University Libraries Receives 2009 Campus Technology Innovators Award

Posted: August 14, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 13, 2009 at 3:35 pm

By Rashad Mulla

Wally Grotophorst. Photo by Rashad Mulla

Wally Grotophorst. Photo by Rashad Mulla

The Mason libraries have long been planning the development of an online research portals program. Associate university librarian Wally Grotophorst was instrumental in making it happen.

Grotophorst, head of the Digital Programs and Systems division, was the lead developer of the library’s new award-winning research portal system. Mason won a 2009 Campus Technology Innovators award from Campus Technology magazine for the project.

“Everyone’s online now, and people aren’t necessarily coming to the library,” says Grotophorst, who started at Mason in 1982 as the business and economics liaison librarian and has served in his current position since 1999. “We’re trying to meet them where they are.”

Reference librarians will oversee the content development of the portals, adding descriptions and links for important resources in each discipline. Six portals are up and running – bioinformatics, biodefense, bioengineering, neuroscience, global education and early American history – with more in the works.

“These [portals] are for departments that have significant faculty research and graduate student activity,” Grotophorst says.

Each portal features a blog – using WordPress software – to give the reference librarians a place to post updates and build a conversation with users. Grotophorst is now in the process of building small federated search engines (metafinders) for each of the portals, focusing on searching core resources in each discipline. Narrowing the scope of each search engine is the key to improving research productivity and reducing irrelevant retrieval, he says.

He wrote all the software pieces for this project – with help from Deep Web on the search engines – then handed them off to the librarians for the content development phase. The librarians will act as curators for their sites and will look to update their portals’ respective databases, updating them as they see fit.

“This project is very interesting for the librarians,” Grotophorst says. “It gives them an opportunity to engage with faculty and researchers in a new way and offers a platform for enhancing their own digital skills at the same time.”

These updates and developments were just what the university ordered. In July 2004, President Alan Merten appointed a Library Planning Task Force to begin planning for 2010. University Librarian John Zenelis wrote in a fall 2004 letter that the upgrading of the university’s libraries was a “critical undertaking” for Mason.

“Research portals embody a paradigm shift for librarians in academic and research settings, and that is adjusting to a new way of fulfilling their function,” Zenelis says. “We are moving from helping with research to materially improving researcher productivity.”

Academic program liaison librarians Victoria Shelton, Theresa Calcagno and Melissa Johnson serve as the curators for the portals currently up. Lee LaFleur, head of the Arlington Campus Library, was also involved in the creation of the global education portal. Shelton and LaFleur both have statements online discussing the portal creation and implementation process. Grotophorst also produced an introduction to the new portals.

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