Library perspectives on Web content management systems
First Monday

Library perspectives on Web content management systems by Camilla Fulton

Library Web sites are in constant flux. Not only does site design change to draw and retain user attention, but the system and underlying structure of the site changes as well. With an amazing amount of library–created resources posted online, Web administrators face challenges in maintaining the content efficiently. This paper explores library perceptions attached to Web content management system use, based on data collected from survey respondents.


Review of literature




In the summer of 2007, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign’s library migrated to a content management system (CMS) to address management and accessibility concerns. The library Web site contained over 120,000 Web pages, with each departmental library maintaining their own disciplinary site. Web content creation skills varied significantly across these units and not every departmental library had a Web specialist at their immediate disposal. As a result, many library Web pages lacked consistent Web standard compliance. Despite these issues, Web content creation continued at the library. Strict enforcement of Web accessibility guidelines may have negatively affected the flow of valuable resource creation, and we sought to avoid that at all costs.

The increased focus on Web usability and accessibility at Illinois led me to examine how other libraries approach their Web site management. I began this task by conducting a survey on library content management system use and the reasons for — or against — using them. Association of Research Library (ARL) member institutions were chosen so they could provide insight on how major research libraries approach Web site management in the U.S. and Canada. Illinois state institutions were polled separately to determine if recent accessibility laws influenced CMS implementation within the state (Illinois General Assembly, 2007).



Review of literature

In 2006, Ruth Connell surveyed a sample of academic libraries and found that 24 of 94 respondents (or 25.5 percent) had adopted a CMS for their Web sites (Connell, 2008). A CMS can be described as an application that enables the shared creation, editing, publishing, and management of digital content under strict administrative parameters. Many different types of content management systems exist — some cater specifically to images or text. However, for the purposes of this paper, all content management systems mentioned pertain to software targeted to Web site management.

Prior to Connell’s survey, numerous articles detailed case studies of library CMS adoption. For example, library staff at Kent State documented their migration to a database–driven CMS. Navigation difficulty, overwhelming text, and inconsistency across “well over a thousand pages” influenced them to reevaluate their Web site’s structure (Hood, et al., 2008). The Waterford Institute of Technology Libraries chose a CMS because they felt it was a chance to “make site management more efficient … [and] bring the code into line with best practice.” (Kane and Hegarty, 2007)

Sometimes the benefits of a CMS become apparent at setup. Depending on the CMS software chosen, administrators can easily manage tiered accounts (for varying permissions), Web space (for non–public testing), and site–wide templates (for a unified Web presence). Lack of security in the Georgia State University Library’s FrontPage system persuaded their move to a CMS. With their FrontPage implementation, content creators could accidentally delete live Web pages. The creators would then have to wait for administrators to recover back–up copies that may or may not have been retrievable. After switching to a database–driven CMS, the Georgia State University Library was able to handle workflow issues, as well as the Web site’s “uncontrolled growth,” through the CMS’ administrative settings (Goans, et al., 2006).

Despite improved management functionality, a stand–alone CMS may not be the best solution either. Modular system enhancements, used cleverly, can strengthen the CMS’ usability significantly. Web managers at an Italian research institute specifically sought a CMS that “could be enriched with [customizable] components, possibly coming from the cooperation between interested communities,” amongst other criteria (Burzagli, et al., 2008).

A good example of modular system enhancement comes from a 2007 study conducted by Uddin and Janecek. These researchers proactively targeted information access issues by combining their CMS with a “Faceted Communication System”. Facets, by Uddin and Janecek’s definition, “ … [use] a multidimensional classification system, which is useful for both organizing the information in a site as well as search results”. The joint system “organize[d] information coherently and [helped users] to find information easily” through Facets (Uddin and Janecek, 2007). Although this type of arrangement sounds more typical of open source software, some commercial systems try to include popular functionalities within their software as well.

One common factor of the aforementioned studies is size; all researchers perceived their Web sites to be growing exponentially. CMS adoption could prove the best solution for libraries with rapidly growing sites, but it may not be a feasible option for smaller sites with less content. A smaller library also may not have interest in expanding their site, so a CMS could require more work than necessary to develop. It is worth noting that at one time, all institutions mentioned above could effectively manage their sites outside of a CMS. However, changing standards combined with uncontrollable growth patterns persuaded them to take steps to prevent prolonged chaos.




In the spring of 2008, I compiled two lists: one of ARL member institutions and one of Illinois institutions. The ARL list excluded Illinois institutions, since I planned to survey them separately. These institutional library lists were found through the ARL and Illinois Board of Higher Education Web sites [1]. I then obtained contact information from the libraries’ Web sites.

If a webmaster was listed on the library’s Web site, then that person became the official contact. If no webmaster was listed, then a contact from their library’s information technology group was sought. If no contact for either existed online, I then contacted the institutional library’s Dean or Director.

If I also could not find contact information for the Library’s Dean or Director, then I excluded the institution from the list. Institutions were also excluded if they seemed to be an aggregation of nationwide libraries and/or colleges. The final lists contained 116 contacts for ARL and 35 contacts for Illinois [2].

The survey consisted of six questions that were as straightforward and concise as possible. I avoided drop–down menu choices in order to reduce user response error and dropout (Healey, 2007; Heewegh and Loosvelt, 2002). In the survey, I sought to find which CMS the library chose to use, if any. I also inquired whether they were considering another type of CMS, and for what reasons. If the library did not employ a CMS for their site, I asked if they were considering using one in the future. Finally, I questioned what their perceptions were while using (or planning to use) a CMS for their site (see Appendix for a complete list of survey questions).

In order to host the survey online, I utilized the University’s Web Services Toolbox. Through Toolbox’s Survey Builder, I created two separate, but identical, surveys so that I could clearly distinguish the responses from the two groups. The Toolbox system enabled all responses to remain anonymous. Unless the participant willingly volunteered identifying information through a typed comment, the survey collected none.

With the contact lists and survey questions completed, I sent two groups of e–mail messages for the survey’s dissemination. Each group mailing contained contacts in a blind carbon copy. The body of the e–mail message described the survey’s aim and included a link and invitation to complete the corresponding survey online. I sent the first set of e–mail messages on 15 July 2008, and approximately two weeks later, I sent a reminder via an e–mail message. The survey remained open for one month.




At the close of the month, I received 34.5 percent completion (40 out of 116 possible respondents) from ARL members and 25.7 percent completion (nine out of 35 possible respondents) from Illinois institutions. Two e–mail messages from the Illinois institution list bounced, due to the contacts’ mail server classifying the message as spam. The bounced messages, however, were not subtracted from the results.

Association of Research Libraries

Of the 40 ARL respondents, 20 libraries claimed to have their own Web content management system, eight used their parent institution’s CMS and 12 did not use one at all (see Figure 1). Of the 28 libraries reporting use of a CMS, 11 used a commercial system, 10 used an open source system, six used a home–grown system and one was unaware of which type of system their institution used (see Figure 2). The top CMS software reported was Plone (four institutions), Drupal (three institutions), and variances of home–grown systems (six institutions). Table 1 provides a list of all systems used.


Figure 1: ARL use of content management system
Figure 1: ARL use of content management system.



Figure 2: CMS types used
Figure 2: CMS types used.



Table 1: CMS software used by ARL institutions.
CMS softwareWeb site
Plone (4)
Drupal (3)
Hannon Hill Cascade Server (2)
Day Communique
Word Press
Macromedia Contribute
Adobe ColdFusion
Oracle Universal Content Management
IBM Filenet
Red Hat


Eight libraries from ARL used their CMS for 0–6 months, four for 6–12 months, one for 1–2 years, six for 2–3 years, five for 3–4 years, and four for 4+ years (see Figure 3). On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “Not at all” and 5 being “Extremely,” one respondent was not very satisfied with their implementation of a CMS. Fifteen respondents were neutral, ten were very satisfied, and two were extremely satisfied (see Figure 4).


Figure 3: Length of CMS use
Figure 3: Length of CMS use.



Figure 4: Satisfaction of CMS use
Figure 4: Satisfaction of CMS use.


Eighteen of the 28 libraries are currently considering another type of CMS. Those considering a new CMS volunteered reasons ranging from current system dissatisfaction to exciting new options. Many of those not considering a new CMS were mandated to use a University or departmental system (see Table 2).


Table 2: ARL reasons for/against considering a new CMS.
Considering a new CMS because:Not considering a new CMS because:
“[There are lots] of options available.”“[We currently have a very] flexible system … [it] can adapt to complex needs.”
“Cascade Server does not suit dynamic webpages that often are used in library applications.”“It is controlled by others at the university.”
“Contribute is only a short–term solution that is helping us move away from our old, hacked–together CMS.”“The university has just implemented the CMS and we’re in the process of moving the library Web site to it — we haven’t actually finished anything yet, so we’ll see how it goes.”
“We are now in the process of moving towards Drupal so that we can benefit from the Drupal tools that others create.”“Campus decision.”
“Maintaining a homegrown CMS is a challenge. We’d prefer an open source system. However, we’ve yet to find one that meets all our needs and haven’t had the staffing to add on the functionality we needed.”“We are happy with the features and capabilities of Drupal. We have briefly looked at other systems, but they seem far less flexible and suitable to our needs.”
“[The current] system [is] aging quickly; [we] need [to] either … upgrade or move to a different system.”“We were mandated to use a specific CMS by our Department.”
“… [Drupal] is hard to use and takes a lot of training and because the University now has a content management system and it is different to the one the Library is using.”“University has mandated use of Common Spot. We have not yet started using it.”
“[We have] user interface problems, hard to navigate, hard to format pages.”“We are currently creating an in–house CMS for our resources.”

Non–CMS users

Of the 12 ARL libraries that do not use a CMS, 11 have considered using one, and one library has not. The respondent not considering a CMS stated that their Dreamweaver and Contribute combination had “sufficient control and flexibility for [their] needs.” Two libraries are looking to commercial CMS software and 10 are considering open source. Drupal ranks high on the list of considerations (seven institutions); others referenced were Plone, Joomla, Sharepoint, Fatwire, OmniUpdate, Sitecore, Hamon Hill–Cascade Server, Refresh–SR2 Content Management Solution, and Vignette.

On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “Not at all” and 5 being “Extremely,” one respondent feels that the implementation of a CMS would not be beneficial, at all, to their institution. The respondent stated that they were “hesitant about using a CMS [but] trying to keep an open mind.” Three respondents were neutral to CMS use, six believed it would be very beneficial and two felt it would be extremely beneficial (see Figure 5).


Figure 5: Perception of CMS benefits from non-CMS users
Figure 5: Perception of CMS benefits from non–CMS users.


Illinois institutions

Of the nine Illinois respondents, four libraries indicated they had their own Web content management system, three used their parent institution’s CMS and two did not use one at all. Of the seven libraries reporting use of a CMS, four used a commercial system, one used open source and two used a home–grown system. The CMS software reported was EktronCMS400.NET, Plone, Web Services Group, Macromedia Contribute, Dreamweaver (without Macromedia Contribute), MS Access (paired with Adobe ColdFusion), and a completely home–grown system (see Table 3).


Table 3: CMS software used by Illinois institutions.
CMS softwareWeb site
Web Services Group
Macromedia Contribute
Adobe Dreamweaver (without Contribute)
MS Access
   Adobe ColdFusion

One Illinois library utilized their system for 1–2 years, three for 2–3 years, and three for 4+ years (see Figure 6). On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “Not at all” and 5 being “Extremely,” two respondents were not very satisfied with their implementation of a CMS. Two respondents were neutral, two were very satisfied and one was extremely satisfied (see Figure 7).


Figure 6: Length of CMS use
Figure 6: Length of CMS use.



Figure 7: Satisfaction of CMS use
Figure 7: Satisfaction of CMS use.


Two of seven libraries are considering another type of CMS. University mandates and budgetary issues kept majority of the respondents from pursuing a new system. The institutions considering a new CMS simply desire to upgrade their current system functionality (see Table 4).


Table 4: Illinois institutions’ reasons for/against considering new CMS.
Considering a new CMS because:Not considering a new CMS because:
“The installation of a CMS … should be an opportunity to revamp [faculty] content provision, which has met with resistance even via a demonstrated CMS.”“It is the right size for our Web site.”
“[We want] to upgrade our current CMS for more features (such as administrative tools, Web 2.0 technologies, etc.).”“No money for a commercial CMS and other open source products have no compellingly different features.”
 “The university is in charge of selecting the CMS. I believe they may now be considering other options.”
 “Determined by the school, not the library.”
 “It is what the university uses and we won’t change unless the university does.”

Non–CMS users

Of the two Illinois libraries that reported not using a CMS, neither considered implementing one in the future. One respondent cited budgetary issues; their college could not “… afford to [support] two CMS[’s] at once.” The other stated that they wanted to “[wait] on the College to use a CMS.” However, on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “Not at all” and 5 being “Extremely,” both respondents felt that a CMS implementation would be very beneficial.




Comments supplied by the survey’s respondents echo the sentiments of cited authors. Many respondents wish to improve usability and management on their Web sites. Those same respondents perceived the use of a CMS as their best option.

Interestingly, a large proportion of Illinois respondents used a CMS for the past two or more years. This usage suggests that Illinois libraries attempted to improve their Web accessibility before the Illinois Information Technology and Accessibility Act became law in 2007.

While no Illinois respondents adopted a CMS within that past year, nearly half of ARL respondents did. This could suggest that ARL institutional libraries produce more information on their Web sites, and therefore, are in need of a more efficient management system.

Responding libraries also showed great interest in home–grown and open source systems. The rich research environment and expanding community base could attract libraries the most. However, as some respondents stated, the cost of maintaining a CMS could be a barrier, regardless of whether the system is open source or not.

In an open comment section, several respondents also mentioned training, administrative politics, and fear as barriers. As with any major managerial change, misunderstandings should be expected. Texas A&M University library staff gives excellent insight on effective change management strategies:

“Effective use of a content management system requires an organized and comprehensive consolidation of library resources, which emphasizes the need for a different organizational model and culture — one that promotes thinking about the library as a whole, sharing, and collaboration.” (Goodwin, et al., 2006)

Disunity in the library’s Web interface could signify disunity within the institution. On the other hand, a harmonious Web presence suggests an institution that works well together. Maintaining a mindset of doing the best for the library (and its users) creates a sense of unity that transcends the Web. As always, effective communication and properly timed transitions make the effort easier to manage.




Surveying ARL and Illinois institutional libraries provided an informative glimpse into library CMS usage. Though the response rate was not 100 percent, the perceptions surrounding CMS use varied enough to be insightful. Those moving to a CMS envisioned managerial and usability benefits, then proceeded into adoption accordingly. Those not considering a CMS still manage to maintain their homegrown sites through other administrative means.

The varying CMS software adopted confirms that each library has a different set of needs. Even those libraries using more popular systems are keeping their options open. The number of respondents still searching for a perfect match can make the CMS market extremely competitive. The ever–changing Web environment could also place more pressure on CMS software to maintain relevancy with library clientele.

Understandably, most CMS software does not cater to the diverse library needs. Search functionality across multitudinous e–resources, catalogs, and Web pages alone takes major effort. Perhaps librarians could develop a platform to share their perceptions of CMS software more openly. A consensus of preferred features and implementation could spark development for the more perfect package. End of article


About the author

Camilla Fulton is the Assistant Web Content and Digital Services Librarian at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Her research interests are library Web content, accessibility, and usability.
E–mail: cfulton2 [at] illinois [dot] edu



The author would like to acknowledge Timothy Cole, JoAnn Jacoby, and David Vess for their invaluable insight.



1. ARL:; Illinois Board of Higher Education:

2. Four of the Illinois institutions maintain membership in ARL.



Laura Burzagli, Francesco Gabbanini, Marco Natalini, Enrico Palchetti, and Alessandro Agostini, 2008. “Using Web content management systems for accessibility: The experience of a research institute portal,” In: K. Miesenberger, Joachim Klaus, Wolfgang Zagler, and Arthur Karshmer (editors). Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP 2008). Lecture Notes in Computer Science, volume 5105, pp. 454–461.

Ruth Sarah Connell, 2008. “Survey of Web developers in academic libraries,” Journal of Academic Librarianship, volume 34, number 2, pp. 121–129.

Doug Goans, Guy Leach, and Teri M. Vogel, 2006. “Beyond HTML: Developing and re–imagining library Web guides in a content management system,” Library Hi Tech, volume 24, number 1, pp. 29–53.

Susan Goodwin, Nancy Burford, Martha Bedard, Esther Carrigan, and Gale C. Hannigan, 2006. “CMS/CMS: Content management system/change management strategies,” Library Hi Tech, volume 24, number 1, pp. 54–60.

Benjamin Healey, 2007. “Drop downs and scroll mice: The effect of response option format and input mechanism employed on data quality in Web surveys,” Social Science Computer Review, volume 25, number 1, pp. 111–128.

Dirk Heewegh and Geert Loosvelt, 2002. “An evaluation of the effect of response formats on data quality in Web surveys,” Social Science Computer Review, volume 20, number 4, pp. 471–484.

Anna Hood, Tammy J. Eschedor Voelker, and Joseph A. Salem, Jr., 2008. “Using metadata to design a database–driven Website,” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, volume 46, number 4, pp. 385–411.

Illinois General Assembly, 2007. “Illinois Information Technology and Accessibility Act” (Public Act 095–0307), signed 20 August 2007; effective 20 August 2008.

David Kane and Nora Hegarty, 2007. “New Web site, new opportunities: Enforcing standards compliance within a content management system,” Library Hi Tech, volume 25, number 2, pp. 276–287.

Mohammad Nasir Uddin and Paul Janecek, 2007. “The implementation of faceted classification in Web site searching and browsing,” Online Information Review, volume 31, number 2, pp. 218–233.


Appendix: Survey questions

1) Does your library currently use a content management system (CMS) for its Web site? (If “no”, please indicate below and continue to question 7)

Yes, our Library has our own content management system.
Yes, our Library uses the college/university’s content management system.

2) What type of CMS does your library use?

Open source.
Don’t know.

3) What is the name of the CMS tool that your library uses?


4) What is the approximate length of time that your library has used it?

0–6 months.
6–12 months.
1–2 years.
2–3 years.
3–4 years.
4–5 years.
5+ years.
Don’t know.

5a) Have you considered using another version of CMS (such as a different vendor or type)?


5b) Why or why not?


6) How satisfied are you with using a CMS for your Library Web site?

Not at allNot veryNeutralVeryExtremely

This portion of the survey is for non–CMS users.

If your library uses a CMS and you answered the questions on the previous page, please skip to Question 11. Thank you!

7a) Has your Library considered using a content management system (CMS) for its Web site?


7b) Why or why not?


8) If your library is considering a CMS, which type is it considering the most?

Open source.
Other — don’t know.

9) If your library is considering a CMS, what are the names of the CMS contributors that you have considered? (separate with commas, please)


10) How beneficial to your library do you perceive a CMS to be?

Not at allNot veryNeutralVeryExtremely

11) Any further comments?



Editorial history

Paper received 11 August 2009; accepted 14 July 2010.

Creative Commons License
“Library perspectives on Web content management systems” by Camilla Fulton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Library perspectives on Web content management systems
by Camilla Fulton.
First Monday, Volume 15, Number 8 - 2 August 2010

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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