The rise of web 2.0 sites has led to the idea that sites should be customizable and personalized. FaceBook which was recently crowned as the most popular site on the web by Google, allows users to customize their Facebook accounts by adding and moving around Facebook apps. Users can also add tabs of apps they want to see etc.
How do libraries stack up in this area? In the past I have covered libraries using dynamic startup pages like Netvibes, pageflakes as subject guides. My own institution supports Nexus , which is described as a "open source web 2.0 personal social platform, something like igoogle and pageflakes. It allows you to mix both your personal, social and corporate content all into a single portal."
Recently, I came across another 3 examples.
The University of Pennsylvania has their Penn Portal (see below) which allows students to create a "personalized personalized web experience that brings together infor..."
The Helskinki University Library has a link on their front page to a MyTerkko page
This learning portal is clearly optimised for academic use, you can see boxes for citation analysis (bottom right, covering Scopus, WoS, Topcited and something called Scholar Chart which I believe shows impact factors of Finnish Medical Scholars), links to reference management and the interesting option "Feed Navigator"
While you can add any RSS feed you want, the Feed Navigator (see below) helps you select relevant ones. This is particularly helpful for users who don't know how to handle RSS feeds, particularly when complicated by factors such as authentication via ezproxy etc.
Karolinska Institute is possibly the most interesting example. While all the earlier examples, have a "proper" fixed library page and link out to a separate dynamic portal page , they have chosen to integrate everything into the front page.
As shown below, the top portion, including the by now standard tab interface with search options is fixed. However, everything underneath is customizable.
You can drag and drop each of the boxes, or delete any box, just like a normal netvibes type page.Clicking on "Add More", gives you some options (see below).
In fact, my own institute has some minor personalization features. Once you have logged in, the follow will appear.
Essentially you can customize what your favourite databases/journals are, and a shortcut will appear. You can also customize other links (news events, new books, databases) by discipline, by changing the preferences (see below).
Granted such customization is fairly minor compared to what you can achieve with netvibes like widgets but this portal was designed quite a while back.
Wild thoughts & speculation

While it is always possible for libraries to create pages which allow highly customizable and personal library pages the question of course is will our users bother to do so?
In the examples above there seems to be two different approaches.
The first approach which is more common would be to keep the main library page static, but link out to another dynamic personal page (whether it's something like Netvibes or something inhouse like PennPortal). The hope here would be that this page would be the one stop shop for researchers who would instinctively start on this page whenever they wanted to do research.
The second approach would be to allow users to change various aspects of the main library page, this is similar to the approach by Karolinska Institute or my own institution.
I've being thinking about the strengths and weakness of both methods, it seems to me it comes down to this.
Users will make the effort to personalize and customize only if they anticipate they will see or use it often.
Here's where the problem lies, unlike say Facebook, where you need to login to access your account, you can very well go to a library page, and do a search in the catalogue without logging first and I believe this is what most people do. I.e They just want to find if a book or article is available.
They will not bother to login UNTIL they need to.. which is typically when they try to access a electronic journal or want to access some other library service (e.g. place a hold on the book, do document delivery service etc). (I'm assuming here also that all these services use only one login). The problem is by then, they are leaving the library portal page.
The other major task that users want to achieve is to check their loan record for due dates and fines, but traditionally this isn't very well integrated with the library portal as the LMS (Library Management System) is typically a separate system and in most library portals, checking your loan record involves pushing you to some other page away from the library portal.

As a result, my guess is most users will not bother to spend a lot of time customizing because in their mind there is no need to do so. By the time, they bother to login , they are already eager to jump off their library page to some ejournal site. They have finished their task and are ready to leave.
As such they are not conditioned to login immediately when they hit the library site.
I'm not sure what the solution here is.
Force all users to login the moment they hit the library site? There are a lot of issues with this idea, for example how do you handle non-members? Would that push users even faster into the arms of Google, since putting a login box is known to discourage usage? (That's the reasoning behind allowing users to use Summon without login first according to a sales rep at a recent Summon demo I attended)

You could of course encourage users to login.

I suspect simply allowing users to add quick links to favourite databases probably isn't enough, since they can already go directly to these places via bookmarks etc. It's also unclear if the idea of a creating a one-stop shop research dashboard with RSS feeds of Tocs of journals, will appeal to more than a small minority of users (even for such tech savvy users, they might prefer viewing it in Google reader etc).

For the majority of users, perhaps populating part of the portal with loan record information and urgent news (your loans are overdue!), past searches of the catalogue will appear, with new entries since you last logged in etc might be more useful.

Even that might not be enough. Most library webpages feature the search box when prominently and for good reason. The typical user will want to search and their eyes will be drawn to that box and will probably not look at the login button.

It's interesting to note that for some library sites, the login button isn't even visible on the front page probably because the design doesn't require or encourage users to login unless they need to.

The other wild idea I have is taking a leaf out of Facebook, logging onto to the library portal, allows you to see which of your other friends are online to and to chat with them if possible, similar to Facebook chat!

Imagine an undergraduate logins to library portal and spots that his classmate is online too and given he is logged on to the library portal he is probably working on his assignment too and they can chat! This increases the amount of stickiness of the site.

But the library alone (or maybe even a university wide network) probably doesn't have enough weight to start what essentially amounts to a competing social network. But what about implementing something like Facebook Connect?

Thus far, I know of only one library that does this via a Facebook library app, so that one can pull library loan information into the facebook app. This does what the other examples in this blog post in reverse of course, the idea is that users don't even visit the library page, but can do all the library related services in a facebook app.

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Tags: pages, startup

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