A peek at the new, more powerful Libraries Web site

By IKU KAWACHI

The University of Miami Libraries are undergoing an important change this fall: they’re redesigning their Web site — and powering it with a robust new search engine to boot. The current site was released in 2006, which wouldn’t seem too long ago in most situations. On the Internet, however, a four-year cycle is more than enough to make something seem a bit long in the tooth.

Students, faculty, and even those outside the UM community who frequent the site have no doubt become accustomed to the current site’s familiar — if somewhat mundane — green-and-white interface. However, enough new technologies, services, and trends have emerged on the Web to prompt the Libraries to undertake a complete overhaul of the Web site, launching a “Website Redesign Blog” this April to chart progress on the ongoing project and establishing a place to receive feedback on various aspects of the redesign. From the start, the Libraries announced that they would be “improving and modernizing [the site’s] navigation structure, layout and terminology and incorporating Web 2.0 tools — and wrapping it all up in an engaging, appealing visual design.”

While the blog itself isn’t particularly exciting, it’s evident that the Libraries methodically examined and compared appealing examples of other university library Web sites around the country, such as the Cornell University Library, USC Libraries and the River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester.  They not only drew inspiration from such sites and applied those ideas, but also used the feedback that users left in the Comments section of the blog to help sculpt the final product.

Though the Libraries have yet to link to them from the current Web site, they have quietly unveiled two differing betas of the new site: Version A and Version B. Both prototypes feature a large search box with tabs such as “Catalogs,” “Databases,” and “UM Digital Collections” underneath a rotating image linking to news and events, followed by several columns of links to various resources and services offered by the Richter Library. Comparing the actual pages to the wire-frame mock-ups released in early May shows that the designs have been refined since then and reflect the needs of those who access the Libraries site more closely. The betas have a more inviting, modern appearance, less clutter, and a stronger emphasis on elements such as the search box that are likely to be used most than the current Web site.

One key feature of the upcoming Web site, however, has already been retrofitted into the current site: “Summon,” the Libraries’ powerful new search engine. Summon claims to search from an index of more than 500 million cataloged books; journal, magazine, and newspaper articles; and images and other multimedia items. Entering a query into the search box at the top of the current site’s main page brings up an interface with the search results being accompanied by Advanced Search options in a left-hand pane à la Google or Bing, giving the user much more options than with the old MultiSearch.

The redesign of the Libraries Web site is significant to students and faculty of the university because it is a resource that we use regularly, to be sure, but the project is also an intriguing example of how blogs and interactivity can be used to shape and refine a Web-based product or service today. The new Web site is slated to replace the current site entirely next January. Until then, those interested in playing a part in the ongoing process can follow the blog for updates or even provide feedback via the Comments section or by e-mailing the webmaster.

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