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Online Northwest 2005 Presentation
OHSU's Homegrown Knowledgebase


  • Overview of project
  • PowerPoint presentation

  • Overview of Project

    At Oregon Health & Science University Library, reference librarians had developed a "Book of Wisdom" to assist library personnel in answering service questions when staffing the Reference Desk ("Do you have a color copier?" "Am I eligible to use this resource?", etc.). In 1997 the paper "Book of Wisdom" was replaced by an online FileMakerPro database and over time, this system failed to meet user needs and expectations. A needs assessment was conducted in 2003 to evaluate user needs and newly available system options.

    The needs assessment found that staff wanted the new system to:

    • Answer questions most often asked at the Reference Desk (i.e. an "at your fingertips" information source in order to assist patrons quickly)

    • Serve as a learning tool for new and existing staff

    • Be a single source for continually updated information (such as system and network downtimes, announcements of particular groups of visiting students, etc.)

    A development team was formed that had representation from the major stakeholders:

    • User needs assessment person

    • Reference person
      This was a Reference resource to be used primarily by staff when on the Reference Desk.

    • Database developer
      Someone to help design the back-end and functionality of the system.

    • Web person
      Someone to help design the front-end pages/interface in response to use needs. In our case, this was the same as the database developer.

    • Cataloger
      To assist the group in helping make wording decisions on interface and help with categorization of topics and explanation to users of search functionalities in system.

    On the technical side, the development team had the goals that the new system should:

    • Not duplicate the main library web site
    • Provide browse and search capabilities
    • Have a clear and concise interface
    • Have print capability
    • Cheap and easy, preferably free software solution
    • Full control of input/output of content
    • Allow us to have an audit trail of items - a record of those items that may have been in the knowledgebase, but that we later deleted for whatever reason.
    • Handle staff requests for content inclusion

    Armed with the needs assessment the development team explored various possibilities for creating the knowledgebase. Various third-party software (ActiveKB, myKB and others) and partnership possibilities (with OHSU's IT Group) were explored, but they did not meet the desired criteria.

    The system that best suited our needs was known to the development team and we decided on a database-driven Web site built with ColdFusion Web pages on the front-end and a SQL database holding the data on the back-end.

    Our goal was to provide a simple and easy interface. The top page contains:

    • A single search field
    • Current Updates sidebar
    • Quick Links sidebar
    • Menu of services by category
    • Links to full database by index (issues/categories/date/creator)

    The results page lists the topic questions containing the results in system order. Users choose the appropriate question/link and the answer display provides the answer and an opportunity to report the topic for update/deletion. The left-hand sidebars provide persistent navigation so users don't get lost in the system.

    The platform (ColdFusion/SQL) impacted the searching/interface needs as it has:

    • Literal string searching
    • No Boolean search capability
    • No wildcards

    We constructed detailed searching notes for users as the search interface is significantly different from web search engines (i.e. "It is NOT Google!"). Subject categories were based on the findings of the user needs assessment. We also created a "controlled vocabulary" list for both searchers and content creators to minimize the impact of the platform's sensitivity. Example: "USE "ejournals" not e-journals or electronic journals."

    In addition to keeping in communication with staff regarding the implementation of the new resource, we conducted staff training sessions to help familiarize staff with the Knowledgebase, how to work with it and its controlled vocabulary, etc. The training sessions were valuable to development staff. The feedback provided from each session helped in making final adjustments to the interface and system.

    Conclusion - Lessons Learned (The Knowledgebase went live November 2004.)

    • Get input from users on their needs regarding the proposed resource.
    • Use ColdFusion templates.
    • Provide a mechanism to provide feedback on the resource so it can be updated and grow over time.

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