As the author of three books, and about to start work on a fourth, I do begin to doubt my own sanity. Last year I wrote The Content Management Handbook in the course of around four months, and even then by the time it was published with great speed by Facet Publishing, several of the comments in the book had been overtaken by events. This is a constant concern for any author, but especially those working on high technology topics.
In the case of content management software the changes in price, performance and functionality over the last two years have been quite dramatic, as have the expectations of users. In the UK projects funded by JISC and the enthusiasm, expertise and commitment of university and public library Web teams have resulted in a great many excellent Web applications.
No matter how good these applications might be there is always interest in case studies of how other universities have tackled the technical, organisational and cultural issues.
Learning from Others
This book consists of an extended introduction on the current state of library Web content management by the editor. This is followed by chapters on Library Web Content Management: Needs and Challenges (again by Holly Yu) and Methods and Tools for Managing Library Web Content by Johan Ragetli of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, Ontario, Canada. The remainder of the book comprises case studies from California State University, Indiana University, the University of Albany (the home of the Scratchpad software), Colorado State University, University of Texas Institute for Advanced Technology, Western Michigan University and the University of Oklahoma.
In general the case studies are quite well written, with the emphasis marginally on the technical aspects rather than on the operational aspects. In a number of cases the authors are candid about the things that went wrong as well as the successes. The intended readership seems to be a systems development librarian rather than a senior library manager trying to build a business case for investment in Web resources. As a result there is little information on the costs of development, on the staff resources and more importantly on the reactions of users. There are some screen shots but probably not enough to understand fully the comments in the text. Accessibility is not mentioned at all, and subjects such as access to internal and external e-journal collections and other commercial Web-based resources, portal development, and search issues, are almost totally absent. Indeed the term 'search' does not appear in the index!
The initial chapters are less valuable. The opening chapter by Yu is largely a review of the literature, and this reveals the major problem I have in recommending this book with enthusiasm. The literature, and indeed the case studies, stop at the end of 2003. To make matters worse many of the references date back as far as 1999, when Web content management was a very different matter to the situation today. Interestingly there are a few references to blogs and wikis, which tend to mask to some extent the dated nature of the references.
Just as disappointing is the lack of analysis by Holly Yu. From her position as Web Administrator at the Library of the California State University, Los Angeles, I would have thought that she would have been able to do a much more analytical review of the literature. This is also the case with her introduction on the current state of play in library Web content management, which again is largely a review of pre-2004 (and also pre-XML to a significant extent) literature; she does not really convey any sense of the way in which university libraries are developing innovative Web applications.
The overall feel of the book is one that has taken far too long for the publishers to get from manuscript to publication. The idea was a good one, and the more case studies of Web applications that become available the better in terms of assisting in understanding what is good practice, and learning from the successes and failures in other institutions. I'm not sure when the editor wrote her chapters, but the book would have benefited from a more current introduction that really did give readers a perspective on the current situation in US academic libraries.
On balance it is a recommendable book, but by the finest of margins and mainly because detailed case studies are difficult to come by.
The last book I reviewed for Ariadne was an edited collection of papers, and looking back I find that the problem of the time taken to publish the book was a significant factor. In any area where technology plays a major role then it is essential that every effort is made by authors, editors and publishers to bring the title to the library shelf whilst the lessons still have relevance.