Optimisers, One and All

Librarian can be a fragile and even uncomfortable designation in today’s world. Nonetheless, as our roles continue to expand, change and develop, it seems that librarian as an anchoring designation can become more necessary. We could easily imagine it sitting at the centre of a mind-map, with dozens of roles spidering out of it. On Tuesday, the first day of the 9th International Bielefeld Conference here in Germany, Wendy Pradt Lougee listed some new capacities which she would like to see in entrants to the profession. One of them was Leverager – a word that does not work well at least in UK English because leverage used as a verb is much rarer than in US English. One which I might add, on the basis of at least two of yesterday’s presentations, is Optimiser.

Isidro Aguillo, Director of Madrid’s Cybermetrics Lab (CCHS-CSIC), spoke about the optimisation of university websites. CCHS-CSIC publishes the international Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.

Isidro discussed the new indicators of institutional web presence strength which his group is developing, classified into three types. Impact (link visibility and analysis) and Usage (visits, downloads) are well known. More challenging is Activity (number of web pages and documents; number of academic papers in Scholar and other databases; frequency of invocation of researchers’ names; distribution of content and its translation into other languages; blogmetrics). Activity indicators are becoming more important, and librarians may have particular expertise to offer their universities as they seek to optimise their web presences through them.

The Cybermetrics Lab provides a Decalogue of good practices in institutional web positioning. I provide here an edited version.

The following recommendations are intended to give some advice to Universities and R&D institutions worldwide in order that they have an adequate web presence. Their websites should represent correctly their resources, activities and global performance, providing visitors with a true vision of the institution. We encourage medium and long term projects that give priority to the publication of large volumes of quality content under Open Access type models.
1. URL naming
Each institution should choose a unique institutional domain that can be used by all the websites of the institution. It is very important to avoid changing the institutional domain as it can generate confusion and has a devastating effect on the visibility values. The use of alternative or mirror domains should be disregarded even when they provide redirection to the preferred one. Use of well known acronyms is correct but the institution should consider including descriptive words, like the name of the city, in the domain name.
2. Contents: Create
A large web presence is made possible only with the effort of a large group of authors. The best way to do that is by allowing a large proportion of staff, researchers or graduate students to be potential authors.
3. Contents: Convert
Important resources are available in non-electronic format that can easily be converted to web pages. Most universities have a long record of activities that can be published in historical websites.
4. Interlinking
The Web is a hypertextual corpus with links connecting pages. If your contents are not known (bad design, limited information, or minority language), the size is small or they have low quality, the site probably will receive few links from other sites. Measuring and classifying the links from others can be revealing.
5. Language, especially English
The Web audience is truly global, so you should not think locally. Language versions, especially in English, are mandatory not only for the main pages, but for selected sections and particularly for scientific documents.
6. Rich and media files
Although html is the standard format of web pages, sometimes it is better to use rich file formats like Adobe Acrobat pdf or MS Word doc as they allow a better distribution of documents.
7. Search engine-friendly designs
Avoid cumbersome navigation menus based on Flash, Java or JavaScript that can block robot access. Deep nested directories or complex interlinking can also block robots. Databases and even highly dynamic pages can be invisible for some search engines, so use directories or static pages instead.
8. Popularity and statistics
Number of visits is important, but it is as important to monitor their origin, distribution and the reasons why they reach your websites.
9. Archiving and persistence
Maintaining a copy of old or outdated material in the site should be mandatory. Sometimes relevant information is lost when the site is redesigned or simply updated and there is no way to recover the vanished pages easily.
10. Standards for enriching sites
The use of meaningful titles and descriptive metatags can increase the visibility of pages.

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