Publications New ZealandFebruary 26th, 2008
The newly launched Publications New Zealand website is a publicly accessible record of New Zealand publications. It provides comprehensive access to a database of past and current New Zealand publications and can be used to get information about published items with a strong New Zealand connection, and see which libraries have these items. After a few stops and starts, painstaking requirements, a user interface re-skin and that devil, testing, the website was launched by the NLNZ in February this year.
As the Project Manager for the second (and final) development phase of the website I would like to talk about some of the issues we encountered and why working through them was worth it.
So, what's the National Bibliography?
The Publications New Zealand website is based on the New Zealand National Bibliography: a collection of published items from or about New Zealand. In theory it includes all the 'stuff' published in New Zealand, ever. It includes books, serials, sound recordings, printed music, film, audio books, electronic publications and maps. If that wasn't cool enough it also includes some items published outside of New Zealand to which we would like to claim ownership (Lord of the Rings, Russell Crowe, pavlova).
In seriousness, if an item was published outside of New Zealand it must have at least one-fifth New Zealand content, a New Zealand setting (for fiction) or a New Zealand creator. To some this collection may sound a little dry, but for a patriotic poetry-lover like myself (as well as students, researchers, publishers and librarians), it has the possibility of becoming the 'Matapihi' of New Zealand publications: a celebration of the published creative output of our nation.
What do I get?
In short Publications New Zealand lets you:
- Search the National Bibliography
- Browse showcases of recent or interesting material
- Subscribe to an RSS of recent releases
- Create your own lists of publications (to print or export)
- Find out what libraries hold a publication
- Do all of this in English or Māori
- Through an intuitive and attractive UI designed by Click Suite
Very shortly a feature will be added to the website that will let users create and export their own reports in a variety of formats including HTML. We hope that book stores, publishers and libraries will use this feature to get information for their own websites in order to promote New Zealand publications.
"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
Henry Mencken said that. He was a smart guy. We encountered quite a few complex problems during the project and had to develop some equally complex solutions. Here are three of them.
The website, as it stands, is targeted at New Zealand librarians, the New Zealand public (especially young New Zealanders and those with specialist areas of interest in New Zealand publishing) and the publishing industry. We also hope that international users will enjoy being able to access information about New Zealand publications.
Defining the audience for the website was one of the true tests of the project. Although use cases were developed at an early stage there was a real risk that, as the primary audiences had very different needs, we would end up in some blurry middle ground catering to all and satisfying none.
Our Solution. Decide on a primary need/audience for each feature of the website. For example our soon-to-be launched reporting feature will be targeted at acquisition and research librarians who want to produce lists using fields such as 'Dewey' or other such data that general users will not use. We have made sure the feature will still be usable (both functionally and in terms of usability) by the general public, but its primary focus is to directly meet a need identified by our library users.
But! Just as with children you must not favour one over the other. Although we provide a feature targeted at librarians (that exports the full information of an item in all its lengthy glory) the search results page shows a shorter record targeted for use by the general user.
2. Ko Tanga Aotearoa
I lost sleep over this issue. Although I personally believe every website produced by a Government Department should be in both Maori and English, the original prototype was only developed in English. When halfway through the project we re-skinned the UI and had an opportunity to make the site bi-lingual, we jumped at it. This extended our development timelines substantially and I despaired of the site ever being launched, until of course the site was launched and I was incredibly proud and pleased that the decision had been made.
Our Solution. For any New Zealand website a bilingual interface allows you to engage with a core user group. To make the work as painless and accurate as possible I suggest a very practical solution stolen from our Web Content Editor: make a spreadsheet!
We wrote the content for each page and had one worksheet for content and the other for single words (e.g. 'search'). The columns included both the English and the Maori translations, making it easy and systematic for the developer to insert them into the code. Another suggestion – get everyone (and I mean everyone) to review sign off your content before it is translated because it is a costly and time consuming to change.
The team who worked on the second phase of this project were the complex answer to our complex problem. The team was constructed of two developers, two librarians, the Web Manager, a technology specialist, a business analyst and the product manager. The complexity of producing a website that surfaced MARC records (the developers said 'huh'?), through a UI written in XML with XSLT (the librarians said 'pardon me?') was solved through an iterative consultation process on, well, everything.
In the final team debrief meeting everyone agreed that the combination of skills and willingness to consult had made the project a good experience, had up-skilled each team member and was the aspect that most influenced the successful launch of the website.
Although there isn't a 'Beta' bauble gracing the header of the website, we still have a lot of work to do. The Library received a lot of great feedback from the New Zealand library community that will help us with the website's direction. Future plans are as-of-yet unset but the reports feature should be along soon and requests for providing ways for users to link out to booksellers and directly into the catalogues of New Zealand libraries have been added to our enhancement review list. There is also a lot of interest in how the Library can work with the publishing industry with this product.
So, please go and find some New Zealand publications and tell us what you think. I am very proud of the website and of the excellent team of people who were responsible for its launch.