The Universe at Your Fingertips

Do-It-Yourself: Homepage Development, Design and Implementation

Christine Shupala
Catalog Librarian
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Sylvia Contreras
Associate Director for Systems and Tech Services
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi


Copyright 1997, Christine Shupala and Sylvia Contreras. Used with permission.

Abstract

The increased use of technology in libraries has provided tremendous opportunities for accessing and distributing information. As information and library resources become increasingly available through the Internet, so does the need to develop user friendly interfaces to access these resources. A well conceived and designed library homepage can serve as one such interface. This paper will examine the process of homepage development and design, and illustrate the usefulness of a library homepage. Topics discussed will include the formation of the homepage committee, the creation of guidelines, and the writing of basic HTML script.

Discussion

Who should be involved in developing and maintaining the library's homepage? A committee of interested individuals can be assembled from library faculty and staff. Care should be taken to include members from Technical Services and Public Services, as well as any Computer Services/Systems staff who may need to be involved in maintaining the homepage on the Web. Knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) basics on the part of committee members is a plus, but should not be required of all members at this stage.

The committee's first task should be to develop guidelines for homepage design. In establishing guidelines there are two important considerations.

  1. Has your university, college or governing body established guidelines for homepage development which the library must incorporate into any guidelines it establishes?
  2. If guidelines already exist, is there a need for additional guidelines or a need for clarification of existing guidelines?
If no guidelines exist, the committee must establish a set of guidelines which allow the library to maintain certain standards while allowing a reasonable measure of freedom to be creative and innovative. The committee should first define the primary and secondary audiences. Who is the library trying to serve with its homepage? For most libraries there are several audiences to consider-- the immediate library community, the institution the library serves, the local population, and the world at large. Which of these are primary? Which are secondary? To what extent should each population be served?

Once primary, secondary and tertiary audiences have been established, the committee may wish to consider the services which it would like to provide for each audience. During the brainstorming sessions which are used to answer these questions, the technical feasibility does not need to be examined. Technical feasibility will be considered during the design and implementation phases of homepage development.

Having established a list of possible information and resources to be included in the library homepage, the committee should determine what type of format will provide the best possible access to its primary audience. The committee will wish to consider the capability of primary and, perhaps, secondary audiences to access any information the library provides. Does the audience have access to a graphical interface such as Netscape or is it limited to a text only web browser? The lowest common denominator must be considered in future development. If the primary audience is limited to a text only browser, this user group's needs for text only information must be met before extras such as photos, video, etc. are considered for inclusion to benefit secondary and tertiary audiences. If the primary audience has access to a graphical interface other considerations in the creation of guidelines may include, but are not limited to, uniformity of backgrounds, icons, colors, banners, etc.

To assist the committee in determining guidelines for the appearance of pages, it is helpful to have each member examine the pages of other libraries, noting his/her likes and dislikes. As much can be learned from "bad" pages as from "good" pages. What is a good balance between text, graphics and space? Do graphics load well, look good on the monitors which are common among the primary audience? Does the committee prefer a front page which is longer or one which is shorter and serves as an index to information contained on secondary pages? Does the browser used print the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) on printed pages, or does this need to be incorporated into the page? Will there be multiple authors for pages or will one person be responsible for creating and maintaining all pages? If there are to be multiple authors (i.e., if each department or division is given responsibility for creating and updating its own page) should author names and e-mail addresses be incorporated into the page so that questions and comments may be sent directly to them? Who will serve as the chief editor of all the library homepages (i.e. be responsible for updating pages on the web and ensuring that each page conforms to library homepage guidelines)? Who will be responsible for minor/major updates to pages and to the website?

After determining audience, information/resources to be presented, and other guidelines related to page appearance, and responsibility for page creation and maintenance, the committee moves into the design phase. If there is a common background it must be chosen or designed. Assuming that there will be more than one individual responsible for homepage creation, copies of the graphics files for common icons, lines, banners, etc. chosen by the committee and required for pages should be made available to homepage creators. If those assigned to create pages do not have a basic knowledge of HTML the committee may wish to consider providing instruction in HTML. A series of simple lessons, each building on the previous, would provide enough information to begin homepage creation. Lessons should be presented in a hands-on workshop setting if possible, allowing each homepage creator to practice what is being demonstrated and to ask questions of the instructor and of classmates. A series of lessons might include the following:

Once the homepage creators have achieved a working knowledge of HTML basics, they should be given a deadline for completion of a basic page, a copy of the guidelines, and access to any graphical files they may be required to use in the development of their pages. The chosen Editor-in-Chief of the website, and committee members who are knowledgeable in HTML scripting should be available as resource persons to these authors as they develop their pages. It is also useful to have compiled a library of basic HTML script books which authors may use during their homepage development. There are several excellent books on both basic and advanced HTML scripting available at any bookstore. (A bibliography of a few of these resources is included at the end of this paper.) Pages may be created, saved to disk and given to the Editor-in-Chief and the committee for review before being made available on the library website.

After all of the library's pages have been reviewed and approved, the committee may wish to provide a "trial period" during which library staff and the local library users may "test-drive" the pages before making the pages available to the larger institutional community and the world at large. The files for the homepage may be loaded onto a few library computers and comment sheets may be made available for volunteer "test-drivers". During this time items the committee may have missed during its review of pages will certainly be caught. Did someone misspell the word "library"? Do all the links function as they should? Are all the graphics in the right places? Is something on a page unclear or redundant? The "test-driver" will find these oversights.

During the trial period the committee may want to finalize any details related to the establishment of the library website. Does the library have its own server or must it rely on a separate Computer Services department to establish its account? Who will have access to the server (i.e. who has the passwords?)

After a reasonable trial period, the website is established and the pages are made available to the world. Homepage implementation enters its next (most neglected) phase: maintenance. Maintenance of the web pages must be ongoing. A schedule should be established for regular updates of pages. In many cases, pages may be reviewed and require no changes. Still, this review must take place on a regular basis. Committee members can be assigned to review general pages. Departmental or divisional authors should be required to review their own pages. A monthly review is ideal. Every 3-4 months should be mandatory. Minor changes (misspellings, dates, etc.) should be reported to the Editor-in-Chief for immediate action. A major redesign of any page should again be reviewed by the committee and the Editor-in-Chief before being added to the website.

The process of developing, designing, implementing and maintaining a homepage is both labor intensive and rewarding. A well conceived, aesthetically pleasing, well maintained homepage can serve not only as a useful resource for the library's primary audience but also as an advertisement to future students, employees and benefactors. It allows the library to establish its presence as a center of information and technology.

HTML Resources

Fox, David, and Troy Downing. HTML Web publisher's construction kit. Corte Madera, CA : Waite Group Press, c1995.

Graham, Ian S. The HTML sourcebook : a complete guide to HTML 3.0. 2nd ed. New York : Wiley Computer Pub., c1996.

Horton, William, et al. The Web page design cookbook : all the ingredients you need to create 5-star Web pages. New York : Wiley, c1996.

Stout, Rick. The World Wide Web complete reference. Berkeley : Osborne McGraw-Hill, c1996.


HTML 3.2 Checked!