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JavaScript Enhancements to WebPAC: Dynamic Pathfinders and ILL Form Validation

Scott Salzman, Carleton College
http://www.library.carleton.edu/staff/scott/illb.html (ILL Form Validation)
http://www.library.carleton.edu/catalogs/zform.html (Unified Z39.50 Search Form)
http://www.library.carleton.edu/vrg/vrg.html (Virtual Research Guide)

Scott Salzman, of Carleton College, presented an overview of three possible ways to use JavaScript to create enhancements to the WebPAC. These developments include ILL form validation, a unified Z39.50 search form, and virtual research guides. Although not a highly technical JavaScript tutorial, a basic familiarity with the nature of JavaScript was assumed.

Originally developed as an outgrowth of Netscape’s scripting language, JavaScript resides in the HTML document and is interpreted and run by the web browser. As a result, browser compatibility and user accessibility are important issues to consider when developing JavaScript enhancements.

ILL Form Validation

WebPAC’s default ILL form has several limitations. First, the standard error responses generated by the form are not very informative. For example, a default message of “Request was not submitted: Not enough information” gives the patron no indication as to which information must be supplied in order to make a successful request. In addition, the default form allows users to submit a request specifying only the title of the item and their patron information. Clearly, this limited information is often insufficient to properly fulfill the request.

In order to address these issues, Salzman created a JavaScript enhanced ILL validation form that requires the inclusion of data in a number of specified fields and displays an alert box that prompts the user to enter information in those fields when omitted. Since WebPAC’s default ILL form is not customizable, the new JavaScript enabled form must reside in a different location on the server and the HTML <FORM> tag must be directed to submit the information to the new URL. In order to redirect the form data, the tag must be modified from <FORM METHOD=post> to <FORM NAME=“ill” METHOD=post ACTION=“URL of new form”>.

Although the JavaScript enhanced form represents a significant improvement in functionality, it also presents a major problem. If the form is submitted with an error [e.g. the date is entered in the wrong format], the screen defaults to the original ILL form. Any information submitted thereafter will not be JavaScript verified. In addition, users may be confused when returned to the default form, especially if the new form represents a radical change in appearance from the original. For these reasons, the JavaScript enhanced ILL form has not proven to be a workable solution at Carleton College.

Suggestions for future developments by Innovative include allowing the specification of an alternative location for the modified form in the WWWOPTIONS file, and the creation of Innovative’s own version of JavaScript enhanced validation forms.

Unified Z39.50 Search Form

In order to use the WebPAC Z39.50 Client, the user must navigate through several screens and their search terms must be reentered each time that they select a new catalog. In addition, the appearance of the WebPAC Z39.50 search screens is not customizable. Salzman addressed these concerns by creating a Unified Search Form to allow single-form access to multiple Z39.50 targets. The search form is a table with drop-down menu boxes designed to assist the user in formulating their search query. Using the unified form, users may access a variety of different catalogs from a single screen. Although multiple catalogs cannot be searched simultaneously, the search information is retained when users hit the back button so search strategies do not have to be retyped. Problems associated with the search form include the fact that holds information cannot be viewed with Z39.50 v2, as well as the slow response times associated with Z39.50 searches.

A future development possibility might involve the establishment of the ability to open multiple windows in order to allow simultaneous searching of multiple targets. In addition, Innovative might consider incorporating pull-down selectlists for Z39.50 targets into their WebPAC Z39.50 Client.

Virtual Research Guide

Carleton’s Virtual Research Guides are designed to dynamically generate virtual pathfinders using JavaScript to initiate a WebPAC query based on subject areas selected by patrons. To create a guide, patrons are prompted to select a subject area from a drop-down list, and then choose either a narrow or broad search. A “narrow search” will query the subject index, while a “broader search” will query the keyword index. Upon submission in either case, the JavaScript form spawns a second window containing the dynamically generated pathfinder. The WebPAC query is submitted as a URL. The syntax of this URL is:



Since the creation of a Virtual Research Guide is linked to a WebPAC query, it has the benefit of always being up to date and requiring very little maintenance. Furthermore, the guides are readily extensible, since links to other resources on the web [e.g. additional WebPACs, Usenet newsgroups, web search engines, etc.] can easily be added. On the other hand, the virtual guides are subject to the limitations of subject classification and inconsistencies in cataloging can impact on retrieval. Furthermore, searches are restricted in terms of sophistication since they cannot include limiting. As with all JavaScript enhancements, browser compatibility is an issue since users with older browsers will not be able to generate and view the guides.

Recorded by: Krista Graham, Central Michigan University

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