Several weeks ago I had dinner with a lovely couple who have worked in the library profession for many years. While discussing social catalogues and the potential benefits they have for enhancing readers’ advisory services, the wife, a retired reference librarian, made an interesting comment. As an avid user of the library, she asked me how an outstanding catalogue will solve the problem of poor collections. I was stumped.
She explained that the thought of a social catalogue is exciting, with the level of participation and control at the user level. She also liked the idea of reading recommendations to assist while users are waiting in lists of 40 or 100+ for new titles, but she indicated that read-a-likes only assist to a point. In many cases, users wait 6 months to a year for a *new* title. She also indicated that many of the read-a-like titles often provided by librarians aren’t sufficient and don’t fulfull our users’ needs. In fact, many of the read-a-likes don’t even appear to be relevant.
This brings up a good point and supports my position on social catalogues advancing RA work. What do readers’ want and how can we fulfill read-a-like needs and recommendations if we’re basing our lists on what we, as professionals, think the users want, rather than actually looking at what the users want.
Is is true that while we’re creating interactive, dynamic catalogues, these catalogues only lead to poor, outdated collections that don’t fulfill our users’ needs?
My response (because I’m a cataloguing librarian and not an acquisitions librarian): Social catalogues will finally allow those hidden gems in our collection to be discovered so that users can find what is relevant to them. Imbedded read-a-likes based on user borrowing patterns and user-generated reading recommendations may, at least, satisfy users’ needs while they wait 6 months for (for example) that new James Patterson novel. These new catalogues will (or will in the near future) allow social interaction at the community level which will allow readers to recommend books to each other while they wait on the holds list. It will also allow aquisitions to examine where they need to grow the collection and what our readers want.
This is a point that I don’t think many of us have considered while so much attention is being placed on next generation catalogues – will these catalogues that allow for exploration and discovery reveal that our collections are not as good as we think they are? What happens when our catalogues grow in popularity and discoverability only to reveal that our collections can’t fulfill our users’ needs?