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New eLibrary Interface Shows the Path for ProQuest
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Posted On January 15, 2009


The eLibrary service (www.proquestk12.com/productinfo/elibrary.shtml) leads ProQuest’s outreach to the K–12 and community college market. As such, it is in the frontline of the company’s dealings with the Millennials and "Neo-Millennials," which Barb Beach, vice president of publishing at ProQuest, loosely defines as "the generations born since 1980 and even more since 1990 … the people born after Internet browsers were invented." These people live in a fluid information environment that differs vastly from previous generations. A new interface platform launched by eLibrary throughout this year will introduce special features such as Smart Content and Content Creators that support the multimedia, multisource eLibrary content and user experience. According to Beach, it may also serve as a precursor for the massive platform changes that ProQuest has promised will integrate its overall future services.

The eLibrary collection includes some 65 million documents, with 3 million multimedia items—pictures, maps, audio and video files, etc.—and 62 million documents from more than 2,100 sources, including 1,500 magazines, 200 newspapers, 400 ebooks, and 100 sources of transcripts, plus custom study units, quizzes, and syllabus tools. The target audience for this content, according to Beach, is "students though grade 14 or 2-year community colleges. It is even purchased by some 4-year colleges. For 10 years we’ve had a very strong mix of full-text and multimedia. We deal with many learning styles and assignments and meet the needs of visual users. The day of handing in a 5–8 page typed report is long gone. Now students create multimedia reports in PowerPoint or some other presentation software, sometimes even collaborative. This requires a good integration of content and styles and a set of resources that lets student navigate the world this way."

Beach explained that the new interface was quite different from the previous one. It has a type-ahead feature that prompts users with search term suggestions and a subject tag cloud for results illustrating common related topics and using font design to indicate the most-relevant and most-heavily covered topics.

The Smart Content feature, which Beach says was called the "aggretorial" internally, has teams of editors preparing overviews of the most-queried and most-studied topics, a "smart page" that provides top document and multimedia picks, plus suggestions for other research lines. Smart Content combines eLibrary’s 65 million documents with editorially prepared content. This means what users need first, they see first. The editors bring best-of material "above the fold" to provide comprehensive, foundational understanding of the topic as well as pathways for further exploration. For most-queried and most-studied topics searched, results sets will display a "smart page" that provides biographical, historical, and other contextual information, in addition to eLibrary editors’ top document and multimedia picks.

Beach explained that they worried that most users were looking at the first few results pages and finding maybe 25–80 results that seemed equally relevant. The Smart Content advisories, chosen by studying query logs and curricula, are designed to give students the best sources and the best study strategies.

Another feature, called Content Creators, allow users to create customized web applications within the eLibrary system. These features support users in building their own "My eLibrary" pages to capture and tag favorite items. It also supports other mashups and collaborative efforts. Initially the best example of the use of Content Creators is building timeline material linking to items in the database for sharing in a school environment. Beach indicated that other types of customization were under development for release later in the year.

When asked whether these user-selected, user-integrated tools could reach outside the eLibrary content to the open web or even to other licensed content, Beach told of a tool called Bookcarts that was already in the eLibrary toolkit. "It lets students, teachers, or librarians build a pod of information linking inside the product or to someone else’s product outside. The creators can decide if they want to make the pod viewable by one person, a class, or a school district. We’ve had some very proactive school districts that have created Bookcarts for recurring assignments." As of yet, eLibrary does not sponsor any social networking among its user community, according to Beach, but ProQuest does posttraining videos and examples in YouTube, TeacherTube, and Facebook.

The new interface platform is available now in parallel with the previous system. Users can click on a banner at the top of their eLibrary pages to see the new interface. Beach told us that they planned to release more and more features and then, in July, eliminate the old interface and move all users to the new service. To take a video tour of the new service, go to www.proquestk12.com.

Cambridge Information Group acquired ProQuest Information and Learning late in 2006 and then Dialog in mid-2008, after the company had changed its name to ProQuest. (For NewsBreak coverage of both events, read "ProQuest Information and Learning Goes to CSA: What Now?" http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=18853, "Whither Dialog? ProQuest Takes the Reins of the Venerable Search Service,"
http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=49578, and "ProQuest Dialog: Predictions and Reactions," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleID=49579.)

With the acquisition of Dialog in 2008, ProQuest management promised the creation of a completely new platform that would integrate the services with exciting new features. Beach assured us that an eventual "super-platform" is underway. "The group is pushing ahead and we are aiding in the advance."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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