ILA/ACRL Home Page: The Creation and Development of an ACRL State Chapter Website

Chris Neuhaus and Barbara Allen

I. Introduction

The Iowa chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ILA/ACRL), rooted both in the Iowa Library Association (ILA) and in ACRL, has a long tradition of active, forward-looking involvement of its members. The association organizes an annual conference in the spring, sponsors sessions at ILA’s fall conference, and publishes a newsletter three times a year as well as an annual directory of Iowa academic and research libraries.

In executive board and planning meetings in 1994 and 1995 the need for development of an electronic communications means was stated, but none came to fruition during that time span. In the meantime, the creation of Internet Web sites had become a tool used more and more frequently within the library world to serve communication and many other purposes. In January of 1996, Bob Rose – University of Northern Iowa, then president of ILA/ACRL, established the ILA/ACRL Ad Hoc Web Committee. This committee was composed of Barbara Allen (Chair) – University of Northern Iowa, Shaw Yu – University of Northern Iowa, and Sandra Ballasch – University of Iowa.

A site for the ILA/ACRL home page was created on the backbone of the University of Northern Iowa’s computer system. The URL for this site is: http://www.iren.net/acrl. The site was quickly established by using readily available picture files (book and globe) and a “Welcome to the ILA/ACRL Home Page” headline. A sign “Under Construction” reminded the visitor that this site was still in its infancy.

In February of 1996 Barbara Allen, the chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, recommended and the Executive Board approved that the newly created site include the following information and links:

  • Iowa Academic and Research Libraries Directory
  • News
  • Current Announcements
  • ILA/ACRL Newsletters
  • ILA/ACRL Organization
  • Bylaws
  • Officers & Committees
  • Membership Roster
  • Organization Manual
  • Conferences & Scholarships Upcoming Library Conferences, Meetings, Workshops, etc.
  • Scholarship Announcement
  • Internet Links
  • American Library Association
  • Association of College and Research Libraries
  • Iowa Internet Links
  • Iowa Research & Education Network
  • State of Iowa Libraries Online

The chair of the ILA/ACRL Directory Committee, Jeff Dodd – University of Iowa, converted the Iowa Academic and Research Libraries Directory into HTML format and thereby made it possible to load the Directory quickly onto the ILA/ACRL home page. The bylaws, list of officers and committees, and the membership roster, all part of the printed Directory, were placed in separate sections on the home page. The Newsletters, as they were published, were converted into HTML format and added to the Web site. In 1997 ILA/ACRL president, Mary McInroy – University of Iowa, charged the ILA/ACRL Ad Hoc Electronic Information Committee to continue the work of the ILA/ACRL Ad Hoc Web Committee. Specifically this new ad hoc committee was charged with establishing an effective Web site and creating an organizational listserv. The committee membership at that time was Barbara Allen (chair) – University of Northern Iowa, Sandra Ballasch – University of Iowa, Jeff Kushkowski – Iowa State University, Lissa Lord – University of Iowa, and Chris Neuhaus – University of Northern Iowa.

II. Current Status of the ILA/ACRL Home Page

The current ILA/ACRL logo and home page of the Web site were developed in the spring of 1997. The overall design and structure of the ILA/ACRL Web site is that of a basic menu. Yet this simple format is straightforward and serves its purpose.

The information currently found on the Web page includes all the resources and links first approved by the Executive Board and listed in section I above. Additional resources and links have been added and include: the ILA/ACRL strategic plan, a history of ILA/ACRL as well as of one of its committees, information on how to subscribe to the ILA/ACRL Listserv (see section V), the ILA/ACRL Volunteer form, photos from the most recent ILA/ACRL conference, links to the ILA Web site, and a list of electronic journals and newsletters in the field of library and information science. Up to this date, there have been no plans to post the minutes of the Executive Board meetings on the Web page, yet such an addition might merit consideration.

The Web page also lends itself to posting information of a more time sensitive nature, such as calls for contributed conference papers, scholarship announcements, and statements by librarians running for office. Once out of date, this type of information will of course have to be removed from the page promptly.

Originally, the function of the ILA/ACRL Web page was not viewed as archival. Only the most recent versions of ILA/ACRL documents were to be posted on the Web page (ILA/ACRL maintains a print archive of all its documents at the University of Iowa Main Library). During a recent Executive Board meeting it was decided to discontinue the printing of the association’s newsletter and to distribute it in electronic form only (via the listserv and the home page). This decision raises the question of how many back issues of the newsletter should be made available on the Web page. Likewise, it might be useful to have previous editions of the Iowa Academic and Research Libraries Directory accessible in electronic format. Photos taken during conferences, though they are placed in the print archive, are never seen by the majority of ILA/ACRL members. Their availability on the Web site certainly greatly increases their accessibility and they are welcomed by the membership.

III. Home Page Use (Statistics)

A great deal of time and effort goes into creating and updating the ILA/ACRL Web site directories, newsletters, announcements, and links to other WWW resources. To determine whether these efforts are warranted, ILA/ACRL home page statistics have been monitored by Siteflow http://www.siteflow.com/ since July 1997. For sites that receive less than 100 visits per day Siteflow will provide, free of charge, information on the number of visits to a page in the last twenty-five hours, the last eight days, and the last nine weeks. The time of access and domain name of the last 100 visitors is also recorded.

From July 26 1997 until December 11, 1997 the ILA/ACRL page received 280 visits. While eighty-two of these visits proved untraceable, enough domain names were identified to establish a pattern of use. Thirty-nine of these visits were the result of site maintenance. Forty-one visits to the site were from outside the state of Iowa. There were also ten visits to the ILA/ACRL home page made using commercial Internet providers traceable to within the state of Iowa that could not be attributed to a particular institution. The three large state supported universities of Iowa made regular use of this Web site. There were forty-eight visits from the University of Northern Iowa, thirty-one from the University of Iowa, and fourteen from Iowa State University. Use of this site by other Iowa colleges and universities during this time period was either minimal or simply non-traceable.

ILA/ACRL Site Visits by Institution
July 26, 1997 – December 11, 1997

Institution Visits
University of Northern Iowa

48

University of Iowa

31

Iowa State University

14

Drake University

5

Grinnell College

3

Buena Vista University

2

Other Iowa Colleges and Universities

5

Iowa Commercial Internet Providers

10

Institutions etc. Outside Iowa

41

Site Maintenance

39

Non-Traceable Visits

82

Total Visits

280

Detailed site visitation statistics for the ILA/ACRL web site were again compiled from March 24 until May 7 to study the anticipated increase in traffic prior to the 1998 joint Spring Conference with Nebraska. During this brief period 487 visits were recorded. Twenty-six of these visits were the result of site maintenance and seventy-eight visits proved non-traceable. Twenty visits originated from outside the state with seventeen coming from Nebraska, the co-sponsor of the joint Spring Conference. The remaining 362 visits were from Iowa colleges and universities. Since July 26, 1997 the ILA/ACRL home page has received 1163 visits (as of June 17, 1998). The cumulative statistics for the ILA/ACRL web site, http://www.iren.net/acrl/ , can be accessed at any time by clicking on the site counter at the bottom of this page.

ILA/ACRL Site Visits by Institution
March 24, 1998 – May 7, 1998

Institution

Visits

University of Northern Iowa

101

University of Iowa

81

Iowa State University

68

Drake University

46

Grinnell College

15

Buena Vista University

13

University of Nebraska at Omaha

13

Luther College

9

Simpson College

7

State Library of Iowa

4

Creighton Univeristy (Nebraska)

4

Grandview College

3

Iowa Central Community College

3

Morningside College

3

Mount Mercy College

3

Wartburg College

3

Divine Word College

1

Dordt College

1

St. Ambrose University

1

University of Dubuque

1

Outside of Iowa and Nebraska

3

Site Maintenance

26

Non-Traceable Visits

78

Total

487

IV. Web Site Maintenance

Maintaining a Web site requires designing pages, converting documents into HTML format, placing new documents on the site, weeding sources, and checking Internet links. ILA/ACRL decided to appoint an Ad Hoc committee to perform these tasks. While it might seem logical to simply add Web maintenance duties to a committee already charged with communication or directory responsibilities, this might in practice not be feasible, as those committee members may not possess the required skills. Adding Web maintenance as an additional task to be completed by, for example, a newsletter or directory committee may prove dispiriting to committee members and discouraging to prospective new volunteers. A distinct Web committee can devote its energies solely to the design and improvement of the Web site. Establishing a separate committee also provides the benefit of creating additional leadership roles.

Though few ACRL state chapters will find it difficult to elicit volunteers to create and host a home page, establishing a commitment to the maintenance of this Web site may prove more challenging. Many routine tasks can quickly prove time consuming and inconvenient. It is essential that individuals assigned to Web maintenance be both knowledgeable and dedicated. If possible, members of a Web committee should be familiar with creating Web pages, converting documents to HTML, and utilizing basic Web server commands (e.g. UNIX, Windows NT). At least one member of the committee should come from the institution at which the Web site host server is located.

Inevitably, for a statewide organization, the members of a Web committee are likely to be geographically dispersed. This need not be an impediment to cooperative efforts. Work and communication can easily be transferred via e-mail or ftp. At least two or three individuals should have password access to the host server. To insure efficient maintenance the chair should serve as contact person for the committee, passing on assignments to the designated committee members, and generally coordinating workflow in a timely manner. Routinely used channels of communication should be established between the Web committee and all other persons in the organization responsible for the creation of directories, newsletters, and announcements. Committee members should serve staggered terms to insure continuity. As a safety precaution it would be wise to maintain back up and archival files at another institution.

V. Listserv

During the summer of 1997 University of Iowa librarians Lissa Lord, Paul Soderdahl, and Mary McInroy established an ILA/ACRL listserv as a complement to the ILA/ACRL Web site. Currently, 134 members have subscribed to the listserv. The listserv is particularly useful for circulating announcements. The listserv may provide the only access to chapter announcements for members who do not have access to the World Wide Web. The listserv also allows for two-way dialogue between the members of the organization (a good thing in moderation). On the other hand, the Web pages provide an ideal location for directory information, information in graphical format, and archival information. The Web site also has the potential to reach a broader, non-member audience and those members who “forgot” to subscribe to the listserv. If there are enough volunteers, operating both a listserv and a home page in concert, is an ideal way to disseminate organizational information electronically.

VI. Possible ILA/ACRL Home Page Applications for the Future

Under the guidance of Mary Beveridge, current president of ILA/ACRL, the Ad Hoc ILA/ACRL Electronic Information Committee, became the standing committee Electronic Communications Committee. This committee is charged with maintaining the ILA/ACRL home page, providing ready access to chapter information, and serving as a forum, via the listserv, for chapter-wide discussions. To save on printing and postage costs, the ILA/ACRL newsletter will be published in the future in electronic form only (see discussion in section II). The WWW version of the ILA/ACRL directory has many attractive features though the effort expended in creating this service has been significant with Jeff Kushkowski – Iowa State University, Barbara Allen – University of Northern Iowa, and Randy Roeder – Coe College, shouldering much of the work. There also has been debate as to the merits of publishing the ILA/ACRL directory on the Web site only. One advantage of an electronic directory is that the correction of inaccuracies and insertion of new material can be effected immediately rather than annually. Current directory information would then be available anywhere there is a WWW accessible station. However, many members have voiced a preference for maintaining the directory in print.

The ILA/ACRL Electronic Communications Committee faces a number of other challenges as well. Improved coordination and communication with other committees is essential. Coordinated efforts will result in a more timely release of information and distribution to a wider audience. Improved communication with other committees could also lead to an agreement on standardizing electronic formats. Establishing an electronic standard for all organizational documents would reduce time spent reformatting or, in extreme cases, retyping documents to be distributed in both print and electronic formats. The committee should also continue to advertise the Web site and listserv taking every opportunity to inform and remind the membership of these communication utilities.

The means and patterns of communication within ILA/ACRL are currently in transition. The move to primarily electronic communication is desirable for the reasons discussed above and inevitable due to budgetary constraints. In order to allow for a smooth transition, a dependable committee must be recruited, efficient workflow patterns established, channels of communication between committees improved, and both Web site and listserv heavily promoted.

Chris Neuhaus and Barbara Allen are Reference Librarians and Bibliographers at the Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa. Their e-mail addresses are: [email protected] and [email protected].