RUL WCMS (Web Content Management System)

This document was written as a white paper for cabinet to introduce the concept and need for a Web Content Management System.

A Bridge to the Future: The Rutgers Digital Library Initiative states in the section titled "What is the Digital Library Initiative?" (pp. 3-4) that the Digital Library Initiative (DLI) will focus on:

All of the goals above use descriptors such as "technology," "digital," "multimedia," and "information" and actions like "develop," "design," and "create," which implicitly suggest that the path to achieving these goals requires advancing the digital architecture of the Rutgers University Libraries.

Although the Libraries' website is only one component of the existing digital architecture, it is one of the few that is based on OpenSource technologies and standards, allowing it to be highly customized. The website is the main digital entry point and connector to the wide range of systems, services, and content that the Libraries deliver. Currently the website, while fulsome in its content and clear in its purpose, consists of a large collection of static, primarily textual Web pages that have highly structured, but static, links and relationships. Most of the services are simple, functional, and technologically non-extensible. To meet the goals of the DLI above, the technological architecture and infrastructure supporting the website need to be revisited with the intent that an adaptable, extensible platform be selected and installed that allows the website to provide timely, accurate, and convenient delivery of scholarly collections and other information resources and services to the desktop via a local gateway/portal.

Large dynamic collections of information and content are often referred to as "portals," "virtual learning environments," "intranets," or "document management systems." The underlying architecture, however, is more accurately described as a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is not a product or a specific technology, but an interlocking set of modules and systems that support the functions of authoring, workflow, storage, publishing, and management.

Although the modules are very complex and provide varied services when used in conjunction with each other, it is probably useful to provide a few examples of some services that might be developed.

1. Authoring

The pages on the website are written by many different faculty and staff across the organization. In order to provide the best and most up-to-date content possible, pages need to be updated often to reflect new or changing policies and services or to take advantage of 'lessons learned'-- meaning re-writing material into a form that is more understandable by users. Most of the time new pages do not need to be generated, just modified. The prime candidates for this are research guides, user services pages, FAQ pages, and instructional tutorials.

A module that can allow access to editing a page, by a specific content creator or manager, so that new headings, paragraphs, lists, or links can be changed, added, or deleted through the browser would allow content creators or managers to adjust content in a just-in-time fashion rather than having to submit it to the webmaster to update. This module would be able to parse simple pages (those without complicated table/column structures) and present to the manager buttons and pull-downs at each section (to add, edit, or delete sections; or to add typographical features such as bold and italics). Upon submission, the page would instantly reflect the changes. Content creators or managers would also be able to modify the meta-data associated with the page. In most cases, new pages would need to be generated by the webmaster to grant permissions and to establish new editing templates for new kinds of pages.

For the intranet, since pages such as minutes do not need to be so heavily cross-linked and are typically listed on a main directory page for that committee, permissions can be granted to allow the posting of minutes, reports, schedules, statistics, member lists, charges, and policies directly by faculty or staff without the mediation of the webmaster. Standard templates would be made available or custom pages could be generated by the webmaster.

2. Administrative Tools

For an intranet, it is desirable to build an architecture that supports work, rather than one that just archives work done. This is difficult to do since different jobs require different tasks to be done and methodologies vary from individual to individual. The development of a personalized portal that allows a user to keep documents or sections 'on top' would facilitate finding documents that assist Librarians and staff in their work. Coupled with this architecture would be the ability to edit/generate documents that would keep information and procedures more up-to-date. Calendars, room booking forms, and information submission forms (for statistics etc.) could be integrated into a personal 'desktop' as well.

For the public Web pages, a system that could generate a summary of all the pages 'owned' by a content creator or manager, marked with last updated information and other notes, could be extremely useful, especially when coupled with an automated link checker that could report on this summary page when it found a broken link. This would help overcome the 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' syndrome that sometimes occurs. From a management standpoint this would help the Web Advisory Committee reassign the maintenance of orphan or outdated pages.

3. Instruction

Online library instruction is a useful extension of an existing and important library service. It is, however, difficult to do well in a satisfying manner because the learning materials are static, even if there are interactive features, and many of the online resources used by the Libraries change unpredictably.

It is difficult to keep the learner engaged because it is not truly interactive. A student cannot stop an instructor to ask for clarification or elaboration.

A content management system cannot solve most of these problems. It can, however, provide support for providing interaction (quizzes and games), observing paths and answers (if no one answers question 3 correctly then the material or the question can be re-written), and allowing content creators to update their material quickly and easily. For instructional modules that are required in collaboration with a course, systems such as tracking students and scores and reporting them to the professor can be easily designed.

Since basic instruction literacy content can often be reused with little modification, the possibility of repurposing content via SCORM or another method is useful. An instructor doing a session that uses Ovid or EBSCO can use the base module, change some of the keywords and examples, add some other sections, perhaps from a research guide or other content source, and have a custom session prepared very rapidly. The session could be improved afterwards easily and then archived until it is needed or can be repurposed for an almost equivalent session.


A Web Content Management System can be a very complex suite of applications to design and implement. It is never built all at once. The resulting return on investment, however, is impressive when it allows mission-critical goals to be met and when it allows new service paradigms to be created. Ultimately, when assessing the feasibility of the goals outlined in the DLI that are addressable by the website, it is clear that, with the existing architecture, it is a case of 'you cannot get there from here.' A Web Content Management System is the required adaptation for the further pursuit of the Libraries' goals.

Version 1.0 - Samuel J. McDonald, June 19, 2002 (rev. June 24, July 3, 2002 [JEB, SJM])
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