So, you’ve decided that you want a social catalogue, a discovery tool (and often referred to as a “solution” or “platform”). How are you going to decide which one? What if you don’t even know about them?
Like any software, discovery tools have their problems. You can find a number of articles discussing the technical difficulties or support issues that have been encountered for each solution. However, all discovery tools offer a package that many libraries can no longer afford to ignore. Especially if we want to compete with information giants such as Google, Amazon and LibraryThing. Without switching to a new ILS, we can implement a “did you mean?” function, spelling recommendations, search results with no dead ends, social tagging, list making, review writing and user ratings. We can finally include tag clouds and federated searching in a single search box. Given the relative newness of this software, their features are continually being enhanced and expanded. And, unlike an ILS, you are not “stuck” with a solution if you want to change it.
If you’ve been playing with the idea of implementing a discovery tool in your library, here are some tips that I recommend:
1. Look at what our competitors are doing. Check out other libraries, play with Amazon, LibraryThing, Facebook and other social catalogues, networks and software. What are they doing? Has it been successful and why?
2. Research. At this time, don’t pigeon-hole yourself into looking at your options. This research should be a bit broader. What are people saying about social catalogues? Are their surveys available regarding the use of social catalogues and their features? Stories of successes and failures? What about lessons learned or blog posts of first-hand experiences? Even if you start researching with only a basic understanding of discovery tool, this process will introduce you to the software available, as well as studies, research, opinions and surveys available for review. Why reinvent the wheel?
3. Now that you’ve got a good foundation of knowledge on social catalogues, it’s time to consider the following:
Proprietary vs. Open Source Software
System Requirements (ie. What would you like the software to do? what does it have to do?)
Budget, staff resources and time-line
By this point, you’ve probably narrowed down your choices to a handful of options. Call those vendors or software developers to ask them about their product. Many times, they’ll even send you sample RFPs to assist you if you’re required to draft one. If not, this will give you a good idea of what other libraries require of the software. This is a great time to ask about special customized features or to address concerns you have about something you’ve read. And, of coure, contact other libraries. Don’y be afraid to speak with colleagues at other libraries about their experiences or opinions.
For those of you who really want to learn more about discovery tool platforms, check out the following resources:
Discovery Tools blog by John Houser