A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question on Twitter: Should next generation catalogues allow user to manipulate data within the catalogue or focus on great sharing and “breaking apart” of data for external use?
I received several responses. Some asked “why can’t they do both”? while another indicated that we should stop asking questions and “…move on. Times a wastin’” [sic] Yet another indicated that the term “catalog” might be the problem, given that the term is steeped in tradition and therefore hard to redefine.
The question was prompted a day after attending my last ALA session, You found it, now what? Extended services in next generation catalogues. Eric Lease Morgan, John Blyberg and Tim Spalding were the panelists for this presentation, attended by an (unfortunately) underwhelming crowd of about 20 (I’m rounding up). The number of attendees was disappointing because it is a valuable topic and an issue we need to address.
The session topic can actually be broken into two questions: What types of features and functions will next generation catalogues provide in the future? and What can we do with next generation catalogues after they’ve been implemented that goes beyond findability and discoverability?
Okay, we’ve implemented these *great* new catalogues and yet, now that they’re in place, we really don’t know what to do with them or where to go from here. While there are a small number of professionals exploring their potential beyond tagging, rating and reviewing, many professionals are accepting that they represent the new catalogue, but are nothing more than another “version” of the catalogue. Similar, in a way, to our first automated library catalogue – it’s a migration from the card catalogue, but it’s still the same ol’ thing.
In the literature that I’ve been reading, there’s talk of moving to next next generation catalogues. While we can all find humour in the amount of “nexts” we’ll use until we think the catalogue has mutated and transformed into something perfect, just when are we going to say enough!
Let’s say, for example, we stick with the name “next generation catalogue” and now, focus on the technology and uses of these new and ever-evolving catalogues. Because they are still relatively new and underdeveloped, we don’t need to move on to new names, such as next generation catalogues 3.0, 4.0 and so on. Let’s stick with one name and figure out what we have in our new catalogues and, not just from a cataloguing and technology perspective, but from a frontline staff (reference, readers’ advisory, programming and so on) perspective.
So, we’ve implemented a next generation catalogue, now what? So many libraries have implemented these catalogues and then…nothing. Staff are trained, a preliminary feedback survey may have been implemented to seek patron and staff opinion and that’s where it ends. However, exploration needs to go beyond this most basic and preliminary stage. How are staff using the catalogue? Has it made the reference department’s tasks easier because of federated searching and the ability to search multiple, additional external data sources (such as websites) all in one search? Are staff promoting the tagging and reviewing features to local book clubs? Are cataloguers looking at tags and their local usage by patrons? Has the library website been added as a data source so that library locations and hours, as well as programming, can be searched from within the catalogue in one search?
I suppose, rather than asking a question about whether a library catalogue should be “this or that”, we should be asking “if” a catalogue can do something, “how” it can do it and “why not try it”. Exploration of next generation catalogues and their true potential has not even begun to the extent that is needed to realize their potential.
While we can talk about adding extra features to the catalogue (which is good!), we also need to talk about existing uses of next generation catalogues and their features to enhance core library services, perhaps significantly altering staff workflow or procedures to create even better services, options and access to patrons – however they want to use our library catalogue – and by whatever name they choose to call it.