Website Redesign: Technological Changes
The first change you probably noticed on the new JMU Libraries website is the visual design—logo, colors, layout, graphics. There are a host of technology changes, though, that are improving the site but are nearly invisible to users.
With the News, Features, and FAQ areas on the new site, JMU Libraries has increased the amount of database-driven content. Up until this redesign, news and FAQs were scattered throughout the website, frequently duplicated in more than one spot and difficult to maintain. Now, this information is stored in a single database to which many library staff members contribute. Doing so allows the library to reuse content throughout the site without having to maintain it in more than one spot. Behind the scenes, staff can even schedule items to begin and end on specific times and days. For users, this change means more-timely news and more-relevant help, in the form of FAQs.
For those who like to track such things, News, Features, and FAQ information are stored in a single SQL Server database. The Staff Directory, which was stored in an Microsoft Access database before the redesign, is now in a SQL Server database, as well. Quick Reference and New Titles remain in Access databases for now, and Research Databases are in an Oracle database provided by ENCompass.
Before the redesign, the website was a mixture of HTML and ASP (Active Server Pages) files. With the redesign, 90% of the files are now ASP.NET files (which end in the .aspx extension). ASP.NET, or .NET for short, is a framework that supports multiple programming languages on the Microsoft Windows platforms. It gives programmers access to many built-in controls and software classes that were much harder to use with older programming tools. .NET allows for rapid application development, code reuse, and the ability to use Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) mixed with classic HTML code to produce rich, real-time content. In addition, since code and HTML are maintained separately, designers can simultaneously modify the look and feel while programmers work on the behavioral aspects of the page.
You can see .NET in action on the new site when you display library staff members by department in the Staff Directory, rate the usefulness of an announcement in the News Center, browse related FAQs at the bottom of each FAQ, or search for a feature in the Featured Connections area. For more information on Microsoft’s .NET framework, visit Why ASP.NET?
Macromedia Contribute 3
Approximately 35 library staff members contribute and maintain information on the libraries website. With that many different authors it was always difficult to maintain design consistency throughout the website. With the redesign, all library authors now use Macromedia Contribute. Contribute allows each author to edit the content of the pages without worrying about accidentally changing the design of the page. With the addition of cascading style sheets (CSS), server-side includes, and Dreamweaver templates, users will see a consistent look and feel from page to page and a better adherence to accessibility standards.