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E-Pustakalaya: An evolving online library

OLE Nepal’s implementation model focuses on the creation and distribution of content. A digital library, in this case E-Pustakalaya (E-Library), is an integral part of this model. E-Pustakalaya is envisioned as a common resource of a variety of educational texts and reference materials, not unlike any physical library. Its User Interface (UI) development is also inkeeping with this vision.

From the perspective of usability, OLE Nepal has been working continuously to make the UI more user friendly and content easier to find and use. The development started by putting together the components of the library information system, namely Fedora Commons and Fez, so as to function as a complete library. Many modifications to the front-end have been made to streamline the interface to make it more usable, specifically for children. It would be worthwhile to mention here that although the library is available and relevant to people of all ages, it is focused in terms of its interface on its usability from a child’s perspective.

At a glance, the objectives that have driven the development of E-Pustakalaya are as follows:

  • To make the library resemble (to the extent possible) a physical library, in terms of ordering and grouping of content
  • To make a variety of content (e.g. Novels, Textbooks, Audio, Video, Magazines) available, and have interface options (specifically in terms of language) to view them in
  • To streamline the user interface to ease access to required information with minimal point and click effort
  • To provide online and offline access at partner schools to the available content
  • To allow for easy tagging, searching and linking of content
  • To make the content downloadable for offline reading

E-Pustakalaya has been developed to group content according to subject or type, in the same way that physical libraries group books into chambers/racks, with each rack/chamber holding books of a specific subject with a separate area for reference materials, newspapers and magazines. This helps to organize content as well as to reduce the time it takes readers to find an item of their interest. Additionally, to prevent the endless spawning of new groups that would clutter the interface with a long list, the entire library has been limited to seven overarching sections that are broad enough to cover any material that can be added there. These include: Literature, Subject-related Materials, Reference Materials, Newspapers and Magazines, Art, … Each section is further divided into sub-sections and each sub-section in turn contains the items that users can watch/listen online or download for offline use.

There are several ways in which items can be found on E-Pustakalaya. A user might browse through the different categories and titles within each section; browse recently added and other items such as videos, dictionary and maps through direct links on the homepage; or do a keyword search for items they are looking for based on the title, author and subject.

The keyword search is made possible by the facility of metadata management on the library system. Managing metadata fulfils two goals: it provides additional information about the object when browsing new items and allows users to search for items based on keywords that they have been tagged with in the metadata.

All of the above features are already available on E-Pustakalaya. The E-Pustakalaya technical team has been working on improving the UI to provide users with an even richer experience. The current development will be completed by the end of July 2010 and will include the following changes. The rationale behind the changes are also included:

Enhancing the Navigation Bar: The navigation bar sits right beneath the header and can be found within each section. It has links to each of the seven sections and in the new design, these links have been enlarged to reduce the difficulty in pointing to and clicking on an object.

Also, the link buttons have three distinct states: Normal, Hover and Active. The normal state is when the button is not associated with the list view underneath; the hover state is the mouse pointer is moved over a button; and the active state is for the respective section displayed in the list underneath. This makes it easy for children (with little or no knowledge of web browsing) use the library.

Enhancing the List View: The list view is the list of items inside each section or subsection. The default interface contains a lot of information and poses a difficulty in usability for children. Additionally, some of the data in the default layout is confusing because of the absence of labels to describe them. Text labels have thus been added to make the information more readable, and the listing has been modified to un-clutter the page. The list view has also been developed to display the current location in the navigation hierarchy, so that the user can easily navigate back and forth.

Enhancing the Metadata Page: This page displays the relevant metadata for each item and provides options for reading/watching/listening. This page has been modified to display the name of the item, the author, pdf icon, and download button more prominently so as to engage users.

Overall Interface Overhaul: The overall interface has been designed to be compact to be suitable for the screen size and resolution of the XO laptop (i.e. 800×600 pixels). Unnecessary components have been removed, the navigation bar merged into the header/banner, and the color scheme and layout changed to create a pleasing interface.

Management of Videos: Videos till now had been separately managed and were not integrated into the main library system. This made it impossible to search for them using the search feature. The new video management and display interface has been developed so that the videos are now part of the main cataloging system. The new interface also allows easy management of videos and display of video metadata.

Does this mean then that we have come to the end of the development effort for E-Pustakalaya Not at all! As mentioned earlier, its development is an ongoing process and additional changes and features are expected to be added in the future. In fact, from the developers’ point of view, the challenges ahead are even more exciting. Highlights include:

  1. Making localization of the UI easy: The interface at the moment does not support a proper localization system. A proper support needs to be implemented to enable internationalization and further localization so that the interface can be reused for various languages.
  2. Deploying recent stable release of software components: The software components that are used to power the digital library have been evolving into a more stable and feature rich systems. Since we are using older releases which might contain bugs, upgrading to newer stable releases shall ensure a more robust and feature-rich framework which shall appeal to a larger audience.
  3. Online reading of text materials: The shortcomings in the current system prohibits the user from reading the text objects online, and hence has to download the object before reading. Online reading facility would be a great addition. Moreover a flip book style of reading would be desirable.

I am still working on revamping the design, and you’ll soon see the new changes at http://www.pustakalaya.org.

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