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Wheaton College: Happy with WebGUI for Library

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January 13, 2009 -
by David Sims

First Coffee did a double-take at this next news item: My alma mater, Wheaton College, a liberal arts college founded in 1860 by abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, has chosen WebGUI to help with the library’s administration.

The campus is home to nearly 2400 undergraduate and over 550 graduate students. Buswell Memorial Library is one of the largest, if not still the largest – it was when I was there – private college (not university) library in the United States. I don’t see that factoid in the promo materials anymore so it’s probably not the case anymore.
Wheaton was also ranked as having the second-best food service of any college or university in the country, just behind Harvard, and my friends, I can assure you that wasn’t true when I was there. Back then we were happy when the Cap’n Crunch didn’t run out during dinner.
Anyway, Buswell Memorial Library staff found that their previous content management system couldn’t handle the demands on it anymore, research materials through online resources. So they started looking for a system with separation of site style and content to maintain a consistent site appearance no matter who managed the content.
And of course, because it’s a college you need a system easy enough for non-technical dolts such as us English majors to use.
Of course when I was at Wheaton the library search system was called a “card catalogue.” Computers were something geeks played around with in the college IT department, whatever it was called back then.
They picked the WebGUI system, which is capable of dynamically generating links to electronic resources from existing databases, and allowing any customized code created in-house to be reused throughout multiple areas of their site.
Wheaties say the WebGUI is an open source product that can be integrated with the library’s existing underlying database structure while still following standard programming and design principles. Primarily, WebGUI allowed the library to reuse MyLibrary data by doing little more than writing an SQL query.
MyLibrary is evidently a database designed by librarians for presenting library resources to library patrons. WebGUI’s platform, Apache, and its programming language, Perl, were standards, a plus for the library since they could not afford to recreate or convert their existing database. No doubt because I don’t contribute to the alumni fund.
An evaluation of content management systems was published in 2006 by Robbins, Engel and Bierman for the University of Oklahoma Libraries. In their results they suggest that the main challenge in building an intranet that is vital to employees within an organization, “...requires an organizational commitment to developing tools that are easy to use and vital for the development of the Web site.” Yes, people pay for studies to learn such things.
Buswell Memorial Library's experience with WebGUI has caught the attention of college officials and the software is now being considered an option in the upcoming campus-wide content management system project.

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