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of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 1    October/November 2004

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Special Section

Portals in Libraries
by Amos A. Lakos, Guest Editor

Amos A. Lakos is librarian, Rosenfeld Management Library, Anderson School of Management, UCLA. He can be reached at aalakos@library.ucla.edu.

Portals are transformational environments that address the problem of information glut by customizing information content to meet specific end-user needs. The Web environment is growing in its importance as the preferred way of organizing and using information and for organizing work environments. Rapid advances in information technology point to the Web as the main framework for organizing information for work, research and e-commerce. The Web is rapidly becoming the preferred venue for information, financial transactions, document management and more.

As the volume of digital information grows, there is a corresponding need for transforming the chaos of the Internet into order. Everybody wants to use the Web in a simpler and more orderly way. This desire manifests itself in the increased importance of search engines as well as with the realization that delivering effective Web services is becoming mission critical to many businesses and organizations. The realization of the importance of the electronic medium for every sphere of our life increases the need for order, reliability and transparency.

Web portals are seen as positive potential frameworks for achieving order out of chaos. As portals become a primary means for transacting information and commerce, libraries of all types are becoming involved in thinking, planning and building various frameworks and services that they call portals. For many library customers, if what they need is not on the Web, it does not exist. Increasingly, information is available from alternative Web sources, and libraries have to compete with a diversity of new information services. If information is difficult to find using library tools and services, customers are looking for alternative sources if they even think of libraries at all. This new reality translates into the need for making library Web environments effective and useful. This trend is especially challenging for libraries, who were and continue to see themselves as the traditional keepers of knowledge, which until very recently was housed in many millions of books and journals that are rapidly becoming digitized. We see a growing acceptance in libraries of Web portals as a framework for work and for Web services, as a way of increasing access to collections, learning and work.

The papers included in this special section are primarily based on presentations given through a Library Information and Technology Association (LITA) Internet Portals Interest Group full-day pre-conference held in June 2004 at the American Library Association annual conference. The pre-conference, titled Portals in Libraries A Symposium, was designed to attract a diverse group of librarians for education and dialogue about what portals are, who they are for and the potential outcomes they can achieve. The presentations reviewed the portals environment, examined some working portals and projects and discussed issues of implementation and planning. By including these papers in this ASIS&T Bulletin special section, we hope to extend information about portals in general and about the issues and challenges of portals to a wider library audience. The LITA Internet Portals Interest Group provides an important community of interest in this area.

The morning sessions of the symposium focused on portals vision, environmental scan, examples of implementations and current projects, assessment and outcomes. The afternoon sessions focused on issues related to technology, portal implementation and planning, followed by a concluding session to summarize the symposium.

The papers included in this special section are based on the symposium presentations, with the exception of Marianne Afifi's paper, which updates the Scholars Project at the University of Southern California.

"Portal Vision" by Amos Lakos, University of California at Los Angeles, discusses definitions of portals, their purpose, the key issues contributing to success and the importance of understanding why portals are important for libraries.

A general environmental scan, "Current State of Portals in Libraries" by Robert McDonald, Florida State University, discusses the different types of portals available, gives examples of library portal implementations and proposes future trends.

In "Library Technology and Planning for Change," Krisellen Maloney, University of Arizona, gives an overview of the available technologies and tools, the challenges to implement a Web portal and what the implications are for library services.

Hugh Jarvis, University of Buffalo, introduces the "MyUB Campus Portal," which he describes as "a proactive, customized and personalizable portal to useful and timely information at the University at Buffalo."

In "Scholars Portal Project: A June 2004 Update," Mary Jackson, Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and Sarah Michalak, University of Utah, update the cooperative project between seven ARL libraries and Fretwell-Downing, initially focused on developing cross-domain searching and linking online learning resources and services.

Marriane Afifi, University of Southern California (USC), updates USC's involvement in the Scholars Portal project in "The Scholars Portal Project: The USC Perspective."

Issues relating to "Assessment and Outcomes" are covered in Amos Lakos' paper that focuses on the need for continuous assessment of portals and includes information on impacts and outcomes from a number of existing U.S. campus portals.

Eric Lease Morgan, University of Notre Dame, focuses on challenges to be aware of, such as technological change, customer feedback, user centered design and identity management, in "Implementation Issues and Challenges."

The symposium ended with a summary and discussion led by Roy Tennant, California Digital Library, and Sarah Michalak, University of Utah. Both emphasized the integrative and user-focused nature of the portal framework, the need for clarity of definition and purpose and the need to be future focused.

The Proceedings of the symposium are available on the LITA website: www.ala.org/ala/lita/litamembership/litaigs/Internetportals/symposium.htm.


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