be turned on, may need to be very browser-specific JavaScript, some security concerns, and standard browser controls like bookmarking and the Back button don’t work in most implementations

Ajax uses in the library:

Ajax-enabled Google/IG style Yale Medical Library site
Ajax-enabled OPAC from OCLC Research

“Getting the user involved” means, for Hongbin, not just usability studies or surveys, but creating interfaces that themselves directly involve the user.

Q & A:

Q: Why create your own Google/IG interface? Why not move toward making all your information accessible through people’s existing Google/IG or, etc?

A: We are moving in exactly that direction, discontinuing development of our own Ajax-enabled site, and making as much library information as possible available via RSS feed.

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