B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

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

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Portals in Libraries: An Environmental Landscape
by Robert H. McDonald

Robert H. McDonald is assistant director of libraries for technology at Florida State University. He can be reached at rmcdonal@mailer.fsu.edu.

This environmental landscape will look first at portals within the framework of libraries and then expand that view to the framework within higher education in general, providing perspective for the other papers included in this special section.

First, I start with a portal definition that comes from an Accenture Higher Education Survey presented at the Southwest Regional EDUCAUSE Conference by Brad Englert (www.educause.edu/asp/doclib/abstract.asp?ID=SWR0304). This survey is a valuable tool for anyone looking at portals from an academic library perspective as it gives a fairly current (2003) yet complete picture of portals within the higher education marketplace. Eventually, no matter what type of portal your library develops, some sort of interaction with a larger portal structure will occur either in a higher education (research/academic libraries), city/county government (public libraries) or corporate (special libraries) framework.

Accenture defines a portal within the framework of higher education as a site having the following characteristics:

  • Gateway that provides a single point of entry to information and tools
  • Web-based aggregation point
  • Targeted user group
  • My "homepage" or "library"
  • Easy to use
  • Accessible from anywhere anytime

Portals in Libraries

Currently within academic and some public libraries there has been a movement toward portalization of library content, especially online electronic resources. This type of Web access can be thought of in three distinct categories:

    • Customizable E-resource portals
    • Integrated Web service portals
    • Metasearch systems that contain portal features

All three types can be considered portals within most definitions. However, the integration of portal functionality within metasearch systems has caused some confusion of definition in recent years among portal developments in libraries as these institutions seek to incorporate metasearch functionality as part of their information portals. For more information on metasearch see the article by Krisellen Maloney in this issue.

A typical use of portals in libraries is as a framework for presenting customized views of electronic resources. These types of portals serve as aggregators for customers to arrange and display information resources in a manner that best serves their information needs. It also enables customers to pick and choose from countless resources that are provided by the typical research library without having to delve through a catalog of resources or other such electronic listing of information products. Samples of this type of portal can be found at many libraries, the most notable of which is at North Carolina State University (http://my.lib.ncsu.edu/), where Eric Lease Morgan's MyLibrary software was developed. Examples of open-source software tools that can be used for developing e-resource customization portals are MyLibrary (http://dewey.library.nd.edu/mylibrary/), the Scout Portal Toolkit (http://scout.wisc.edu/Projects/SPT/) and phpWebSite (http://phpwebsite.appstate.edu).

Another example of portals in libraries concerns integration with other campus Web services within a higher education framework. This is chiefly seen in environments that use course management and distribution systems such as Blackboard, WebCT or Desire2Learn in such a manner that these become a default portal for all students. Thus the integrated Web services deliver library information resources in a channel within the course management system that can deliver pre-populated resources based on user profiles. Examples of these types of library portals can be found at Royal Holloway University (New Books RSS Feed/SCT Luminis Portal), University of Maryland (Metasearch Service/WebCT) and the University of Rochester (MyLibrary/Course Reserve Reading List).

The third type of portal currently used in libraries is one that at its base is a metasearch system used to search across many library databases and indexing tools at one time. Yet such systems include portal features such as saved searches with automatic notification of new resources, customizable e-journal and e-resource listings, pre-populated resource customization based on user profiles and seamless authentication with other portal-type environments such as course management systems. Examples of these types of portals can be found at the libraries of Iowa State University (ZPortal), Kansas State University (Encompass) and the University of Maryland (Metalib).

Portals in Higher Education

No matter which type of portal your library is investigating, it will come as no surprise that at some point this service will need to interact with other systems or portals within the infrastructure of your larger parent organization. This interaction may be with a campus portal, an organizational portal or a course-driven system, and there are many notable examples where such integration has produced great results.

The University of Washington Libraries, a long time library portal provider, has recently announced plans to be completely integrated with the locally produced university portal system (www.washington.edu/computing/windows/issue25/myuw.html). The integration will be driven through a personalized calendaring system that will include information resources within the context of course syllabi. Other higher education entities following a similar open-source route are those working with the uPortal project, such as Cornell University (http://solutions.cit.cornell.edu/Apps/uPortal/). How these portals will integrate with library resources has yet to be seen.

Finally, there are many institutional portals that will be put into place as customers of the Internet generation demand online interaction with organizations of all types. Libraries will become information channels within this type of framework, and the experience in developing early information portals will become the foundation for future developments. What is clear is that in higher education, this will be arriving sooner rather than later. Is your library ready?

I conclude with an example of a framework for a higher education portal that includes integrated library information resources such as links and metasearch tools.

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