:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Co-Branding and Libraries


   The common business practice of co-branding enables an organization to
   purchase content or service while making it appear as if it were its
   own. A typical such arrangement may involve a news feed that goes to
   any client that licenses that service. The content is "co-branded" with
   the client's look and feel, and there may be no clue as to the
   content's source.

   Such an arrangement is as old as the hills, notably with newswires.
   [130]The Associated Press (AP) has provided content (first photos, then
   stories) to newspapers around the world since 1934 -- and those
   newspapers acknowledge the AP with different levels of clarity. But
   libraries are not newspapers, nor e-commerce sites, so why should
   librarians care about co-branding?

   Guiding users?
   Imagine library users who come to a local library's web site in search
   of some information. A typical library has licensed a number of online
   databases on behalf of its clientele and has put together a list of
   useful resources.

   If the user has difficulty determining which resource to choose, and
   the library has done its job well, the user should also find the phone
   number of the reference desk and a label like "Questions? Call us!"
   (Don't use the jargon "reference desk" unless you absolutely must.) Or
   the library may link to topical pathfinders that provide advice on how
   to use databases.

   But as soon as users select a database to search, they have jumped off
   the cliff in most cases. Any assistance the library wishes to provide
   disappears as the user's screen is entirely taken over by the database
   provider. There is no phone number for help. There is no link back to
   the library's web site. Users are left to their own devices in an
   interface that may be completely new.

   This describes the situation in almost all libraries today. Content is
   provided in "silos" that neither acknowledge nor accommodate the needs
   of the organizations purchasing it. This is simply ridiculous. It's a
   business practice that must change if libraries have any hope of
   fulfilling their responsibilities to their users.

   A better example
   Luckily, we already have an example of co-branding in the library
   world. For some time, the [131]Librarians' Index to the Internet (LII),
   a searchable, annotated subject directory of more than 7000 Internet
   resources, has provided co-branding to any library that wants it. To
   see how this works, check the [132]co-branding page for LII.

   To co-brand, the library simply provides HTML for its own design, and
   then that "look" is applied to the content. All the links are also
   altered to make sure that the localized look carries forward to all
   subsequent LII links. If you visit a few of these co-branded versions
   (all linked from the co-branding page), you will see just how
   dramatically the site can change and yet still retain the same content.

   Still, once you select a link to a particular resource you leave the
   controlled environment of the LII and thus lose the co-branding. The
   only way to make co-branding "stick" as the user navigates around the
   web is to use HTML frames, which have their own problems -- as I will
   describe below. Thus there is unfortunately no way to provide a button
   or link to seek help from a librarian that will never go away -- users
   must use the back button or reenter the original URL.

   Adding co-branding in the form of a top or side menu bar shrinks the
   available screen space, but not as much as had HTML frames been used.
   Frames chop the screen into two or more separate spaces that allow one
   portion to change while the others stay consistent. Thus framing is a
   popular co-branding technique and can even be used -- and in some cases
   is often used -- to co-brand sites with which there is no relationship.

   For an example of "co-branding kidnapping," see [133]; when
   you click on another web site to which points, the
   menu bar remains. By using HTML frames, can make your browser
   retain its branding and menu selections.

   If it isn't clear by now, this type of co-branding is unethical at the
   very least (because the hapless user has very little evidence that has not created the resources to which it points) and may
   even be illegal. For more on the legality of framing, see "Legal Issues
   on the Internet: Hyperlinking and Framing." Co-branding should always
   be a decision between the two parties involved.

   Technical feasibility
   It takes very little technical savvy to offer co-branding. In most
   systems, it's easy to co-brand content that is dynamically generated
   (as opposed to static web pages). If a software program is already
   looking for parameters to guide it to construct the requested page, an
   additional parameter could identify the requesting location.

   Based on that location, a different set of buttons and styles can be
   sent to the client along with the (unchanged) content. I know this is
   trivial because I've done it. So if a vendor tries to put you off by
   bemoaning the difficulty in customizing its screens, ask for specifics.

   Benefits to libraries
   Co-branding offers at least a few benefits to libraries. With very
   little effort, libraries can add apparent depth to their web offerings.
   If content looks like it comes from the local library, then users will
   assume the local library has had a hand in shaping, creating, or paying
   for it. Small libraries can suddenly appear to be able to offer
   services that only large libraries could previously provide. This
   capacity to mark licensed content as a service provided by the library
   can help preserve or expand funding support.

   Co-branding allows libraries to offer support methods even as users
   visit off-site locations, all without using problem-causing, unethical,
   and possibly illegal HTML frames. As information systems increase in
   complexity, it's essential to offer local assistance.

   Also, licensing and co-branding databases can be a major advantage that
   libraries (and their reference services) have over question-answering
   competitors such as [134], which must rely on free web
   resources. Finally, co-branding may be a first step toward offering a
   more unified user interface to a variety of resources -- e.g., how the
   search and results screens look, and the labels for standard functions.

   [135]Infonautics provides a co-branding service for its Electric
   Library and products on a case-by-case basis to
   "medium and large" web sites (click on Current Partners).

   also provides a co-branding service for library partners. Other vendors
   have established co-branded services (such as [137]Northern Light), but
   usually with large commercial web sites rather than libraries.

   More vendors should start providing co-branding opportunities to
   libraries, and librarians should request such services from their
   vendors. Those vendors that do so will find that they have a marketing
   edge. If libraries cannot add that service layer, we will continue to
   lack the means to serve our patrons wherever their search takes them.

                                  LINK LIST

                                       Co-Branding the Librarians' Index
                                                     Infonautics Co-brands
                    Legal Issues on the Internet: Hyperlinking and Framing
                                                            Northern Light