We’ve implemented a next generation catalogue, now what?

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.



Filed under Discovery tool platforms, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

7 responses to “We’ve implemented a next generation catalogue, now what?

  1. Pingback: Assessment Metrics and the Catalog » The Dean Files

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  3. LynneW


    As a systems person, federated searching sounded like a great idea! Combining numerous resources into one-stop shopping, fast and convenient, would wow our patrons and help us answer their questions.

    Unfortunately, front-line staff experience has taught us that while it’s a lovely concept, it’s not really workable in current iterations, and we’ve elected not to go that route here. Too many irrelevant responses clog the list; precision is abandoned.

    As a reference librarian and readers advisor, I’d always rather have a few quality hits than beaucoup extraneous ones, and if it takes time and individual searches across an array of resources, so be it ~

  4. Laurel Tarulli

    You make a good point! Federated searching can be bulky and less than useful if the display function is poor, or the search “logic” retrieving the results is poor. There are some federating search tools that work better than others – and they all seem to be improving. What did your patrons think of federated searching?

    However, for websites and other data sources that aren’t subscription databases, next generation catalogues work quite well and can be quite beneficial for reference staff. I don’t know if you’ve seen the facets on AquaBrowser? (Forgive me for always using them as an example, but I’m most familiar with their product)

    Check out Santa Cruz Public Library http://aqua.santacruzpl.org/ and their use of faceted navigation. If you do a search, on the top of the choices for facets in the right hand tool bar, there’s a facet for Sources. When one of our staff members saw SCPL’s version of AquaBrowser, she provided me with some feedback and here’s what she said:

    “…love the fact that their Local History holdings have been integrated with the catalogue: their newspaper clipping files, digitized photos etc/ are all accessible. Also, some in-house databases (sheet music index) were also integrated. This is *ideal*….all collections are accessible. Just try searching “dogs”…and see all the sources come up on the right side bar!!! They had some neat “refine” categories. Down the road, this could be a boon to RA…think of all the appeal factors, as refine categories!”

  5. Too often people conflate “next generation catalog” with “next generation online public access catalog.”

    What of the back-end functions? Re-thinking work flows in the web-services environment is critical if libraries are going to move forward with radical change rather than another reinvention of the card catalog.

    Questions worth asking: does the new ILS easily incorporate records for new materials (enterprise index or federated). How does it handle serials volatility? How does it handle materials delivery so patrons get what they want in-hand?

    Without a robust back end, all the 2.o bells and whistles on the front end may end up being unused frills.

  6. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Laura,
    Some excellent thoughts.

    While we use next generation catalogues, social catalogues, collaborative catalogues (or whatever we want to call them!) to describe both front-end and back-end library catalogue components, you make a good point in saying that, at this time, when we use these terms, we really only mean the public face of the catalogue. Never is this truer than when we deal with overlays to existing ILS’s, rather than completely new next generation catalogues (not overlays).

    There’s a lot of front-end and back-end innovations and uses of data that have not yet been explored through next generation catalogues (and I am using this to mean “the whole” catalogue). We’re still coping (on the back-end) in some ways, as we deal with new cataloguing standards and uncompromising ILS systems. Until many of us migrate to different ILSs, we are forced to think creatively at times!

    Your last sentence is very interesting to me. So, here’s another question for everyone to consider. If we don’t build-up or create a robust next generation catalogue for the back-end, does this negate (or possibly negate?) all of the positive benefits and potential of front-end next generation catalogues?

  7. Sleepless Books

    I have quite a laundry list of things that used to appear in “traditional” catalogs which no longer exist in “next generation” faceted catalogs. I understand that there’s an effort to simplify the search page, but I’m not sure it’s giving all of us the results which we desire. I’ll use the AquaBrowser search as an example. There are a few common search fields to use: title, author, subject, ISBN/ISSN, call number, and year. Awesome. But, unless I’m mistaken, it probably lacks a subject browse list. I am not alone in the belief that subject browse lists are valuable. This topic came up on the Autocat listserv, under the subject line “On the importance of subject browse lists.” People were posting in with how much time they save with this. So, why did we lose it with our next generation catalogs?

    Having that subject list gives me access to nearby subject headings that I might have otherwise overlooked. For other OPACs I’ve used (VuFind and Worldcat.org’s public portal), the author facets sometimes lack qualifiers that would help me to identify which John Smith I’m really looking for (e.g. if I’m looking for a current book, I clearly don’t want anything authored by the John Smith who died in 1845.) I may also be in a minority here, but I generally prefer being able to give the OPAC as much information up front as possible, so I don’t get overwhelmed with 10,000 hits before I’m allowed to narrow down my search. I feel much more comfortable if I have, say, 50 results that I can whittle down.

    Okay, so let’s say I’m looking for Norwegian language folktales published between the years of 1850 and 1900. How do I do this in a next generation catalog? In many cases, I simply can’t make this happen. With AquaBrowser and VuFind, there’s simply NO way to give it a range of publication years. I can’t say “I’m looking for a book by Diana Wynne Jones. I don’t remember the title, but it was published sometime around 1995” and expect to get what I’m looking for without jumping in and out of several facets to find just the right one. If a patron is looking to explore a new topic, these next generation catalogs are fantastic for finding relevant materials. For patrons that have specific things they’re looking for (e.g. Diana Wynne Jones books from the mid-nineties), it’s somewhat challenging trying to figure out how to tell the OPAC what you want. The simplified search pages have taken away many ways to refine the search, and the side bar with all the facets doesn’t always adequately fill the gap.

    So anyways, I’m looking for a book by Diana Wynne Jones, published in the mid 1990s. First, I’ll enter my terms in. Well… the year field only seems to let me put in a single date, not a range. So I’ll do a search by that author name, and 1993. Then I’ll narrow it down to the correct Diana Wynn Jones. Okay, so it’s not a 1993 publication – I’ll try the search again, this time trying out 1994. Then another search for 1995. At what point do I get frustrated and give up?

    Oh, and author browse lists are totally awesome. Why? In trying to post this, I misspelled Diana Wynne Jones a kajillion times. If that happens on an author browse list, the correct spelling shows up pretty quickly. On AquaBrowse and VuFind, I get zero hits, and zero suggestions that might help me get closer. This makes me truly upset.

    Oh, and one more thing: worldcat.org has integrated amazon.com and goodreads.com reviews into their catalog. If they can do that with theirs, why can’t we do the same thing with ours? At least then, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We have lots of posted materials, so that patrons will quickly see the value of it without librarians having to talk them into it quite so much.

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