TECH NEWS--Building User-Friendly Web Sites--Part III: Incorporating Online "Curb Cuts"
Notes from Online World 1997
FLICC Unveils All New Web Site--ALIX-FS Now Available on Web
This fall, FEDLINK customers are urged to participate in the vendor evaluation process. In accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), customers will receive evaluation forms for each vendor who provided them with service exceeding $100,000.
The previous FEDLINK vendor evaluation and program survey was conducted by the Library of Congress Contracting and Logistics office (C&L) in FY96. Two additional questions on the form allowed customers to evaluate the FEDLINK program as a whole.
Seventy-nine FEDLINK members responded to the FY96 survey; 51% of the respondents were direct pay customers, and 39% were transfer pay customers. Each form was forwarded to FEDLINK and to the appropriate vendor for review and comment. After the 30-day comment period, the forms were included in the vendor's files to be used for future evaluations and negotiations.
An analysis of the FEDLINK customers' responses revealed that:
Overall, FEDLINK customers were satisfied with their vendors' performance, praising them for their knowledge of customers' mission and needs and their willingness to help reduce costs. Survey respondents rated the products and services provided by FEDLINK vendors as both complex and highly critical. A number of customers indicated that communication between vendors and customers needs to be improved. Since the survey results were received, FEDLINK has stressed the need for better communication between members and vendors.
In FY96, FEDLINK processed more than $120 million in contracts for approximately 1,200 federal agencies. This generated approximately $4.6 million in fees to run the FEDLINK program. Not only did respondents find FEDLINK to be an efficient, cost-effective way to procure publications and services, they also praised the expertise of FEDLINK personnel and the discounts achieved through joint negotiation and purchasing. Some members criticized the slow IAG process, and the high fee structure. In response, FEDLINK has not increased transfer pay fee rates and continues to find other ways of cutting program costs.
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By Jessica Clark
The "curb cuts" originally installed on U.S. street corners for use by the wheelchair bound are now used daily by shoppers, bikers, and travelers with luggage. The development of captioning for deaf television viewers was blocked for decades by TV producers, but now closed captioning is praised as a tool for improving reading skills, an aid to learning English, and a silent means of watching TV in public places.
Experience has shown that extending access to the disabled community can provide unexpected benefits for other users. Web sites designed to be accessible to patrons with disabilities are no exception.
Although access to online services is not specifically addressed by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), provisions regarding public accommodations and telecommunications may be construed to cover such services. By applying the following accessibility tips, federal Webmasters can be sure that their sites meet ADA requirements.They can also ensure that the sites they create are accessible to users with many different hardware and software configurations, browsers, browsing preferences, and work environments.
Most accommodations for providing access to online information serve blind or visually impaired users who access Web sites through screen reading or Braille transcription software. Designers using images, frames, tables, image maps, or objects accessed through plug-ins should consider how these elements will translate when the page content is transcribed or read out loud.
Audio or multimedia clips on Web pages present a variety of users with access problems: those who are deaf or hard of hearing, those who do not have computers with an audio capability, those who do not have access to appropriate software, those who work in very noisy or purposefully quiet environment, those who would prefer a printed transcript of a clip, or those who would like to use a transcript of the audio file for searching purposes.
Simplified navigation and access to site maps will help those users with impaired spatial reasoning skills or short-term memory capacity. Clean, consistent design will help users with other learning disabilities--or those who are simply new to the Web.
The most accessible HTML documents contain only text. As the following tips suggest, however, site creators need not abandon all frills in order to incorporate "curb cuts."
People who use screen readers to access online information will often tab through the links on a page, skipping the surrounding text. Selecting words with high information content as hypertext anchors will help all users navigate a site more easily. Separate links with spaces or punctuation to prevent screen reading software from reading a series of links as one link.
Long pages can be difficult for users with screen reading software to scan for relevant material. To facilitate quick reading, it is best to use proper HTML tags to delineate headers and section breaks: Use the "H1" tag for the highest level of information, the "H2" tag for the main sections, and the "H3" and lower tags for fine divisions within sections.
Keep layouts simple and straightforward. Locate buttons which perform the same functions in the same places on each page. If the site includes text-only versions of pages, place the link to those pages at the top of the screen.
Screen reading software may read across the rows of a table rather than down the columns. To circumvent this problem, avoid using tables or create a text-only version of the page using preformatted text for spacing. If a table is large and only makes sense in tabular format, provide patrons with a contact e-mail or telephone number for assistance in interpreting the information.
Screen reader developers are currently working on this problem, but not every user will have access to newer software. It has also been proposed that the table tags contain two attributes--"AXES" and "AXIS"--that would be associated with each cell in the table and help to create discrete chunks of information.
When lists are being read out loud, it may not be clear where they begin or end. Items which span more than one line may also be read as different items. To separate list elements, use bullets or numbers, or state in advance how many items the list will contain.
Some screen readers treat each frame as a separate window, which makes it difficult for the user to switch between two frames. Text only version of "framed" pages are recommended.
All graphics which communicate a message to sighted users should be assigned "ALT" text. Here are some suggestions for effective "ALT" text:
A quick way to test "ALT" tags is to look at pages with the browser's option to auto load images turned off.
Image maps are large images with embedded links located at various coordinates. Client-side image maps download the coordinates to the browser, allowing users with text-based or screen reading browsers to tab through the active links embedded within the image.
Server-side image maps, on the other hand, do not provide users with access to individual links. To make sure that all users have access to the links contained within an image map, provide text links along with useful "ALT" text (for example, "Map of library; use text links below"). For complex image maps, link users to a text version on a different page. Alternately, instead of using an image map, use a series or grid of several linked images, each of which may have associated "ALT" tags.
The solutions for providing access to audio clips are much the same as those for providing access to graphics--include a link to a transcript or description of the clip on the page, and substitute links to sound clips with the links to descriptions or transcripts on text-only pages.
Solutions for providing access to video or animation clips include the addition of captions or the provision of an audio transcript. QuickTime development tools allow creators to add a separate text track to a clip; for examples, see the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) Web page at http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/ncam/. An approach called "descriptive video" allows visually impaired users to access an alternate audio track which includes narration of the actions being performed in the chip. For more information on descriptive video, see the NCAM Web page at http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/ncam/dtv/overview/project.html.
Screen-reading software may not work with form elements such as buttons, pop-up lists, and radio buttons. To ensure that users can access forms, provide a text-only version or a phone number for further information.
Documents saved in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) cannot be read by screen reading software. Adobe is offering several solutions to make PDF documents accessible to blind and visually-impaired users. A Web server located at http://access.adobe.com will translate PDF files into HTML documents which can be read by screen reader programs. Users may choose to set up Adobe's site as a proxy server, or to submit the URL of a PDF document through an online form or via e-mail. In addition, the site offers a Microsoft Windows plug-in which allows users to convert PDF files that are not online.
In late July of this year, Sun Microsystems announced the release of a development kit which assists Java programmers in writing applications which are compatible with screen access software packages. For more information, see http://java.sun.com/products/jfc/accessibility/index.jsp.
To make sure that a site is accessible, Web designers should run pages through Bobby (http://www.cast.org/bobby/), a free Web-based service that will mark HTML compatibility problems. It is also a good idea to test a site by navigating through it with the text-based browser Lynx (http://lynx.browser.org/).
CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM):
Microsoft's examples of accessible Web page coding:
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:
Trace Research and Development Center:
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative [WAI]:
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Washington, DC--Web searching and online publishing were hot topics at the September 15-17 Online World Conference and Expo, where professinal researchers, information specialists, and librarians from the public and private sectors gathered to discuss changing strategies for knowledge managers.
Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor of WIRED magazine, delivered a provocative keynote address titled "Zillionics: Self-Assembling Knowledge in a World of Ubiquitous Publishing." He proposed that search engines and other automated information gathering programs are creating "self-assembled books." Because such texts may be assembled each time a user enters a query, Kelly suggested that effective search interfaces have become as important as the information resources to which they link.
Aggregated information may reveal facts which no one resource can. Customer interaction with Web sites may also create new types of information. Kelly listed three areas in which he thinks the emerging structure of knowledge is being revealed:
Ecology--Kelly compared the assembly of online resources to the formation of an ecosystem. The "bots" that deliver the best list of resources will be frequented the most, resulting in an electronic "survival of the fittest." Like an ecosystem, he said, online searching allows "many dumb objects to weave into a connected intelligence." He also noted that, as in combinatorial chemistry when many compounds are tested against a base to see how they react with one another, search results may be assembled and tested against a query.
Shopping--Kelly used www.firefly.com as an example of how sites generate value by compiling information such as consumer preferences. "Firefly" is a site which allows participants to rate sets of entertainment preferences, such as lists of musicians, on a scale of one to seven. The site then compares the user's entries to its database of user entries, and suggests other performers that the user might like. This "taste space," developed through the aggregation of many participants' preferences, reflects emerging trends which cannot be discovered in other ways. "This is collaborative intelligence," said Kelly, "not The Daily Me, but the Daily You and Me. The customer co-creates the service."
Privacy rights--Kelly also spoke of initiatives by online privacy rights activists to allow users to control how the personal information they submit to a Web site is used. Web users might trade the sale of their contact information--for example, as one entry in a mailing list or data for market research--for a service or product discount. Such control over personal information creates a new system of exchange. "Privacy is information with reverse polarity," Kelly said.
If such micro-transactions become common, every piece of information on a site may eventually gain a monetary value, Kelly suggested. Currently, it is easier to steal online images and text than to pay for them. Site administrators should promote payment assurance rather than copy protection, he said.
Ultimately, Kelly concluded, information professionals are "the killer app." Researchers' skills in formulating queries and compiling resources provide users with the richest self-assembled texts.
"I remember when engineers and nerds became cool," Kelly said to the audience of information professionals. "You will be cool, too. Just hang in there."
Cynthia Hill, presented the second day's keynote address, "Our Professional Future: Directions for Information Professionals." Hill, manager of the libraries at Sun Microsystems, used the metaphor of "extreme" sports to describe the efforts of leading information professionals.
"Librarians are pushing the envelope and looking for every opportunity to explore," Hill said. "There is a challenge. Extreme librarians seek the rush; they take something familiar and expand on it."
Hill identified a few extreme librarians:
At Sun, Hill noted, library functions were outsourced, but staff members have been hired back as full-time employees because they link their services with increased company profit. For example, the Sun libraries have partnered with a computer literacy bookstore to allow patrons to order books which they have located through the libraries' OPAC at a discount.
"Change is a necessary component of our lives," said Hill. "As a change agent, you can have more control." She urged attendees to take risks and push limits in their own workplaces and careers.
New Functions, New Environments--Noreen Steele, manager of the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) Information Network, addressed "Space Management in the Virtual Library." She described how her company's libraries reengineered to offer targeted services to workers. The space occupied by UTC branch libraries was drastically cut; the librarians have been moved into offices. Steele negotiated provisions for these new spaces: information managers' offices must have floor-to-ceiling walls for client privacy; must be near, but not surrounded by, the offices of clients; and each space must have a laptop computer, so that information managers can bring training and resources to workers' desks.
UTC information managers now generate focused reports and bibliographies, provide support for access to internal and external electronic resources, and sit on cross-functional teams to provide research expertise. Steele reported that change has been very successful. The information centers provide high visibility, and customers' expectations have grown. Information managers report that they are working on more substantive projects and are happier with their positions.
Web-Based Training--Timothy Kilby, founder of the Web-Based Training Information Center, discussed the history and applications of Internet-based training (see http://www.webbasedtraining.com for an overview). Michael Anderson, vice president of UOL Publishing, Inc. (http://www.uol.com/) described the Web-based classes created and hosted by his organization for corporate and academic clients.
Anne Marie Del Vecchio, manager of customer service and client development at Dun & Bradstreet, worked with UOL Publishing to develop a Web-based Dialog training seminar. She described how the company decided on Web-based training to teach more than 40,000 people how to use Dialog to access their databases. Previous training efforts had consisted of seminars, which might reach a maximum of 700 people at one time. They ruled out satellite training as too expensive, and videotape and CD-based training as too rigid. They decided that a Web-based seminar would reach the broadest audience, and would allow for the evaluation of students' progress to see if the training should be refined. Del Veccio has received positive feedback on the course, located at http://www.uol.com/dnbcampus, and plans to create another course to teach customers about Dun & Bradstreet.
Online Tools--FEDLINK Network Program Specialist Erik Delfino moderated a session called "Working on the Web." The first speaker, Karl Beiser, the library systems coordinator at Maine State Library, discussed "cool hand tools" for librarians and Web searchers. His list of tools is available at http://www.mint.net/~beiser/tools.htm, and includes shareware and freeware for managing cookies, bookmarks, Netscape cache files, offline browsing, Web site maintenance, and online searching.
Online Searching--Also in "Working on the Web," Randolph Hock of Online Strategies spoke about the performance of Web search engines. "Let's look at the promises, both documented and implied," said Hock. "Search engines should return all and only records in the database which match the request."
He conducted a number of search engine tests on AltaVista, Excite, HotBot Infoseek, Magellan, and other services with varying results. No one search engine performed reliably all of the time, and none was as reliable as traditional online search tools like Dialog or Lexis Nexis. Boolean searching did not work reliably, some search engines returned a set number of records, ranking was not reliable, and sometimes the same search engine would return fewer records in response to the same search. None of the search engines could live up to the promise of indexing the "entire" Web; each one pulled up unique records when Hock entered the same search term. Hock advised information professionals to learn and use a few search engines, and personally recommended HotBot and AltaVista. He also suggested that searchers do benchmark tests searching for material in their specialized topic area.
He did praise search engine developers for involving librarians in their indexing efforts and providing fast, accessible search tools. "The Web searching cup is half full, not half empty," Hock said.
A later session called "Comparing Internet Search Engines" did just that. Greg Notess, Reference Librarian, Montana State University and Martin Courtois, Biological Sciences Reference Librarian at the University of Tennessee, discussed major search engines and then took requests for searches which had stumped information professionals in the audience.
A comparison of search engines revealed that Northern Light, HotBot, Excite, AltaVista, and Infoseek have the largest databases. Duplication of records between these search engines is smaller than would be expected. Both speakers recommended conducting searches with more than one search engine. Subject directories such as Yahoo, LookSmart, Excite, and Lycos often proved to be good starting points for general topics. Multiple search engines like Dogpile, Northern Light, Inference Find, Internet Sleuth, and MetaCrawler are helpful in pooling references to more obscure resources from different search engines. Northern Light also groups search records into helpful "Custom Search Folders." Courtois and Notess agreed that relevancy ranking was determined differently in different search engines, and was not even always internally consistent. They recommended using HotBot if "AND" is an appropriate default operator, trying different searches and approaches, and using Excites "Sort by Site" feature to identify relevant sites.
|Online Search URLs:|
Resources and Reviews:
The conference featured numerous other sessions;
an agenda is still available at
Tapes of the sessions are available from Recorded Resources Corporation
(voice: 410/969-TAPE, fax: 410/969-0920).
Online World is program number 9731.
The conference featured numerous other sessions; an agenda is still available at http://www.onlineinc.com/olworld/. Tapes of the sessions are available from Recorded Resources Corporation (voice: 410/969-TAPE, fax: 410/969-0920). Online World is program number 9731.
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FLICC has proudly announced its newly revised Web site! FLICC Editor-In-Chief Robin Hatziyannis and FEDLINK Network Operations Specialist Erik Delfino unveiled the redesigned site at the October 14 FEDLINK Membership meeting. Along with a new look, the site offers an improved navigation scheme and new resources for federal librarians, FEDLINK members, and vendors.
The "What's New" page highlights upcoming events, publications, and resources. Library and information center staff can now visit the "Educational Programs" page for schedules and descriptions of courses, events, and workshops conducted by FLICC, FEDLINK, and OCLC regional networks, as well as links to library schools and professional associations. The "Staff Directory" page helps users make quick connections with FLICC and FEDLINK.
The "Federal Library Issues" page features the sites of federal libraries and information centers. This page also links visitors to a wide array of other sites concerned with legal issues such as copyright, fair use, and licensing; collection issues such as preservation and digitization of materials; information technology policy issues such as legislation on federal depository libraries and government reinvention initiatives; and personnel issues such as librarian qualification standards. Federal library and information center staff can also check this page for links to job opportunities in federal libraries; other types of job listings will soon be added.
FEDLINK members can now find the FEDLINK Member Handbook on the "Publications" page, along with the Vendor Services Directory, current and past issues of FEDLINK Technical Notes, information alerts, meeting announcements, and proceedings and materials from FLICC educational programs. The "Member Financial Services" page features step-by-step registration instructions, and a link to ALIX-FS. Instructions for logging on to the ALIX-FS system are outlined below.
To access the ALIX-FS system:
You can see a daily report of your accounts for FY92 forward. The report gives your account balances as of the previous statement, the sum of all transactions posted since the last statement, and the new current balances for your accounts. The report is summary information only. Your statement detail is included in the statement data file and copies of your paid invoices will continue to be attached to your statements. You may view the balance report on screen, print it, or save it to disk.
The account balances only include posted and paid delivery order and invoice transactions. Pending IAG transactions and delivery orders that have not yet been issued are not included. Invoices rejected for insufficient funds are not calculated into the balance or included in the figure for your usage since the last statement. If invoices have been rejected for insufficient funds since your last statement, your account is marked ith an asterisk. The "*" is a reminder that you must take immediate steps to amend your IAG to cover your rejected invoices. It only appears if invoices have been rejected in the period since the last statement; there is no mark for invoices rejected earlier in the fiscal year.
Your statement detail file is cumulative for the current year plus the immediate prior fiscal years: records for all the statements FFO generates for you every month are added to the end of the file.
FEDLINK adds a sequence number to each record consecutively throughout the file. By noting the final sequence number in your last download, you can identify the records that have been added to the file when you download it the following month.
The data is in ASCII comma-quote-delimited format for you to load into a database or spreadsheet program. In this format, commas appear between the fields, text fields are surrounded by double quotes, date fields and dollar fields are not surrounded by quotes.
Because it contains data for all your transactions and can grow quite large, FEDLINK compresses or "zips" the file. The files are named with your library's 4 letter FEDLINK ID, plus "stmt.exe" (eg: abcdstmt.exe).
The data file contains the same fields that are printed on your statement (which are explained in Section 4.1 of the FEDLINK Member Handbook) plus a sequence number to help you manipulate the records. From ALIX-FS you may print or download a file called "Data Description" that gives the exact structure of the statement data file (field names, lengths, types). Your statement data fields are:
transaction type - 20 for invoice, 25 for invoice rejection, 40 for correcting transaction, 70 for delivery order;
your user's ID;
invoice or delivery order number;
invoice or delivery order date;
invoice amount - invoice amounts are negative and credits are positive;
invoice period - vendor's bill from date;
invoice period - vendor's bill through date;
FFO invoice received date;
delivery order amount; and
Sorting the Records: You can sort your data by service, fiscal year, user ID, transaction type, or any other field, and then re-sort the file back into its original order using the sequence number field.
Separating Fiscal Years and Services: You may wish to divide the records into separate databases for different fiscal years and services. This will make it easier to calculate the running balance in an account, to identify usage associated with particular user IDs, to analyze monthly spending patterns, etc.
Identifying Outstanding Rejected Invoices: Your rejected invoices all have a transaction code 25. After you load your data into a database or a spreadsheet, you could extract the rejects and identify their invoice numbers. ou can then search the file to determine whether invoices with those numbers were subsequently paid.
Rejected invoices that do not have a code 20 transaction with a posted date later than the reject date are still outstanding. With this information, you can take action to amend your IAG to cover the outstanding amounts so the vendor can resubmit the invoices and be paid.
Updates to the Detail File: The statement detail files are updated after each FEDLINK statement cycle. We recommend you download the file and check for updates on or about the 3rd of each month.
|The FLICC/FEDLINK Web site is a work in progress.|
To make comments or suggest changes or links, please e-mail FLICC's Publications and Education Office at
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us at (202)707-4800.
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|Mark Your Calendar|
Attention OCLC Members!
Dont forget--all members with OCLC
accounts for FY98 must return signed IAGs by
November 28, 1997!
After that date, we will notify OCLC to block
access for libraries without signed IAGs.
For assistance with your account, please call
the Hotline at:
For OCLC technical inquiries, please call
FEDLINK Network Operations at:
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FEDLINK Technical Notes is published by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee.
Send suggestions of areas for FLICC attention or for inclusion in FEDLINK Technical Notes to:
FEDLINK Technical Notes
Federal Library and Information Center Committee
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540-4935
FEDLINK Fiscal Operations:
Phone (202) 707-4800 Fax (202) 707-4818
Phone (202) 707-4900 Fax (202) 707-4999
FEDLINK Fiscal Operations:
Executive Director: Susan Tarr Editor-In-Chief: Robin Hatziyannis
Writer/Editor: Jessica Clark Editorial Assistant: Mitchell Harrison
FLICC was established in 1965 (as the Federal Library Committee) by the Library of Congress and the Bureau of the Budget for the purpose of concentrating the intellectual resources of the federal library and related information community. FLICC's goals are: To achieve better utilization of library and information center resources and facilities; to provide more effective planning development, and operation of federal libraries and information centers; to promote an optimum exchange of experience, skill, and resources; to promote more effective service to the nation at large; and to foster relevant educational opportunities.
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