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The ICAP publishing system is an open source custom content management system that enables librarians to easily and quickly create and manage library help pages for course assignments (ICAPs), without requiring knowledge of HTML or other web technologies. This project originated in a 2005 needs assessment conducted by Oregon State University Libraries (OSUL) to determine the best approach for connecting students with the wealth of information available to them through the library. We investigated a variety of ways to deliver the course-centric, interactive web pages: library portal software, campus portal software, course management software, content management systems, and web page templates. The programmer came on board in September 2006 and explored available proprietary and open source solutions that might meet the project requirements. The ICAP publishing system is a custom content management system that enables librarians to easily and quickly create and manage course assignment pages (ICAPs). The publishing system includes a user interface that allows librarians to create, edit, copy, share, and publish course assignment pages. The course assignment pages the system creates are Netvibes-inspired, with modules that chunk the content under helpful headers.
The ICAP team was committed to employing user-centered design techniques while developing the project. The first phase of the project was to develop a design and define the basic functionalities of the interfaces based on the use-case scenarios for each user group. The results from that initial study indicated that since OSUL librarians had been using Dreamweaver and Contribute, their mental models of the process of creating web pages did not match the tool’s interface.
Using all these results, we built a prototype of the tool in Ruby on Rails and had three different librarians conduct the same test on the interactive interface, which uncovered more terminology confusion and additional workflow issues. The ICAP system is implemented in Ruby on Rails (Rails), an open source web application development framework.[9] Rails provides all the components necessary to build complete database-backed web applications. The ICAP system is mounted on an Apache web server in conjunction with Mongrel, an open-source http library and web server.
Since Rails provides so much help with building the back end, we were able to place a high priority on the user interface for the ICAP system.
In addition to reducing development time, effort, and lines of code, Rails also lends itself nicely to an agile development cycle. Early feedback exposed design flaws that could have kept the tool from being adopted by the librarians. While we continue to evaluate this project and the tool, the ICAP Publishing System has met our initial project goals. Margaret Mellinger is an Engineering Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries, and the lead of the ICAP team. I noticed that ICAP is now called Library a la Carte and that the first link in the references is now broken.
Through the interview with my grandmother, I learned the names of many distant family members that I didn’t know existed.
My mother was born Nelle Swearingen, her grandmother was Nelle Lipscomb, and her great-grandmother was Ellen Moseley. Another interesting story from 4+ generations ago involves the Vannucci family’s immigration from Italy to America.
Aside from wars, events such as the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement involved my family; the reason my family moved to Newberry was because my great-great-grandfather’s cotton mill went under during the Depression, and my great-grandfather was the chairman of the school board in Newberry when Brown vs. All of these relationships between the events of the last century and a half and my family should seem obvious—family members were alive at the time, there was probably substantial involvement.
Researching and writing about my own family’s history has a different feel to it than other research endeavors. Cannon Palms Family History Short Assignment is powered by WordPress at Duke WordPress Sites.
The system’s unique features include an emphasis on collaboration and content reuse and an easy-to-use interface that includes in-line help, simple forms and drag and drop functionality. We were particularly interested in lowering the barriers to library use for undergraduates searching for topical information. Because we wanted to lower barriers to participation, we were wary of implementing library portal software that would require students to log on and create profiles. The programmer reviewed the University of Minnesota’s LibData and CourseLib [4] but found that the complexity and comprehensiveness of the software was not a match for this project. ICAP is a dynamic system; rather than forcing users to write code, it takes care of those details and lets librarians focus on the actual content to be displayed.
The pages maintain a consistent look and feel that harmonizes with the rest of the library web site and ensure web and accessibility standards through the use of CSS and templates. User-centered design (UCD) is a process in which the user’s needs, wants, and limitations are considered at every stage of the development cycle.
The student interface (the course assignment pages) was designed with the guiding principles of saving students’ time and helping them discover quality resources for their course work. Working with a graphic design student, we first developed a paper prototype of the ICAP tool’s interface.
This resulted in confusion over terminology and workflow while editing and cloning (copying) a page. After addressing these issues with iterative testing, we released the system in spring 2007. Releasing without the full feature set can turn potential users off and decrease faith in the project, unless users trust that the beta product will evolve to suit their needs. For example, we wanted the tool to be able to interact with our OSUL federated search engine, LibraryFind, and Oasis, the OSUL library catalog. AJAX and CSS are well integrated into the Rails framework, which made adding features like drag and drop, inline help, simple forms, and helpful feedback to the tool’s interface faster and easier. Software companies have staff dedicated to specific software development roles, such as business analysts, designers, programmers, project managers, etc. Three refinements were particularly important: the ability to move modules around on the page, the ability to choose one or two column layouts, and the ability to forgo an added chat box or to replace a generic chat box with their own. The first involved getting the right skills and personnel in place to get the project off the ground. We will also build in search-engine optimization features and supply a means to access web analytics from within the ICAP system. The primary goal of this project is to better serve students, and the assessment data collected from students via surveys, email and use statistics suggests that we are on the right track.
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I learned of my link to Italy, and I learned of my family’s longstanding history of military service.
Although never confirmed, it has been passed down through my family’s oral history that the reason Lorinda Vannucci, my great-great-grandmother, came to America was that Vittorio Emanuele, the King of Italy, called upon her father (my great-great-great-grandfather) to serve in the army despite of the fact that he had already served.
During WWI, my grandfather’s house was also home to another family that his parents had taken in as tenants. There’s a certain personal investment that is a given when investigating historical matters of such relevance to my own bloodline. The system generates dynamic, attractive course assignment pages that blend Web 2.0 features with traditional library resources, and makes the pages easier to find by providing a central web page for the course assignment pages.
Initially, we considered building undergraduate portals based on colleges or subjects, but as we gathered data, read about undergraduate research activities and habits, and listened to students, we changed the direction of our subsequent project.[2, 3] Undergraduates, especially lower division students, identify more with courses they are currently taking than with a specific college or subject. We were interested in the possibility of developing a tool that integrated with campus portal software, but it was not an option, as our institution evaluated and declined to purchase a campus portal system. CourseLib requires a significant amount of set up, and we wanted instead to allow librarians to contribute and manage the content, without heavy administrative overhead.


This makes it easy for librarians to quickly add or change content, without requiring knowledge of HTML or other web technologies. We wanted the pages to have a consistent look and feel, so the system controls the design of the pages, but lets librarians choose from a one or two column layout. It was necessary to involve our three user groups, Librarians, Students and Faculty, to increase buy-in, facilitate using Web 2.0 applications, avoid feature creep, and most importantly, improve the user interface. We developed an HTML template that was used with students for three terms beginning in Spring 2006.
We started with a paper prototype because we did not want to commit to any one solution or development framework before we had a good idea of the librarians’ needs.
We changed the terms and workflow to align more closely with the familiar Microsoft model of file operations (open, copy and save as). Even though we employed user-centered design techniques and iteratively conducted user testing, users still doubted that the tool would meet their expectations.
The model-view-controller (MVC) design pattern separates the data access (model) and business logic (controller) from the data presentation and user interaction (view). Authors can create new pages and modules and edit only the pages and modules belonging to them. To interact with LibraryFind, we use its API to target the selected databases chosen by the librarian and to send an http request to the web service. The first release of the ICAP publishing tool did not allow the librarians to arrange the modules on a page. But most libraries, OSUL included, have small technology departments where staff must fill more than one role in the software development process. After we changed the design, the tool has gained wide acceptance with the librarians, evidenced by the large number of pages created in the first term following the changes. The second was the push-back about how the tool would work, what features would be included, and how it would change librarians’ workflow and level of control over course assignment web pages after the initial release. We will continue to gather evaluative feedback from student users, learning more about their searching preferences and research habits as we do. I learned that the table I ate from in my kitchen and the chairs I sat on whilst doing so were made by my great-grandfather in the toils of retirement boredom.
However, ‘Nelle’ is ‘Ellen’ backwards, and there is an interesting story to go along with that. This makes the research interesting, which in turn makes the research quite easy to conduct. As of December 2007, the code is available as free, open-source software under the GNU General Public License. They prefer clear starting points for library research, need to save time, and are very interested in resources that have been recommended by their instructors. Because we wanted to integrate library resources with particular courses, we carefully considered the campus course management system, Blackboard, but there were several challenges with a potential Blackboard integration. Also, the interface seemed complicated and required users to have some HTML knowledge to format text. A librarian then logs in and can create new pages or edit their pages, modules, and account.
Both content within the page and the layout of that content can be customized to a certain extent.
Usability testing is an iterative process; it is important to conduct usability testing throughout the development cycle. With the help of course instructors in five classes, we surveyed 130 students about their experience with the course assignment pages [8].
The prototype demonstrated only the core functionalities, which allowed for more interaction with the system, such as interacting with error pages. Because the librarians could not find what they needed to complete some of the tasks, we reworked the interface to make navigation easier. We used our use-case, goals and deadlines to define the initial beta release, knowing we were going to continue to develop the tool. For example, the resource table is a polymorphic table that uses Rails :through clause for the associations of the different modules to the page they belong to. An admin user can register new users, create new pages and modules, edit all the pages and modules, and grant ownership of any page to any user within the system.
We quickly found out that this was a flaw in the design and we needed to implement a way for them to do so.
Agile development methods lessen staff overhead needed for software development by reducing processes and documentation. As librarians used the creation tool more, minor bugs and workflow issues were found and addressed.
The team learned firsthand that people need time to adopt new software, and that a high level of user involvement is crucial in building acceptance for a new tool. Additionally, we will begin a new round of usability testing with students and integrate the feedback into the ICAP system. I learned of funny and unique stories of how names were acquired that I know to be true, and stories of immigration that no one ever was able to confirm.
When Ellen Mary Moseley was growing up in the late 1800s, the town drunk used to beat his mule, named Ellen, and yell and curse at it. My great-grandfather’s death was declared to be a war casualty despite of the fact that he died after returning home (my grandfather received benefits as the son of a fallen veteran). While building my family tree, I ran into the family tree progress other distant family members had made and it helped me greatly. Rather than developing generic subject or college portals, we focused on library help pages that are tightly aligned with courses and assignments, include some interactive or Web 2.0 features, and are also simple for subject librarians to create and maintain. Blackboard is not used universally across our institution, it is not as flexible and customizable as we envisioned our pages, and it was not apparent that the Blackboard team had the resources to work with us on developing a new service.
University of Rochester’s Library Course Builder [5] met the requirement of focusing on the course, but as the tool is built in ColdFusion, OSUL would have had to buy the software, set up a special server, and find ColdFusion programmers.
The interfaces of both the ICAP system and course pages were carefully designed with all of our users in mind. By designing for our users and then testing with our users, we acquired built-in early adopters, quality assurance, and an invaluable knowledge base. The results of this survey helped us identify what was working and what changes needed to be made to the pages. During the beta release, we set up a forum for librarians to provide feedback and to facilitate open communication between the users and the development team.
Feedback is solicited in a variety of ways, including user testing, user training, a discussion forum, surveys, email, meetings, and other forms of personal communication. Rails targets a fast development cycle with zero turnaround time, which enabled us to iteratively test and immediately refine our prototypes. The use of a polymorphic table enables us to easily add new module types to the system without having to build multiple near-identical join tables and complex insertion methods to maintain the relationships. To secure a user’s account, the password runs through a SHA1 encryption with a randomly generated salt value. One option was to add a position field in the module database and have the user enter a number in a form to indicate the position on the page. The ICAP project team is small, consisting of two reference librarians and a programmer, and has fairly broad decision-making ability that helped streamline the development cycle. Later feedback led to further refinements, such as the ability to add third-party widgets to the pages, and changes to functionalities of the WYSIWYG editor.


Librarians have adopted the tool, enjoy using it, appreciate that it helps them incorporate Web 2.0 features, and find that it saves them time when creating course assignment pages.
The whole town knew of the mule by name, and Ellen, so embarrassed that she shared the name of the drunk’s mule, was forevermore referred to by her name backwards, Nelle. My grandmother and her mother traveled the country following my other great-grandfather’s ship during his active time in the Navy in WWII.
Imagine if each of these distant family members had documented the stories in their possession as well! Because the topic is so personal, it almost feels like an introspective reflection whilst writing. OSUL has a long-term plan to move the library web pages into a content management system, but it was not in place when we started this project. This did not seem to be a good way to leverage server space and programmer capacity when the development environment at OSUL favors MySQL, PHP and Ruby on Rails. Currently, there are modules for a Librarian and Instructor profile, an assignment module, a RSS module, a federated search module, course reserves module, custom content module and a widget module.
We asked the librarians to perform five core tasks (create, edit, clone, share, email URL) with the prototype while thinking aloud [8]. We hoped that we could use wiki-style editing to give the librarians control over the format of the custom content they create for the pages. From the forum feedback and other conversations, we improved the workflow to make the tool easier to use and added new functionalities based on the needs and requests from the librarians. Releasing new feature sets in response to user feedback restored faith in the project and created a sense of ownership in the product which built an unanticipated level of adoption. The following code snippet demonstrates the polymorphic relationships and the helper methods that ease the selection and insertion process of a page’s modules. Since we do not have access to the Oasis database and it does not provide an API, we could not simply query it for the data. Although the team was small, agile development also allowed us to involve all stakeholders, and respond quickly to their feedback. OSUL took a careful look at whether or not to continue developing the ICAP Publishing System. The ICAP Publishing system gives OSU Libraries an updated way to connect students with relevant, quality resources at their point of need. It would be an information overload—I’m sure some of the stories my grandmother told me would be revised! It feels like I’m revealing pieces of myself to the world despite the fact that I wrote almost nothing about my own life.
We tested static HTML templates as an early prototype of the course assignment pages, but they did not allow librarians to easily publish or re-use content.
We needed to make the pages more findable from the Library home page and embed links and information about the pages in the course web pages and syllabuses. We also evaluated the tool on librarians’ success rate based on the time it took to perform tasks and the number of errors made. But we found that the wiki-editing was too difficult for some and that the librarians preferred formatting text in the manner of Microsoft Word. We have rolled out new feature sets at the end of every term since the first release and periodically offer training. This session value is used in a Rails before_filter that constrains the dynamic finder with the criteria that the owner of the page or module must match the current user. Instead, we have implemented a screen scraper to accomplish the data transfer from Oasis to the ICAP database. Based on feedback, we decided to add the ability to drag a module around on a page to arrange it. We decided to go forward because we had a functioning tool in place, and also because we planned to share our open source code with the library community. An additional benefit is that the new tool and the course pages it generates gives librarians something to showcase with faculty, who have responded positively, collaborating with librarians on pages, using the pages in class, and requesting more pages. My grandmother helped my trace my family tree back to two generations before herself, but these other trees enabled me to go back even further to the early 1800s! My online audience makes it feel slightly awkward when publishing my interview recording, as well—it includes banal banter between my grandmother and I not pertaining to the history of my family that feels like it should be kept private, despite how benign it all is. When we reached this stage of the project, we realized we needed to hire a programmer, and before we did so, we wrote use case scenarios and distilled from those the baseline project requirements. After getting a clear picture of the computing environment at our institution and inventorying the available open source and proprietary software, we chose to build a custom solution. Both the Librarian and Instructor module provide contact information and links to related websites. We also found that students needed help navigating through the many resources libraries offer and to address that we created pages that better supported both browsing and searching.
The library as a whole built new capacities as a result, gaining experience with user-centered design, usability testing, software development cycles, and project management. It is difficult to explain the strange feeling that one experiences when writing about himself or his own family for the world to read, but it suffices to say that investigating the history of my family has been quite the learning experience.
Students wanted to be able to connect to the reference librarian outside of the library, so we added more communication options to the pages. After completing the test, participants rated their overall impression of the tool and offered suggestions and feedback.
Because each ICAP page is required to have a subject and course number (the required attributes of an Oasis course reserve search) this made it easier to process the resulting display output from the catalog, extract the desired data, and pass it on to the ICAP system for use in a course assignment page.
The Librarian, Instructor, and Assignment modules are designed to communicate to the student that the pages are recommended by their instructor and to increase student awareness of the subject librarians. Most importantly, the majority of the students responded positively to the pages and indicated that after they learned about them they did use them.
One particular security challenge we faced was how to allow the addition of 3rd party widgets to the system. We have continued to solicit feedback from students in the form of online surveys, chats, and emails and will soon undertake a more in-depth assessment of the pages and their effectiveness for students. To allow widgets, we have to let users embed HTML tags that can expose the database to cross-site scripting.
The WYSIWYG editor enables librarians to easily add links, images, lists and formatted text without using HTML or Wiki mark-up.
We are in the process of enhancing our widget module with a custom sanitization method that uses complex regexs to strip out and rebuild the code snippets from popular widget sources. The widget module includes a code editor that can be used to embed 3rd party widgets, like YouTube, Google Custom Search box, and LibraryThing. Adding the sanitization process secures our database from malicious code while still allowing librarians to add some 3rd party widgets to their pages. The module for OSUL’s federated search engine, LibraryFind [7], can be customized to search selected databases. The course reserves module automatically pulls information from our catalog and the RSS module aggregates and displays data from a RSS feed. Users can share their pages with other system users and publish their pages to the OSUL website through the interface.



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