Library Catalogues are no longer an inventory but a place, and a community

We made history in the RA world at APLA this year. For the first time outside of Ontario, an RA in a Day pre-conference session was held in Canada. I was able to speak at this conference in a presentation called Social Catalogues: Enriching Content that Enhances RA Services.

Social catalogues will play a vital role in promoting RA services in the future. It’s already happening. I believe that the future of the library catalogues will rest on whether we can become a place, rather than an inventory.

When we talk about RA services, we emphasize that true RA work cannot be accomplished without the trust of our readers. What about our silent reader? Our remote readers? What about our avid readers who wish they were librarians and want to share their reading suggestions? You won’t find these readers in the library asking our RAs for help, but you will find them in the library catalogue – at least, that’s where they should be. Right now, they are using social cataloguing sites like LibraryThing. But, I believe they are just waiting for us to catch up and when we do, what’s coming will be amazing.

When I presented at the pre-conference, I emphasized the movement toward social features in our library catalogues and the new face of the library catalogue. Much of what I discussed already exists to some extent, but much of what I discussed is what’s coming, or should be coming soon. There are so many ways we can explore social technology to create a community of trust among our readers through the library catalogue. That trust will bring RA work into our readers’ homes.

From the expressions on some of the attendees’ faces, I can certainly say I was met with skepticism as well as doubt. Many “traditionalists” either don’t want to believe or have a hard time believing that the library catalogue will ever be more than a static inventory. That’s unfortunate. However, many more librarians were eager to hear my ideas and what can be accomplished in the future, should RAs and cataloguers begin working together. I am assuming this by the smiles, nods and discussions I had later that day and throughout the rest of the conference.

For so long there has been a divide (okay, a gigantic chasm) between technical services and frontline services. But, I view RA services as another “backroom” service. Like cataloguing, many people don’t understand readers’ advisory services and as a result, they believe it’s “easy”, unimportant or grounded in common sense. After all, how hard is it to suggest a book for someone to read? That’s the same attitude that many professionals have directed toward cataloguing for many years. However, both cataloguing and RA services are growing and gaining popularity. The RA work that is occurring is new and fresh, as are the changes being made to the library catalogue. This is an opportunity and a possible collaboration that cannot be ignored.

To quote Karen Calhoun, “the future is so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.”

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10 Comments

Filed under Discovery tool platforms, future of cataloguing, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

10 responses to “Library Catalogues are no longer an inventory but a place, and a community

  1. That sounds very exciting indeed. =) Having just passed my first two months working part-time processing music materials, and deciding what courses to take at the Faculty of Information in Toronto, this helps me make the connection between functions of a librarian, as well as how it can be applied even outside of the library itself.

    I understand the concept of folksonomy, but how do you implement it? What framework do you use to solicit and then manage it?

  2. Michele

    This is great! I work in Technical Services as a paraprofessional at a large university and as a Reference Librarian at a small academic library. I see the chasm between FOH and BOH every day! I really believe that there is a need for collaboration. (I even wrote a piece about the disconnect between Public Services and TSD for a couple of library journals, but it wasn’t accepted at either of the ones I submitted it to.)
    Anywho, allowing patrons and users to participate would be a fantastic thing!

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  4. LG

    I’m always amazed at the number of librarians who are resistant towards this sort of thing. People seem to assume that the argument is to allow the users complete control of the catalog – however, it’s perfectly possible to both have what we’ve got now (descriptive cataloging, controlled access points) and user-created content (folksonomies, user-created reviews, etc.) without inviting complete and utter chaos.

    There are so many things I hope my library will be able to do with our catalog someday soon. Some of it will have to wait until our bibliographic data is cleaner – for instance, our subjects headings are currently so “messy” that implementing some sort of similar/suggest subject heading feature just isn’t possible. I would love for us to be able to have more user-generated content – we’ve been looking into LibraryThing for Libraries, but, according to our Systems Librarian, it’d be hard to implement with the current version of our system (but not for the version we’ll be upgrading to in the near future!). I’m constantly cataloging materials about things I have little or no knowledge of – it’d be great if all the various professors and students at our university could fill in the gaps.

    As an academic library, RA isn’t a big concern for us, but we do have a problem with professors and students having a very narrow view of the potential uses of the library and the catalog. It’d be nice if they could (gasp) actually get excited about the library.

  5. Laurel Tarulli

    Thank you to all for your comments.
    Margism – Folksonomies are, in theory, created by the user generated tags in social catalogues. My first concern focussed on the fact that many libraries don’t have the population or user group to generate a practical or useful set of tags. If user tags are only generated sporadically throughout the catalogue, with little customer participation, what good are they? However, LibraryThing for Libraries has helped solve this problem. When implementing a social catalogue, you can actually import and display LibraryThing tags and reviews. So you have a great foundation of existing tags and reviews without ever asking your patrons to contribute. I believe you can use LibraryThing for Libraries with your existing catalogues too, as enriched content. Can anyone else speak to this?

    Interesting issue in Canada – many librarians are skeptical that LibraryThing information will not represent the unique cultural and regional mindsets, values, and terminology of Canada. I tend to disagree with this, but it is a valid concern.

    To really go about starting to build folksonomies, I think you need to take a look at the size of your library and the type of community you serve. You should also snoop around the different social catalogue sites – I’m most familiar with AquaBrowser and Encore (both vendor products) but they offer great examples of how folksonomies are being built or imported into the social catalogue.

  6. The University of Nebraska– Omaha has incorporated LibraryThing data into their catalog: http://www.nebraskalibraries.org/conference/archives/2008/handouts/LTFL_Presentation.pdf

    Laurel, I enjoyed this post; thank you. But I wonder if these amazing tools wouldn’t be more amazing if they were easier to get to. I just was at an Encore demo on Friday, and I was disappointed to see that things like user tags required a sign-in to view and use– understandable, but not as seamless as it could be. Also, the user-added content wasn’t indexed and searchable

    If only there was some way to seamlessly incorporate this into things like, say, Facebook sites, del.icio.us tags, or LibraryThing (hint hint hint, software companies).

  7. Laurel Tarulli

    Jennifer – you’re right, they are hard to access and require the login features to view and use. This is usually a result of the “control” we librarians want over user-generated information, to make sure what is added is appropriate and not offensive.

    However, there are ways to create “single sign-ons” and many vendors will provide you with a dummy account to view one of their client’s social catalogues if you just want to explore.

    I do encourage you to read about the new Serials Solutions product, Summon. It’s being officially launched at ALA and it looks promising.

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