Improving Library Services with AJAX and RSS

Hongbin Liu, Web Services Librarian at Yale University
Win Shih, Head of Systems and Databases at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center.

As spokesperson for this session, Hongbin covered the background of Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX, tagging, blogs and RSS, and demonstrated how library websites can meet the needs of web users by providing customization and interactivity features.

About AJAX

  • Asynchronous JavaScript And XML
  • Originated in 1997, but was not popular at that time because browsers didn’t support JavaScript
  • Not a technology in itself, but refers to the use of a group of technologies that provide interactivity (XHTML, CSS, DOM, XMLHttpRequest)


  • Speedy browsing
  • Updates information without the need to refresh the browser


  • Complex, browser specific, requires JavaScript to be enabled, debugging is required, and poses a security risk (source code viewable)
  • Browser back button will not work
  • Difficult to track use statistics

Examples of services that use AJAX are:

Why Personalize?
Web users who keep personlized webpages are more likely to come back to the site often and will surely visit everyday to check their custom homepage content. Sites listed above support drag and drop interfaces, RSS feeds, integration with search engines, and the ability to add and remove content. Statistics have shown that users prefer these features over many of the currently implemented MyLibrary sites. MyLibrary is currently used by a number of institutions, but has proven less desirable due to the burden of high maintenance and low usage.

Hongbin demonstrated examples of AJAX used for real-time data validation and auto completions in a number of different applications.

Examples included:

AJAX uses for the Library OPAC
OCLC LCSH Live Search – Instant results list of subject terms
Univ. of Huddersfield Library Tag Cloud – Tag Cloud of catalog subject terms

As blogs have been one of the most highly praised features of the Web 2.0 era, Content Management Systems (CMS) that incorporate blog and other social/collaborative features are proving to offer more useful features for library websites. A great example of this technology in action is The Ann Arbor District Library site. AADL uses Drupal. Plone is another CMS with similar features that other libraries are using.

More library blogs

In conclusion, the goal of library websites should be to engage users with interactivity and personalization, and integrate library services into the customizable services that web users maintain regularly such as MyYahoo and Google/IG.


  • Q: Why make an effort to use MyLibrary since we’ve seen it fail? Why not go directly with the Google/IG format?
  • A: Yale will no longer promote its Google/IG style Medical Library page, but will work toward integration with Google/IG and make the Medical Library’s RSS feeds available for users to insert into their existing Google/IG pages.

  • Q: How many people pull the Yale Medical Library’s feed into their Google/IG page?
  • A: We haven’t collected statistics yet, but are working toward getting access to how people are using the feeds.