Content Management Case Studies

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May 19, 2003

May 2003 Issue

Content management is the catch phrase of the moment and its kin—WCM, ECM, and FCM—the darlings of technology acronyms.

Its predecessors, document management and knowledge management along with relative newcomer, digital asset management, nip at its heels as it leads the pack as the end-all and do-all for managing today's information imperative and accompanying overload.

But while content management may purport to be all things to all people, its true power may actually lie in its flexibility to change shape to fit each new business problem set before it. Here, we present a variety of case studies that barely tap content management's depth. And, while we've selected different verticals for each vendor's solution, they are not intended to represent a specific strength or focus for that vendor. Instead, we attempt to demonstrate content management's objectives and abilities in helping solve some of the diverse informational and data problems faced by institutions and businesses today. We hope to provide insight and guidance in selecting and implementing the CM solution that is right for you, be it from one of the vendors represented here, a home-grown solution, or that offered by one of the many other worthy players in the field.

—Michelle Manafy

CM Sweeps the Stacks

Case: Belmont Abbey College Library
Product: Visual Net
Platform: Linux
Price: Highly customizable; depends on individual installation

For many years, Don Beagle, director of the Belmont Abbey College Library in North Carolina, had been looking for a new way for library users to interact with the Library's extensive collection, which included traditional books, rare books, ebooks, Web-based curriculum supplements, and more. He recognized that old methods of search and classification were no longer relevant to today's library where material could be found in multiple formats and not all could be stacked neatly on a shelf in the 19th century style. He saw a need for a more visual library catalogue to transform library searches, much in the same way Windows and the Macintosh had changed personal computer operating systems in the 1980s from command-driven to a graphical system.

In 2001, Beagle met Tim Bray, the founder of Antarctica software at a tradeshow. That meeting eventually resulted in the Library purchasing Antarctica's Visual Net software and creating a graphical representation of the library catalogue that makes it easier to find not only books, but also any type of electronic media in the Library's extensive collection.

Tim Bray, founder of Antarctica software candidly states, "One of the problems with content management systems is the lousy state of the user interfaces." Bray says, "people do immense amounts of work to structure and deploy content and the user interface is several degrees more primitive than what they have on their desktop already to look up their Word files." Bray recognized that there was a need for technology to allow people to use the full scope of a content management system. Antarctica's Visual Net product provides a visual front end to an information database thereby giving users a graphical window to the information.

This visual approach made sense for a library catalogue and fit into Don Beagle's vision of a graphically-based catalogue. Beagle had observed a couple of interesting patterns when he and his staff studied users' searching habits. Some people simply browsed the shelves, which was fine for books, but meant that they were missing any of the library's electronic materials that could not be stacked on the shelves. The other typical user was utilizing the online catalogue, but they were often using keywords to locate information (as one would do in an Internet search engine). This may seem like a logical approach, but Beagle points out that online catalogues are typically organized around author-title searches, rather than keyword searches, so a search for environment, for example, would bring up books with environment in the title, but not ecology, conservation, or other related words.

Beagle says that one of the advantages of using Visual Net is not only that users can interact with a visual representation of the Library of Congress Classification System, they can also search the database of materials using keywords and they have found that this is much more effective in locating the range of materials related to the search.

After meeting Bray, Beagle came back to the College, and with help of some faculty members, put together a grant to purchase Visual Net. Over the following year, he worked with Antarctica to design the graphic they would use to represent the front end and move the data (online catalogue) to a database on the Antarctica servers. What they came up with was a library metaphor where each of the Library of Congress classifications was represented by a book on a shelf.

Clicking a book such as Philosophy, Psychology, Religion at the top level of the map brings you to a page with a visual map of this category's sub-topics. You could continue to drill down in this fashion until you get to a map with titles, or you can scroll the list of sub-topics along the left side of the screen. Clicking a topic in this list highlights the related topic in the map. Finally, you can enter a keyword into the search field and locate a category that way. Whichever method you use, you eventually end up with a visual map containing titles that match your search criteria. Currently they have books (as those found on shelves) and electronic books.

A special icon designates each type of book so that once you learn the system, you can quickly distinguish between the types of books. What's more, you can click an ebook title and go directly to its description online where you can then choose to sign in and view it. If you click a book that's found on the shelf, the system displays the card catalogue entry for that book. Beagle says that since they started using Visual Net, they have seen a dramatic increase in the use of electronic books because the Visual Net search engine displays ebooks right along side regular books.

Beagle has been very happy with the system, although they continue to make tweaks. In fact, they plan to change the icons and to include links to library maps for books stored on shelves to make it easier for people to locate them. Says Beagle, "It seemed to me that people were visually-oriented, but when you get into content, we were still dealing with lists." To Beagle, making a visual map of his library information only made sense and so far the system has worked out just as he envisioned it.

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