LSC 555 Assessment: Brookings Institute Library

LSC-555: Report on content management, integrated library and user-interface systems at Brookings

We limited our analysis and evaluation to three separate Brookings library service areas: content management systems (CMS), integrated library systems (ILS), and user interface systems (referred to as usability heuristics.

Analysis of CMS: Brookings has extensive print and digital holdings, including books produced by its residential and non-residential fellows and scholars, videos of presentations by leading policymakers and thinkers at the Institute, years of papers and publications awaiting digitization, and recent items/documents/e-books born digital. So it came as a surprise to us that, by their own admission, Brookings does not have an overall technology plan for the library, nor a robust content management system for the organization’s extensive holdings. A good technology plan would provide strategic steering for the organization’s information center as it navigates a tough budget terrain, competing with other parts of the organization for shrinking funding. It would also help keep library staff, patrons, and senior management apprised of opportunities to advance the critical mission of the organization’s information center.

A robust content management system, especially for a forward leaning and complex educational institution (learning environment) like Brookings, would be useful to the organization in the following ways: 1) It would provide flexibility and efficiency in managing different documents in different media stored with different storage strategies; 2) it would describe and identify documents using arbitrary, heterogeneous meta-data, promoting interoperability and scalability; and 3) it would provide digital library applications with customized views in a carefully indexed way (meta-data schema) for future ease of storage and retrievability (Amato, 2004). It would also provide for more efficient storage as well as more effective inventory control of digital and print holdings.

Recommendation for CMS: On the overall technology plan, we recommend that the library director and staff, the IT staff, and senior management form a working group to come up with a draft comprehensive technology plan at the earliest convenience. On implementing a content management system, again, library staff and IT staff and the communications/pr group would work together on considering a number of open source and closed source options we have recommended in an earlier section of this wiki.

Analysis of ILS: The Brookings Library uses Horizon, a commercial integrated library system (ILS) from SirsiDynix (formerly two separate companies, Sirsi and Dynix, both of whom provided integrated library system solutions, merged in 2005, acquired by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners in 2007). We go into great detail about the Horizon product here: Library System Information. There we discuss our findings that the Horizon contract is a service contract that does not include plans for substantive upgrades, that Brookings only subscribes to the cataloging, circulation and serials modules, and that Horizon does not include archive management capability, one of Brookings greatest requirements.

As alluded to earlier, in fact, the future of SirsiDynix is far from clear and many of its licensees are considering different ILS options.

It may be appropriate to devote some time here to analysis and reflections about the future of ILS in general and the impact that future may have on information center systems using various vendor packages. Automation in libraries, focused exclusively on print materials, was widely adopted in the 1970’s, and resulted in the development of shared copy-cataloging systems (later, circulation, acquisitions, serial management, and online catalog) which soon morphed into integrated library systems (Lynch, 2000). ILS was thus born in and for a print environment. But the digital environment (and its proliferation of electronic resources) of the present era is not fully captured by antiquated, patched and band-aided ILS systems that found their niche in a bygone print era (Breeding, 2011). Similarly, Ebenezer cites a 2000 study questioning the logic of libraries continuing to invest in specialized library management systems when web-based information retrieval systems may provide a more effective means of integrating library content (Ebenezer, 2002, p. 20).

Recommendation for LIS: The Brookings Library will be forced to make a choice upon the expiration of the present five-year contract. As alluded to earlier, the easiest decision will be to remain with Horizon or to migrate to their named successor, Unicorn. Sirsi/Dinix has announced its decision to cease development of their ILS product, whatever its name, so the most any new contract will provide is a continuation of services. A different choice would be to start adopting web-based solutions to large areas not being covered under Horizon ILS, such as archive and digital asset management.

User Interface Analysis and Recommendations: Previous sections, Usability Questions and Information Systems Checklist, provided detailed discussions of several user-interface considerations. Here we will narrow the focus to three user-interface aspects for review. They are: overall usability; interactive design; and socialization/external collaboration.

Basic usability. Some aspects of basic usability we expect to discover on both the public internet and the internal intranet site of any information organization include legibility, audibility, navigability, latency reduction (more important on the public than the internal website), and readability. Upon inspection of the public website we note a very clean font (sans serif), a single search box in a somewhat prominent location, a top line of tabs that form a table of contents, a good blend of text and graphics, and expansion of the top line tabs into a list of relevant sub-topics for each broad category. The public website has hyperlinks to Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese versions of the site, though clicking through each language site reveals that the articles translated have a specific relevance to the regions where the respective language is spoken, not to articles, transcripts and presentations overall. With the exception of a radio button “podcasts” which directs the reader to two podcasts that are updated every two weeks, the site makes little to no accommodation for the hearing or visually impaired reader or researcher. The internal intranet webpage, as already cited, leaves much to be desired, visually, as it is antiquated and outdated. But it is functional, at least for basic database searches and routine administrative inquiries.

Interactive design. Interactive design focuses on user autonomy ( the degree to which the computer, the interface and the work environment all seem to “belong” to the user), consistency (consistency of shortcut keys throughout the site, consistency of hidden word processing structures, consistency of the overall look of the site from page to page, consistency of the in-house platform (intranet) with the external, public face, internet platform), and user efficiency (productivity focused on the user, not the computer, not the system) (Tognazzini, 2003).

In starting an interactive design evaluation, we look first for a “help” button or option in a prominent location on the site and an “about” section that provides useful information to the reader. The Brooking website does not offer a “help” service, neither on the home page nor inside the “about” section. We recommend a “help” option be installed and placed in a location on the site where it can be easily found. The public website,, has every appearance of consistency with no evidence of hidden structures in the text. The site appears to be user-efficient: excellent navigation from page to page and from section to section (although separate research areas seem to be silo-ed or segregated from other research areas, for example, “Energy and the Environment” has no connecting links to “Global Development,” and “Defense and Security” and “Fiscal Policy are not connected internally. Not connecting discrete subject contents across traditional lines seems to be an engagement opportunity lost.

Socialization/external collaboration covers the use of chat rooms, comments by readers, links to other external but relevant sites, and actual discoverability in a normal search engine inquiry. Based on the public nature of this category, it applies pretty much exclusively to the public website. There are no chatrooms on the public site. Readers cannot submit comments to articles they have read, and there are no signs of an attempt to stimulate any type of dialogue between website readers and Brookings scholars, at least not in the web environment. There are instances, inside selected sections, of an occasional link to an external source web source (for example, one article on Iran (which I tweeted because it was an excellent article on the nuclear deal just posted) contained links to an American Enterprise Institute, a Ha’aretz news article, and a New Yorker article, and others), but these instances are the exception, not the rule. In fact, most articles with hyperlinks merely link to other Brookings articles in the same section but submitted at an earlier time.

Viewing the html source code reveals that the web designers made very sparse use of metadata in the code, reducing the possibility of a Brookings article showing up in an obscure web search that does not specify or contain explicit references to Brookings itself.

Professional competencies and social media: 1. Professional identity: To establish an identity for stolid old think tank in the new social media environment, I would propose at a minimum of a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter presence, with smart hip people who know the work of the organization and know how to keep social media sites filled with pertinent and updated information. I would add a blog roll of sites of other think tanks, in the US and globally, that cover similar issues or cover them from a similar perspective.

2. Management: Brookings had an intranet page devoted exclusively to employee administrative needs, regulations and forms. I would make that proposal if the think tank library where I worked did not have such a web page or site. It could be done on social media, but would have to be restricted to a close site, accessible only to employees or people who signed up for the site. It would not have any personally identifiable information on it, just resources and procedures/regulations.

3. Resources. A wiki would be the best solution here, a collaborative site where employees could submit and retrieve information. It would be, in effect, crowd-sourced with employees having the option to upload or download information within their area of expertise.

4. Services. A wiki would also be a good solution here. It would also be useful to have a type of “Ask a Librarian” service, either through a closed Facebook type of platform, or a wiki.

5. Information Organization. Here I would propose a blog, managed exclusively by the library staff, updated regularly. 6. Technology. I would propose here a hybrid wiki with a twitter feed for short burst uploads from employees.


We begin the concluding section with an expression of appreciation to the staff of the Brookings Institute library, especially Cy Behroozi, the library director, and David Bair, the technical services librarian. Both met with us, gave generously of their time, and responded promptly to our e-mails. The Brookings Institute is a world-class research and information organization, and it was a rare privilege to be able to see their information operation from the inside.

While we were impressed by most of what we saw, there are areas where we think improvements can be made. Briefly, the organization needs an overall technology plan and better coordination between the IT section, the library section, and the communications section who maintains the internet website;
the Library should get a more up-to-date content management system, something that is robust and strong enough to efficiently manage the growing holdings of digital and electronic materials. Horizon, a legacy ILS system with no plans for future development, is a losing bet for the Brooking Library. Our colleagues have suggested web-based, cloud-based and open source options especially areas not presently covered by Horizon, such as archival management.

In the best of all worlds, there should be some degree of consistency between the public, external internet and the internal intranet used exclusively by employees. It is understandable how the two may have evolved differently, but it really is time for a modern up-to-date intranet platform. Without some degree of parity, the organization sends a signal that it cares more about external customers and less about internal workers.

The public website should engage the public more. Today’s public doesn’t just want to passively read, it wants to contribute, to get involved, to talk back. In the competitive world on the web, those who allow exchange of information will beat out those who do not and who insist on remaining stove-piped and self-obsessed.

Finally, the public website should make better use of metadata inside the HTML code to increase its findability among zillions of websites on the World Wide Web.

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Breeding, M. (2007). The sun sets on horizon. Computers in Libraries, 27(6), 38-41.

Breeding, M. (2012). Current and future trends in information technologies for information units. El Profesional De La Información, 21(1), 9-15.

Ebenezer, C. (2002). Trends in integrated library systems. Vine, 32(4), 19-45.

Ferreira, S. M., & Pithan, D. N. (2005). Usability of digital libraries: A study based on the areas of information science and human-computer-interaction. OCLC Systems & Services, 21(4), 311-323.

Lynch, C. (2000). From automation to transformation. Educause Review, 35(1), 60-69.

Sadler, E. B. (2009). Project blacklight: A next generation library catalog at a first generation university. Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 57-67.

Tognazzini, B. (2003). First principles of interaction design. Interaction Design Solutions for the Real World, AskTog.

Yang, S. Q., & Hofmann, M. A. (2011). Next generation or current generation?: A study of the OPACs of 260 academic libraries in the USA and canada. Library Hi Tech, 29(2), 266-300.