February 14, 2000 — LibraryHQ.com (http://www.libraryhq.com) has joined the current wave of portals sweeping the Web. Portals, of course, aim to deliver a comprehensive array of focused, Web-based information, usually a mixture of original content and links to external resources.
LibraryHQ.com, launched last month at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Antonio, aspires to be the portal for librarians. This site provides an information-rich virtual meeting place for the library community. It pulls together a variety of resources that appeal to many different aspects of library work, but shows a strong emphasis toward Web technologies, digital libraries, and automation.
Visitors to LibraryHQ.com will find the site well-organized and easy to navigate, with sharp-looking graphics.
LibraryHQ.com includes a mixture of original content, links to relevant resources generally available on the Web, and licensed content from commercial providers. While I won't provide an exhaustive list of the gems on this site, I do want to mention the ones I found particularly interesting and useful.
While visiting LibraryHQ.com, you'll want to try out Site Source, a searchable database of over 6,000 Web-based resources. Site Source relies on the SIRSI Unicorn library management system to provide the ability to find resources in this database through a variety of keyword-based searches. I was disappointed, however, that it fails to use the “term” and “browse” searching capabilities of Unicorn to assist users in finding resources according to specific subject areas.
For breaking news in the library industry, go to the News Source section. There you will find the full text of news feeds in the area of libraries and library technology from iSyndicate.com.
A Classified Ads page provides a space for libraries to place recruitment listings, and to advertise library items for sale. This page is currently a little sparse, but should expand as traffic on the site increases. A form is provided for easy submission of ads from libraries and individuals.
To keep up with the latest in library technology literature, LibraryHQ.com provides a list of new books in the field—complete with published reviews. Most of the reviews available when I visited the site came from LJDigital.
LibraryHQ.com includes a prominent link to search the Web with Yahoo!. No value added here.
Supporting the community nature of this portal site, LibraryHQ.com provides a Message Forum for librarians to carry on discussions on a variety of topics. Using a friendly Web-based forum application, visitors to the site can easily register themselves and participate in threaded discussions. A site that was all business would be rather boring, and so LibraryHQ.com will take you to sites that reflect the lighter side of the library profession. Links such as the “Whimsy of the Week” offer some comic relief after a hard day in the library.
LibraryHQ.com is to be commended in building an effective package of resources that provides a useful service to the library community.
The People Behind the Scenes
To learn about the origins of this portal, I spoke with Katharine Garstka, who leads LibraryHQ.com. She is the main creative force behind the design of the site and the one who is responsible for gathering its impressive set of resources. As a librarian with an M.L.S. and as a professional Web designer, she brings together the key talents needed to lead such an endeavor. Garstka was previously Web marketing manager at SIRSI Corp., and before that she led the development of the external Web site for Intergraph Corp., a large Huntsville, Alabama-based company specializing in the development of high-end graphics workstations.
Corporate Business Perspective
One of the main characteristics of the current generation of Web portals involves their need to realize a profit—even if those profits are indirect, long-term, or elusive. When I learned of LibraryHQ.com, I felt it important to find out something of its business structure.
The LibraryHQ.com site is hosted by SIRSI Corp. The traceroute network utility indicates that this site resides on the same Internet link as SIRSI. The domain name LibraryHQ.com was registered with Network Solutions by SIRSI Corp. Katharine Garstka's e-mail routes through a mail server at SIRSI.
Last October, SIRSI announced an alliance with CEA Capital Partners, a New York-based venture capital investment firm. Although the announcement of this alliance was not described in detail, it is clear that this firm has made a significant investment with SIRSI to provide it with the financial resources to engage in new technology initiatives. CEA Capital Partners lists SIRSI Corp. among its clients on its Web site (http://www.ceacapital.com) and indicates that its preferred investment is $5 million to $20 million, with a requirement for participation in its client companies at the board of directors level.
On the press release announcing LibraryHQ.com and on its Web site, the business address listed corresponds to the New York address of CEA Capital Partners.
There is no doubt that LibraryHQ.com has a very close business relationship with SIRSI Corp. and CEA Capital Partners. But there is no direct statement on LibraryHQ.com disclosing this corporate affiliation. In my conversation with Garstka, I learned that the initial development of LibraryHQ.com is being subsidized by CEA Capital Partners, which gives them the luxury of focusing on developing content and building a great Web site first, without the need to realize an immediate return in revenue. As interest in the site builds, any of a number of business models might be used to sustain the site. Click-through advertisements and fee-based premium services are typical income generating features of many Web portals.
Does the corporate affiliation of LibraryHQ.com matter? It would matter to me only if I saw that the site was providing information with a promotional slant toward SIRSI's products and services.
Using LibraryHQ.com to showcase some of SIRSI's technologies seems to me the kind of activity that can be done without any formal disclosure. The Site Source component of LibraryHQ.com seems a fine example of that. I was only disappointed that this resource did not fully exploit the capabilities of SIRSI's Unicorn system.
What raised my concerns most as I explored LibraryHQ.com were a couple of items under the Automation Resources section, e.g., the “Library Automation Checklist: How does your current system compare to a modern client/server library system? Here's how to tell if it's time for a change.” This checklist is a thinly veiled blueprint for SIRSI's products. It was immediately apparent to me that the vocabulary and concepts in this document describe SIRSI's own approach to library automation to the exclusion of its competitors. The same symptoms apply to the sample RFP provided in this section.
When it comes to such critical decisions as selecting a library automation system, I think that it is important libraries be well aware of any bias toward a particular vendor. As Barbara Quint wrote in “Designing the Perfect Information Portal,” her Quint's Online column in the February 2000 issue of Information Today, “To succeed and endure, a good portal must build a firewall between editorial content and advertiser interests.”
I would generalize her statement to include the portal's own corporate interests. To be taken seriously as an Internet starting point for librarians, LibraryHQ.com will need to be quite careful not to let its corporate relationship to SIRSI compromise the objectivity of its content.
With the sole caveat of keeping watch for a subtle slant in the Library Automation Resources section, I recommend LibraryHQ.com highly as a destination on the Web for libraries to plan to visit regularly. Even at this early stage, the site offers a tremendous suite of resources for librarians and other information professionals. Over time, we can expect the site to grow and mature, responding to the interests of our rapidly changing library profession.
Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst at the Heard Library at Vanderbilt University, a columnist for Information Today, and a frequent writer and speaker on library technology issues. His e-mail address is email@example.com.