This is the text of my very first CALIcon presentation back in 1996. 1996 was the second CALI Conference I attended. I’ve been on the agenda, one way or another, every year since.
For the curious, yes, I did convince my boss, the Director of the Law Library, to let me switch out Program Manager in favor of an early version of the Netscape browser as the default shell for Windows on law library PCs. It worked pretty well and gave us a high degree of control not only over the desktop but also over web browsing. It was all dismantled shortly after I left Syracuse in late 1996.
Highlights of the Barclay Law Library Intranet
Elmer R. Masters
Information Technology Coordinator
Barclay Law Library, College of Law, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244
This paper provides a behind the scenes look at the development of the H. Douglas Barclay Law Library Intranet at the Syracuse University College of Law. The intranet applications discussed here are in various stages of development. Intranet development began at the Barclay Law Library in August of 1995 and is ongoing. This paper will examine the process of intranet planning, the current state of development and plans for the future.
For more information see Highlights of the Barclay Law Library Intranet
In examining the highlights of the Barclay Law Library Intranet, I will cover the areas below:
- Why build an intranet?
- Goals of the Barclay Law Library Intranet
- Different homepages for different user groups
- Barclay Law Library Bibliographic Services Site
- Barclay Law Library Staff Calendar
- Use of the web as the publishing platform for the law library
Why build an intranet?
The Barclay Law Library began developing internet resources in May of 1994. Using the internet as a medium for the delivery of information resources fit within the library’s goal of using technology to enhance access to information. Initial efforts focused on creating a basic website and placing some library materials on the site. As the website grew through early 1995, it became apparent that internet development required a serious commitment of resources. Once information was identified for addition to the website it needed to be marked up, integrated, and maintained. Due to the time involved in setting up and maintaining internet resources, it did not seem cost effective to allocate the resources necessary to develop large web based collections. However, the ability to use a web browser program to access a diverse body of information seemed to show some promise if it could be harnessed for internal purposes. Thus, the concept of the Barclay Law Library Intranet was born in July of 1995.
The ability of the World Wide Web (WWW) to provide a common access point through a web browser to information regardless of format is the thing that makes intranet development worthwhile. Using the intranet capabilities of the WWW, the paperless office suddenly becomes a possibility. Putting all of the forms and manuals used everyday in the library on-line and providing everyone easy access to the information seemed worthwhile. The law library would use the skills and resources developed in internet development to create an intranet, and internal website that would provide the staff with access to local and distant networked resources.
In developing intranet applications for the law library the following goals were identified by the library administration.
- All procedure manuals will be converted to web documents.
- The library staff makes extensive use of various procedure manuals that have been assembled in looseleaf binders. For example, the catalogers use a manual that guides them in cataloging resources.
- All employee job manuals will be converted to web documents.
- Every staff position has a job manual that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the position. These include frequent cross reference to procedure manuals.
- All internal forms will be converted to web forms.
- These include work related forms, such as a request for time off form and public service forms such as interlibrary loan (ILL) request forms.
- All future documents will be created ‘web-ready’.
- This will allow all new documents to be quickly added to the intranet.
- All employees will learn basic HTML to create web documents.
- This will be done using MS Word and the Internet Assistant.
- A mechanism will be created that will allow for ‘user friendly’ addition of documents to the site.
- A system is under development that will allow users to save HTML documents to a specified directory on our Novell LAN and the files will then be added to the website automatically.
- A ‘discussion area’ will be created to allow for staff discussion and announcements.
- This is essentially a BBS style message area that will allow for threaded discussions and the posting of general information.
- A web based calendar system will be developed that will replace our paper-based staff calendar.
- This system is in final beta test. Staff members have access to a web based calendar that displays all of the information that is usually written on the paper-based staff calendar such as vacation time, meeting times, etc.
- Unique homepages for each department.
- These pages give each library department customized access to the information and resources which they need.
The goals will be fully implemented by September of 1997. The system is currently in a prototype stage. A new web support position will be filled this summer and full scale development will proceed in the fall. Staff service items such as the calendar system and forms will be added first. Any new documents created by the library staff will be added as created. Legacy documents such as procedure manuals and job manuals will be phased in over the next year. When fully implemented each department in the library will be responsible for their own departmental site.
Different homepages for different user groups
A key feature of the Law Library intranet is its ability to determine which machine is requesting information and then respond with a page designated for that machine. This is accomplished by screening the IP addresses of clients requesting http://www.law.syr.edu/index.html from the server. The IP addresses of requesting clients are evaluated by select.pl, a PERL script. Based upon the IP address, the server sends a designated page which the client sees as the homepage.
Currently IP address evaluation enables the server to match requesting clients with specific user groups (cluster users, library staff, faculty, etc.) who were identified by examining use of the College of Law LAN. This allows the site to serve a homepage tailored to the specific group. The idea behind developing this system is that is impossible to develop one page that will server the needs of a highly diversified groups of users. The following homepages are currently available.
- Main Homepage ( default )
- Law Library Bibliographic Services
- College of Law Computer Cluster
Bibliographic Services Site
The website for the Bibliographic Services Department of the Law Library was the first part of the Law Library Intranet to be developed. This site is currently under development. It utilizes frames technology as implemented by Netscape 2.0 to provide staff members with access to internet/intranet based resources and networked applications. Users can surf the net in one frame while the other provides continuous access to network applications. The users of this site have provided considerable input about its functionality, layout, and content.
The site also provides staff members with access to a central core of information including employee directories, useful forms, and other sites used in their daily work. Users also have access to a ‘surfboard’, allowing them to access any URL, and their own bookmarks. All of this occurs within the frames setting.
W3launch is another a unique aspect of the site. This program allows users to launch applications from with in a web browser. It acts as a ‘helper application’, launching selected applications via specially scripted commands.
As the intranet concept developed at the law library one of the first possibilities explored was placing the staff calendar on the Web. Like many other places, the library has a large, paper, blotter-style calendar that is kept in a common area. The calendar is used to record staff time off, who is out sick, who is out of the building at meetings, etc. It is an effective method for tracking this type of information. The problem is that all employees go to the actual calendar to read or record the information. Putting this information on a website seemed like a good idea, if it could be done simply enough.
We started with a groupware calendar package developed by Selena Sol. This package was modified to simplify it and make it easier to use. As implemented, the calendar allows the user to view a month, to get a detailed view of a specific day, and to add and delete items. The law library’s staff time off form is integrated with the calendar package to allow for the automatic posting of time off requests to the calendar. In using this calendar, the aim is for simplicity. The system is not designed to be a group scheduling calendar. The purpose of the calendar is to provide an online equivalent of the blotter calendar. The calendar is in final beta testing now.
The Web as the Publishing Platform for the Barclay Law Library
Several of the identified goals of the Barclay Law Library Intranet project deal with bringing web publishing into the mainstream of the law library’s work flow. All members of the staff will learn basic HTML, all library documents will be web ready when produced, and an automated system will add the staff’s work to the website. This will be accomplished using off the shelf components such as MS Word and Internet Assistant, Netscape Navigator 2.0, Novell Netware, and Linux.
When fully implemented the system will work as follows:
- Staff members will use MS Word to create all documents. The library has committed to adopting MS Word as its preferred word processor by September 1996.
- While in Word, staff members will use Internet Assistant to create basic HMTL documents. Library staff members are slated to receive training in the use of Internet Assistant in the Fall of 1996.
- HTML documents will include META information indicating where the document is to be placed on the site.
- HTML documents will be saved on a common drive on the library’s Novell LAN. This provides a place common to all users which can become a repository for HTML documents.
- The HTML directory is mounted on the machine running the webserver as part of the web document tree. This makes all documents on the Novell disk in that directory visible to the WWW.
- PERL scripts will be used to generate index.htm files and move files to other locations on the site as indicated by the META information contained in the HTML document. Issues of document location are still to be resolved. Most likely, documents subject to frequent changes or updates will remain on the Novell server where the staff can update them and more permanent documents will be integrated into the site.
Early feedback on the Barclay Law Library Intranet indicates that it will be a useful tool in the library. A well designed intranet will increase a users access to useful and necessary information, increasing productivity. The law library has committed itself to following this path. The intranet will further the library’s goal of using technology to enhance access to information . The technology developed for the site will be used to enhance access to information throughout the College of Law. Faculty and their secretaries will be given training in the use of the system that will allow them to place materials directly on the site, allowing students to have easier access to materials such as exams, syllabi, and course assignments. The future of intranets is bright at the Barclay Law Library and the Syracuse University College of Law.