Microsoft IT designs a task-based library website by using SharePoint Server 2010
Published May 2014
Learn how Microsoft IT used a task-based design approach and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to redesign a website for Microsoft Library. The resulting site enhances the user experience through improved search, navigation, and help, as well as new personalization features.
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Learn how Microsoft IT designed a website built on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for the Microsoft Library (MS Library). The site addressed user feedback regarding navigation, search, and the ability to perform research tasks. The site is also an example of how Microsoft IT solved challenges unique to libraries, including integrating cataloging records and check-out functionality from an integrated library system (ILS).
MS Library provides library services to all Microsoft employees, including full-time, vendor, and contractor staff, across all global regions. Physical library locations in Redmond, Silicon Valley, Beijing, and Hyderabad provide services to local users. However, the library’s website is the primary access point for the majority of library users. Users can request hard-copy and electronic books, find journal and magazine articles from the library’s online subscriptions, read market analyses published by technology research firms, and search for content in non-Microsoft research databases.
In 2012, the MS Library team sought assistance from Microsoft IT to redesign the user interface (UI) of the library’s website, which was built on SharePoint Server 2010, in order to improve the user experience. The first step was to gather feedback regarding tasks that users most often performed on the site. The top four tasks were search, research (finding and using content to answer specific research questions), locating personalized content, and finding help for using library content and services. Microsoft IT focused on these tasks in redesigning the site.
SharePoint Server 2010 continued to serve as the platform for the redesigned site because of its ability to manage a large volume of internal content, integrate non-Microsoft content, and integrate additional Microsoft products. SharePoint Server 2010 also enables the library to easily include its content in other SharePoint sites at Microsoft. Examples of items that can be included in other sites are a Web Part that displays new arrivals to the library’s collection and an interface for searching the library catalog.
Much of the MS Library website uses standard features of SharePoint Server 2010 to organize and display content. Microsoft IT wrote custom code for a few key features where there was no existing solution in SharePoint Server. For example, Microsoft IT developed web services to interact with the library’s ILS. This interaction enables users to check out and renew materials and view lists of checked-out and on-hold materials from within the library’s SharePoint site. Other major features that use custom code are advanced search and the carousel of rotating content that is featured prominently on several landing pages on the site.
The website’s content is organized into several subsites according to types of materials in the library’s collection: books, market research, research databases, help articles, blog posts, events, and key topics. (Key topics are pages that display news feeds and social media content on Microsoft competitors and business priorities). Organizing the different types of content in separate subsite page libraries makes tracking content easy for library employees, while enabling the flexibility for content to be displayed as needed on pages throughout the site.
In the previous version of the MS Library site, navigation was based primarily on tabs for these content types. The redesigned site bases navigation on the top user tasks. Each page on the site contains a top navigation bar, which includes tabs to guide users to content related to the tasks. The master page also contains a new search UI above the top navigation bar. On the right side of each page, a help center provides links to help content and the library chat feature.
Each subsite has a page library that houses the main content for the subsite. The subsites for help and key topics contain content created by library staff, whereas the books subsite contains pages for each of the more than 34,000 individual books and e-book titles in the library’s collection. Catalogers create bibliographic records in the library’s ILS. Each night, a Microsoft SQL Server job is run against the ILS database. The SQL Server job takes advantage of the publishing feature in SharePoint Server 2010 to create, update, or delete a unique page in the page library for each bibliographic record. This enables the pages to be served to a user more quickly than if the user was redirected to the ILS to view each item.
The SharePoint book pages display pertinent information about each item, such as author, format, date of publication, and description. The layout for these pages includes a pop-up window with a link for users to either check out an item, if available, or add themselves to a waiting list. This functionality uses a custom web service to interact with the library’s ILS. The layout of the book pages incorporates the standard SharePoint star ratings and a Yammer comment Web Part for users to rate and review items in the library’s collection.
Microsoft IT uses standard SharePoint Server 2010 Web Parts to display much of the content. The site incorporates Content by Query (CBQ) Web Parts to display simple criteria-based lists of links on the site’s landing pages. These lists contain links to such items as featured databases, journals, and key topics. Queries in the CBQ Web Parts are based on metadata from the page properties of different types of content, such as "category" for research databases.
The site design also includes a custom carousel on several pages. The carousel presents content in a rotating fashion. This is an effective way to present a lot of information and provide visual appeal while taking little real estate. The carousel uses standard features such as content editor and CBQ Web Parts, which allow for easy content updates. A custom jQuery script controls the timing of the carousel’s rotating display, and it pulls images to display from a SharePoint list. Figure 1 shows a static example of the carousel.
Figure 1. Carousel feature on the MS Library home page.
SharePoint Enterprise Search (formerly FAST Search) is the basis for the search feature on the library site. Enterprise Search crawls the library’s content database each night and creates an index based on all metadata applied to each library item, including corporate taxonomy terms. Users can locate indexed items both through the search feature on the library and through search on the Microsoft intranet portal.
The new search UI on the library site enables users to search all library content by default. The library team has created several additional search scopes that users can select from the search UI, including scopes that limit results to books and e-books, market research reports, help content, or knowledge-base content.
The MS Library team can use managed properties to display facets on the search results page. These facets enable users to narrow their search based on metadata such as format, author, publisher, or subject. The MS Library team can also use managed properties for sorting options that users can apply to search results, so users can sort by categories such as date published, title, and relevance.
The library site includes an advanced search page that users access by clicking a link on the search UI. The layout contains a number of boxes where users enter their search criteria. A custom script then concatenates the query terms and their targeted properties into one search and displays the results.
The home-page carousel also includes a search Web Part for displaying new materials in the library’s collection. Catalogers tag items that the MS Library team wants to display as "featured" content. The Web Part then queries for the most recent items that have this tag. To give visual interest, the site displays book-cover images from a non-Microsoft provider, along with bibliographic information (title, author, format, publication date) in the Web Part.
A benefit of hosting the site on SharePoint Server 2010 is that it enables the Microsoft Library team to tag materials with metadata for geographic regions, employee skills and interests, and employee job roles by using Microsoft internal taxonomies via the SharePoint Library Taxonomy Term Store. These tags improve the relevancy of searches, and they enable MS Library content to be displayed in Microsoft internal content feeds.
The research task on the MS Library portal involves directing users to the right content to help them answer their research questions. Market research reports from technology analyst firms and non-Microsoft content databases are two of the primary sources of this content. Because these two content sets have different access methods and other parameters, Microsoft IT built separate subsites for each type. Each subsite contains profile pages for the content vendor.
The profile pages are based on a set of page properties that the Microsoft Library team defined for each content type. Examples of metadata included in the page properties are a description of the vendor’s content, uses for the content, contract expiration date, vendor contacts, and links to vendor websites.
Because of the complexity and amount of information needed to inform users about these content sets, Microsoft IT chose to use a custom table to display information about these vendors on separate landing pages for market research and research databases. Microsoft IT generated the table by selecting a custom item style in a CBQ Web Part, based on specifications from the library team. The table includes such information as whether users need to register to use a vendor’s content. Users can also switch between different views of vendors and their content, including an A–Z list of all vendors, a list of research databases by category, and a list of market research reports by topic.
In the original version of the library site, there was a tab for both market research and research databases on the top navigation bar. However, users did not know which type of content was appropriate for their specific need. On the new site, there is a single tab labeled Research. This tab links to a page that provides a definition and navigation to each type of content, as well as links to key topics, role guides, broad research topic guides, and answers that librarians have provided for recent research questions. The key topics and guides also point users to other types of content on the library site that may aid in their research, such as journals, news, and social media.
The redesigned MS Library site includes two types of personalization solutions.
The first area of personalization is role-based content for the eight to ten top job roles (for example, finance, marketing, and content publishing) of employees who use the library’s website most often. Microsoft IT added a new Recommendations page to the site as part of the redesign to display this content. A content editor Web Part in the carousel on the page is populated with links to pre-formatted searches of the library’s book and e-book collections for titles related to the job roles. The searches retrieve content based on subject headings and internal corporate taxonomy terms. In addition to these search links, the library website provides broader role-based pages for disciplines such as sales and engineering. These role-based pages aggregate links to relevant content sources, including non-Microsoft databases and online journals.
The second personalization solution uses custom scripting to present users with information about their library account, including check-outs, holds, and favorites. Favorites are library items that users tag to save for later reference by clicking a special icon that Microsoft IT added to selected pages on the site. A script adds the item details, along with user information and a comment field, to a SharePoint list. The information about check-outs and holds is called from the library’s ILS via a custom web service that Microsoft IT created. These three lists—check-outs, holds, and favorites—are compiled into a table that is displayed on the My Library page. For convenience, the first three items in each of the user’s lists also appear on the right side of each page on the site, with links to the My Library page to see the full list.
In the previous site design, users accessed the help landing page through a single link in the upper-right corner of the site pages. In the new design, aspects of help, including links to the help landing page, podcasts, the knowledge base, and the chat feature, are prominently featured on the right side of each page.
The help landing page includes links to how-to articles that give step-by-step guidance for using the library’s content. The help landing page also includes articles that outline library policies and services and that describe how to use the website. Additional help content is in the form of links to podcasts that are hosted on a separate website at Microsoft.
The library’s knowledge base is also a component of help. Knowledge base is a search scope that is configured to pull content from several locations across the MS Library website, including the blog subsite, the help pages, and a page library that contains answers to research questions that the library has received.
Last, the help center on each page of the portal gives users the ability to chat with a librarian in real time by using the Microsoft Lync 2013 instant messaging and conferencing application. This feature is based on a simple integration through the SharePoint Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The presence feature in Lync enables users to see whether a librarian is currently online, and the screen-sharing feature enables librarians to virtually assist users with navigating the site.
The redesigned MS Library website provides important benefits to users:
- Improved task-focused design
The new design’s emphasis on top tasks has greatly increased usage of the search and personalized check-out features on the home page.
- Improved search functionality
The redesigned search interface enables users to understand the types of content available on the site and narrow their searches according to desired content type before they enter their search terms.
- More personalized and role-based content
The new My Library page and the home page give users easy access to important information about their account, such as check-outs and holds. New personalized role-based content is among the top five most clicked-on links on the home page.
- Better access to help
The redesigned site prominently features links to help articles and chat on each page, enabling users to easily get help with using the site and its content. Chat, especially, has seen greatly increased usage since the launch of the redesigned site.
SharePoint Server 2010 enabled Microsoft IT to build a site for MS Library that addressed user feedback by improving users’ ability to complete tasks. It also enabled Microsoft IT to integrate useful features such as chat powered by Lync 2013. At the same time, building the site on SharePoint Server allowed Microsoft IT to take advantage of corporate taxonomies and easily integrate library content and functionality into additional Microsoft portals, team sites, and social feeds. The next step for the site will be migration to the cloud, through Microsoft SharePoint Online.
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