A Digital Branch: Your Next Generation Library Catalogue

Like many of you, I follow what David Lee King has to say. His ideas on digital branches, what they are and their capabilities excite me. However, where David promotes a digital branch through a library website, I believe that a library’s digital branch should be delivered through the library catalogue.

While my copy of Library Technology Reports’ September issue “Building the Digital Branch: Guidelines for Transforming your Library Website” is still on order (and I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival!), I did see David’s recent article in American Libraries (October 2009 pg 43).

The Digital Branch: Website vs. Catalogue
Reading David Lee King’s article has resulted in my brain buzzing with dreams of next generation catalogues as the library’s digital branch. While his work focuses on library websites, I see next generation catalogue software that can extract the information from our library’s website and display it in the catalogue. The information can be sorted by facets, too. So, if patrons want to explore local programs, book clubs or events, all they have to do is search one place – the catalogue. And, once they find the program in a results page that looks similar to a bibliographic record, a list of holdings can be attached that reflect the topic of the program. If they find one item particularly useful, they can tag it, provide a review or comment on the item. Perhaps they can even download the information onto their phone, or send it to a friend.

Considerations for Building a Digital Branch
It is with this type of technology in mind that I see the library catalogue becoming the home of the digital library branch. Next generation catalogues are progressing toward a space that builds community. In David’s article, he emphasizes three points that are necessary to building a digital branch. They are:

1. To carefully document who the branch will be serving;
2. To determine what services those people desire; and
3. To determine what we are capable of providing based on budgets and technological capabilities.

An “In-House” Divide
With RDA on the horizon and next generation catalogues actively attempting to include technological trends to fulfill patrons’ needs, should we continue to separate our resources, creating yet another divide? Are we asking patrons’ to belong to two communities within the same library (or to flip flop back and forth between two online sources?) While in the past it has been the physical branch vs. the catalogue, we are creating a divide between the website (a digital branch) and the library catalogue (a digital branch).

I continue to eagerly read the tech trends for library websites, especially those focusing on websites that build a community. But when I read them, I am applying them to library catalogues and their potential.

Many professionals have stressed that information on the website shouldn’t be included in the catalogue. Library catalogues have their function and the website, yet another function. We seem to be breaking down the silos in other areas of librarianship, so my question is why can’t we work on pushing the limits and redefining the expectations and abilities of library catalogues?

Just because library catalogues have traditionally been considered an inventory that provides access to a library’s holdings, should it always remain just an inventory? Or, can it also become the digital branch that reaches out to our patrons and forms a community?



Filed under future of cataloguing, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

8 responses to “A Digital Branch: Your Next Generation Library Catalogue

  1. Alison

    I agree wholeheartedly that we should begin “breaking down the silos”. Why is it even necessary to distinguish between the “website” and “catalogue”? I would love to see the day when the library’s web presence is a seamless gateway to information in whatever form. The people I interact with at the reference desk do not understand the distinction, neither are they particularly interested in the distinction – they just want answers to their questions.

  2. The divide in my view is really just library-speak. When patrons talk about ‘the website’ they mean both the ‘website’ and the ‘catalogue’ – the place online where they get the books. Catalogue is an out-dated print-media term, just as MARC is an outdated print-media data format. I hope RDA fixes alot of the limitations that MARC has.

  3. Ooops. I said RDA when I think i meant FRBR. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Catalogue development and web development are analgous in the 21st century. Source description and source presentation are closely related and we cannot continue to rely on techies to understand our work for us.

  4. Bill (a cataloger)

    Unless I’m sorely mistaken, comparing RDA and MARC is comparing apples and oranges (or rather codes for encoding data and metadata element sets). From what I’ve heard, RDA records for libraries are likely to be primarily coded in the MARC21 element set, though they need not be (Dublin Core, and theoretically any number of other metadata element sets are possible).
    Indeed AACR2 isn’t technically wedded to MARC either, but traditional usage has them all but married.

  5. Laurel Tarulli

    Bill – You’re correct and, if you’re not a cataloguer, it’s easy to confuse metadata standards to mark-up languages. Greebie’s comments, in my view, reinforce my point that there is divide between website staff and cataloguing staff. A derisive attitude toward terminology and confusion on either side regarding what we do and the tools we use is exactly what we want to avoid. In my post, I examine the “flip-side” of what e-services and webmasters are exploring – the catalogue as a community, rather than a website as a community. It appears that while we’re all working toward a common goal (social features, enriched content and a feeling of community interaction), we’re doing it separately. I’d like to see us communicating and collaborating so that we can provide the users what they want – whether it is seamless integration between the website and the catalogue or some other alternative. In the end, this will result in an even greater *product* (sorry about the term here) for our users and allow staff with a variety of expertise to share it (and our resources), rather than play a game of “tug of war”.

  6. I agree whole-heartedly with Greebie. It is my belief that patrons do NOT differentiate between the library’s website and the catalogue. To them it is already a ‘digital branch’. The place they go to put holds on library materials, see what’s new in the library’s holdings and to check their library account.
    With the advent of social catalogue overlays, the service provided at this digital branch will improve by allowing more interaction on behalf of the patrons and by making the appearance of the branch more appealing.
    Where the ‘divide’ exists in my opinion is between the webmasters/IT staff and the cataloguers. We have little control and/or input as to how and when the website reflects the information we wish to have displayed and how this display appears on the site. A little more collaboration between these two departments would result in an improved and more up-to-date digital branch.

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