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?