Universities today operate numerous computer systems to serve the different activities within them. Among other things, administrative systems help to manage enrolment, student records, exams, staff employment and finance. Teaching and learning are often supported through course management systems or virtual learning environments, enabling interaction between staff and students. Research departments use a range of tools to facilitate collaboration and research itself. Libraries have also built up an array of systems over the years to manage the information and knowledge they hold, and to provide access to such collections for users.
Most of these systems have been established independently, with overlap only being established where essential, such as feeding student module choices from student records to course management. Library systems have been particularly independent, with limited interaction or integration with other systems within the institution. Yet, information provided by the library is integral to the learning, teaching and research activities of the institution and, arguably, success in these areas. Providing simpler access to library resources within alternative university systems will enable these to be used more effectively and directly. But is this valuable? Is it what users want?
This paper focuses on two approaches to testing access to the library within non-library university systems and contexts. The Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE) project sought to gather user requirements to inform technical development. The Twin Peaks project, in contrast, followed a rapid prototyping approach, allowing users to see what functionality might be provided before refining this on the basis of feedback. Jointly, what follows are the comparative stories of how each approach worked out via consideration, in turn, of our respective projects’ origins, background, stakeholders, development processes, evaluative processes and outcomes.
The CREE project
As the range and number of search tools available has developed it has become apparent that, despite being beneficial in its own right, each is adding to the number of user interfaces a user needs to know about and understand when searching for information. In parallel, many institutions are creating web environments that seek to provide all the information and application requirements for their staff and students through a local common interface, or are implementing systems through which learning, teaching, research and administrative activity is being channelled; how can external search services feed into these and provide more streamlined access for users?