Last week, existing customers of McGraw-Hill Professional’s Digital Engineering Library service (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) experienced the soft launch of the site’s successor, AccessEngineering (www.accessengineeringlibrary.com). The new site made its official debut to the public today, March 16, and McGraw-Hill hopes its 18 months of planning pays off.
Publisher Steve Chapman says there were issues with the design of Digital Engineering Library from the start. Intended to be a place where engineers could come and do research online—rather than accumulating a cumbersome library of texts—Digital Engineering Library was launched in 2005. Some issues became apparent almost right away. “We definitely had a sense of improvements we wanted to make,” Chapman says.
Chief among the old site’s problems was the navigation. “People wanted to dig through individual chapters and find specific information, rather than read an entire book online,” Chapman says. “The site worked just fine in that regard, but it was darn near impossible to figure out what chapter from which book you were reading. If a researcher found a particular table he was looking for, he might then have trouble putting it in context, or finding related information from the same book because of problems with the site’s navigation.”
When a redesign of the site started to become a reality, Chapman says McGraw-Hill’s team started surveying its users to figure out what problems really needed to be tackled. As it turned out, not only did the customers seem to agree with each other about what needed to be changed, but they seemed to agree with Chapman and others at McGraw-Hill. It was paramount that AccessEngineering be easier to use than its predecessor, or as Chapman says: “To really be able to get at reference information easily and quickly enough to use in your day-to-day workflow.”
“The big change we made was to make the books the primary navigation path,” says Chapman. That’s not the only change, though. There is an enhanced and, hopefully, improved interface along with a new search engine powering the new book-centric search. Then, of course, there is the new name and the URL to go with it.
Why the new name and not just a revamp of the old website? Chapman says the reasons were threefold. In 2005, Chapman says, the name Digital Engineering Library seemed to make sense, but these days the word “digital” just seems redundant. The name change also falls more in line with McGraw-Hill’s branding efforts and echoes the names of the company’s other websites such as AccessMedical. Also, the team thought the name change and the new web address “indicated the real difference in user experience.” As Chapman says, McGraw-Hill wanted it to be clear to users that “this is a very different product than Digital Engineering Library was although it has a lot of the same content.”
The company wanted to make the transition as seamless as possible. In a press release sent to users in early March, McGraw-Hill wrote: “With the AccessEngineering migration, you will experience no change in your service or authentication and no action is required on behalf of the library during our migration.” Though no users were available for comment, Chapman says he and his team spent about 48 hours after the soft launch fixing “the obvious technical kinks” to get prepared for the wider release of the site.
Once inside the site, users should find some other changes. A few, new content areas have been added, to make a total of 14: biomedical, chemical, civil, communications, construction, electrical, energy, environmental, green/sustainable, industrial, material science, mechanical, nanotechnology, and optical. “The idea with AccessEngineering is to have the information a few keystrokes away,” says Chapman. Cover images are included with each of the books now. The amount of content being added to the site is being increased as well. In the past, two new books were added to the site each month. With the new launch, Chapman says that number will be stepped up to five per month.
In the week leading up to the launch, Chapman and the McGraw-Hill team have been talking with customers, fixing the usual glitches associated with the launch of a new site, and scrambling to get ready for its official debut. AccessEngineering will feature pay-per-view access for 48 hours for individuals, in addition to 1-year subscriptions to institutions. Subscribers to the service will also have access to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Engineering, which is embedded on all search pages.
Chapman says that as time goes on, McGraw-Hill will solicit feedback from users because the changes won’t necessarily end with the launch. In fact, there are already plans for the future. Chapman says that by the end of the year, AccessEngineering hopes to add 10 titles per month. It won’t be just more books joining the ranks of the more than 250 engineering handbooks, monographs, and textbooks that already make up the site. Chapman says, “We’d like to add other types of media—images, video, or audio.” He hopes other types of texts will be available as well, including papers and small articles.