Web portals for animal health: capturing and harnessing information and knowledge for the e-environment
Van der Westhuizen, Erica
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In South Africa there is only one veterinary school where students can qualify as veterinarians, namely the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria. With the new emphasis on production animals introduced into the curriculum, reflecting the country’s primary food needs, the importance of creating one-stop sites for relevant information on economically important animals became evident. The growing interest in goats and ostriches and the infectious diseases of production animals as well as the economic importance of poultry farming in rural communities, led the Service Unit Veterinary Science (Library) of the Academic Information Service (AIS) to create portals on these topics for the benefit of its primary user group and also the wider community. Definitions of portals and subject gateways will be described and features pertinent to them will be listed. Aspects that have to be considered when designing such portals will be discussed. The development of 4 web products will be described, including problems and pitfalls. Future developments will also be considered. Ostrich web, Goat web, Poultry web and Animal Infectious Diseases web were compiled by 4 information specialists, and one member of the team handled the electronic publishing aspects including the final layout and design. These products are enhanced by using facilities of the university portal, UPPortal, such as Virtual Groups, so that the information gathered and made accessible will not be static or become outdated. Members of these Virtual Groups share knowledge and expertise as they form a Community of Practice. The role of the information specialist will be explored. One of its important facets is the relationship between the information specialist and the subject expert or lecturer. This is crucial in providing an academically reliable site. Another important role of the information specialist is that of enabling optimum retrieval through the effective use of Metadata. Other aspects of the role include: initiating the website, identifying the need, ensuring cooperation with the lecturer or researcher, co-facilitating the Community of Practice, gathering the relevant documents to be placed on the site, supporting the documenting of the tacit knowledge and storing it, and adding value for the user by indexing the information. The use of these portal products by a variety of user groups as well as future plans concerning content and access, will be discussed as well.