Intranet Profile: INTRANET Q&A: THE BOSTON HERALD
Q: How was the library's Web site started?
A: The library's Web site was initially designed in mid-1997. I was finishing up my studies at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. My last course was in Web design, specifically HTML. I took the home page of my final project and replaced the content with information and links that I thought would be useful for people working in the newsroom. We had been hoping, one day, to have a library Web site but had been waiting for a viable intranet. It suddenly struck me: we didn't have to wait for the hardware and software. We could take advantage of the limited resources we already had and build a site NOW.
Initially, it was a simple, one-page site with a list of links listed alphabetically and by subject area, with simple navigation bars so one could skip down the page to the desired area. I just threw it together late one night when there wasn't much going on. It was loaded onto the public PCs in the library and set up as the default page for the Web browser.
My boss, John Cronin, saw it, liked it, and encouraged me to develop it further. We saw it as an opportunity to better use the available technology AND promote the library and its services at the same time. We seemed to have stumbled onto a good library Web site solution for small and/or technology-challenged libraries. There were other libraries out there that were doing the same thing earlier or at the same time.
I demonstrated the site at a meeting of the New England Newspaper Library Association (NENLA) a few years ago and the positive response was surprising. The librarians at smaller papers realized that they COULD have a Web site without the benefit of an intranet - even if they only had a single PC with Internet access.
Q: What technical challenges did you face in designing the site and creating access to it?
A: The same problems we face today: we do not have a robust, viable intranet in the newsroom. It's an issue of bandwidth and hardware limitations.
So, five years later, the site is more complex than the original, but is still loaded only on the library's public PCs. We store the files for the site in a special directory on each PC and then set the library's home page as the default home page in the browser on each PC.
Q: How are the Library's Web pages maintained?
A: I produce the pages and maintain them. This procedure has served us adequately to date. However, I hope to train another staff member to maintain them this coming year to ensure continuity. We have a small staff, so cross training is vital.
I don't use an HTML editor. Most of the files use a standard template and I find it easy enough to simply add, delete or edit portions of the files using Wordpad. The site is still small and manageable enough to maintain manually. I possess very basic HTML skills and try not to get overly ambitious.
Q: Is the Web site for the newsroom only or does it contain company-wide information? What are the main content areas?
A: The site is intended for all library users, though the newsroom uses it most heavily. It contains links (organized by subject area), acts as a portal for access to our online databases (Dow Jones Interactive, Lexis-Nexis and Autotrack XP) and contains administrative information such as a description of library resources and the history of the Boston Herald.
We have never done a formal audit of use, but based on observation, reporters use the links to government agencies and statistical resources most often.
The library staff also relies heavily on the government links and, oddly enough, a "History of the Boston Herald" page. We get a lot of outside questions that require us to know what newspapers were published when and under what titles. We consult that page since our present newspaper is actually the offspring of several local papers, some published as early as the 18th century, each of which had their own evolutionary history.
We also keep printed copies of the library resource listings from the site available as handouts for new personnel and visitors.
Q: How often is the content updated?
A: There is no hard and fast update schedule. I try to check the links at least once per month, add new content and/or weed out content as necessary.
I am constantly on the lookout for good, new information sources and content. One good source is the News Division's mailing list (NewsLib). Another good source for new content suggestions is our customers. I keep a file of suggested links and then check each one and decide whether or not I want to add it to the site.
Q: Has the Web site gone through any major redesigns?
A: The site has been redesigned twice. Each time, I reorganized the architecture of the site (the hierarchy of pages containing links and subject headings) and added or changed the art and layout.
We have gone from an initial simple, one page site to a fairly complicated design (lots of art, lots of pages, LOTS of clicking) and finally back to a simpler layout.
Now, I try to keep the pages easy to read and to use. I try to minimize the amount of clicking and scrolling needed to get to the information the user wants. Also, I try to present as much information up front (on the home page) in as easy a format to use as possible. Anyone who has done this sort of work at any level will likely agree that it's not easy. But it is fun.
Q: What tips would you offer to papers with a limited budget and/or staff time to devote to an intranet?
A: Your library can still have a Web presence in the newsroom even if you don't have an intranet. All you need is ONE PC with Internet access and a basic knowledge of HTML or an HTML editor. Our solution is perfect for "technology-poor" libraries or libraries with limited budgets, manpower and time. The site doesn't have to be all things to all people. Simply listing and organizing some frequently-used links and resources is all it takes. It's a good tool for your customers and a great marketing device for library services.
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Interested in having your library intranet profiled? Or are you curious about a particular library? Send suggestions to Leigh Poitinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan Thibeault is Assistant Chief Librarian at the Boston Herald. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Last Updated: 2/4/03