Making information easier to find with MyLibrary

This article describes a pilot project being implemented in the Libraries called MyLibrary, a Web-based portal application intended to make information easier to find, easier to get, and to improve communication.

Focus Group Interviews

In February of 2002 the Libraries facilitated a set of focus group interviews with students, faculty, and staff of the University. The purpose of the interviews was to discover what problems the University community had when it comes to accessing digital information. While participants had many good things to say about the Libraries, such as its courteous staff and wealth of Internet-accessible information, the issues articulated by the participants can be distilled into three categories:

  1. information is hard to find
  2. information is hard to get
  3. communication can be improved

Focus group participants thought there were too many choices available on the library's website, and they expressed difficulty choosing the most appropriate resource for their particular need. Participants said the search engines used to locate the information they desire are unintuitive and difficult to use.

Once a search engine was used and a particular thing (a book or journal article) was identified as being useful, participants said those things were difficult to obtain. More often than not the book or article is not immediately available online. Participants have to conduct a second search of the library's catalog to see if it is available and than physically go to the library to acquire the document. This is seen as inconvenient.

It is obvious the University community is experiencing other Internet-accessible resources and services and they are bringing their experiences to the library wondering why the library can not provide similar services. "Give me Google and/or send me the document."

Participants never had anything bad thing to say about anybody working in the libraries. Everybody is seen as friendly and easy to approach. On the other hand, many participants did not know the libraries employed subject specialist librarians -- librarians who know and understand specific areas of study. When participants did know of the subject specialists, then those subject specialists were repeatedly called upon for help and consultation. Participants made many recommendations on how things could be improved and/or what sorts of services they desired. Unfortunately, the libraries already provides most of these services. Thus, the Libraries has communication issues and our communication channels need to be improved.

MyLibrary, a possible technical solution to address these issues

By allowing our patrons to personalize and customize their view of the library's website, and by cultivating more person-to-person relationships between patrons and librarians, we believe we can help resolve many of the issues expressed in the interviews. We call this idea MyLibrary.

In a nutshell, this is how MyLibrary works. First, subject specialist librarians create short lists of information resources pertinent to their clientele, and selected items from these lists are recommended over other items based on their importance to the subject area.

Second, as people from the University community use the library's website, they are presented with a homogeneous set of information resources presented in any number of views including but not necessarily limited to resources organized by title, by subject area, by popularity, by recommendation, by ease-of-use, etc.

Third, people are given the option to create a MyLibrary account. They are asked for their name, email address, and to select a subject from a list of subject areas supported by the University. Based on this bit of information the website creates a page for each individual. MyLibrary remembers this page for each person, and it is accessible from any Web browser connected to the Internet. The page not only lists recommended resources from the selected subject area, but it also lists links to the subject specialist librarian(s). The Libraries understands everybody is different, and consequently, people who create accounts will be given the option of modifying what appears on their page. Items can be added or removed at will. Based on the person's subject selection, lists of newly acquired items from the library's collection can be displayed and optionally sent to MyLibrary patrons on a regular basis -- a sort of "what's new" feature delivered via email.

Thus students, faculty, and staff will be able to optionally customize their view of the library's website. Since it is personalized by each individual it should make information easier to find, easier to get, and improve communication.

Reducing information overload and saving the time of our clientele are of primary importance. The items described above are designed to accomplish these goals, are there are other things MyLibrary can do towards these ends. For example, it can facilitate a document delivery service based on items listed in the "what's new" feature. It can support a "get it for me" service allowing items to be delivered electronically or in-person without necessitating people to come to the library. MyLibrary can provide the means for faculty to create course-specific pages containing lists of information resources for particular classes. MyLibrary can implement a review service allowing people to describe their experiences with information resources and allow other people to read the reviews and select items accordingly. The system might even go so far as to recommend information resources based on these reviews or frequency of use. "People like you also used this resource." MyLibrary can become an integrated part of a campus-wide system -- a portal -- of course schedules, grades, financial records, and news feeds of University events. Thus, not only is it be possible to create MyLibrary, but it is also possible to create MyNotreDame.

Screenshot of MyLibrary
Screenshot of MyLibrary

Implementing MyLibrary as a pilot project

MyLibrary is an ambitious endeavor, and the Libraries is implementing it as a pilot project. We are beginning with subject areas such as but not limited to history, business, engineering, mathematics, peace studies, and life sciences. By Thanksgiving of this year we hope to begin an iterative process of 1) system evaluation by the University community, 2) functionality improvement and creation, 3) regular maintenance of system content, and 4) promotion. By this time next year we will have used this four-step process to evaluate MyLibrary's usefulness. The pilot process will help us determine how to continue and/or change directions.

MyLibrary is intended to make information easier to find, easier to get, and improve communication between the Libraries and the University community. We relish your input and if you have any questions, then please don't hesitate to call or drop me a note.


Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This text was originally published in a newsletter of the University Libraries of Notre Dame called Access, number 81, Fall 2002.
Date created: 2002-09-30
Date updated: 2005-02-08
Subject(s): articles; MyLibrary;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/mylibrary-access/