Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about kids’ catalogues and how children access our collections. While many of us will point out that the primary users of our kids’ catalogues are parents or teachers looking for books and resources for their children and/or classrooms, we cannot forget that there are a number of children who are just starting to read or are beginnimg readers that use our library catalogues and borrow from our collections.
Unlike in the past, our youngest patrons are on computers all of the time and wow, a lot of them know how to use computers better than we do! But, are their information needs and ability to process all of the text on our next generation catalogues or even existing catalogues, sufficient? Are we serving these children? What about parents and teachers?
One of the unique features I have always found in kids’ catalogues is the dependency on visual cues; icons. Rather than text based catalogues, these catalogues always tend to rely on colourful images, library mascots or some other larger text and clean interface that provides intuitive navigation based on the needs of children, rather than adults. Even parents and teachers could navigate effectively. For example, in systems such as SirsiDynix’s Horizon, the Kids Information Portal (KIP) only retrieves items in the J collections; this includes boardbooks, pictures books, J fiction, J films and television shows, etc. KIP (another library example) weeds out adult and ya collections. Rather than having to sort through or limit searches in an attempt to isolate juvenile collections, parents and children are presented with the content targeted and designed to suit their needs.
For new parents, icons represent pre-structured lists created by staff that may include highlighted boardbooks, family movies and children’s music. For kids, our kids’ catalogues focussed on holiday and seasonal lists that are timely and may relate to school projects. In the end, whatever their needs, the results retrieved could always be relied upon to exclude adult and ya materials.
Three years ago, I started looking at kids’ catalogues around North America to get an idea as to what designs were popular and to gather ideas as to what makes a good catalogue for kids. This was in an attempt to discover what types of catalogues (vendors) are being used, their design, how they can be improved and if they ever realized their potential. Today, I decided to examine some of the links I collected three years ago. To my surprise, many of the libraries that had designed innovative catalogues for children no longer support a kids’ catalogue. Instead, many have migrated to next generation catalogues such as Encore, BiblioCommons and AquaBrowser , abandoning the idea of a kids’ catalogue.
However, are these new catalogues sufficient for children and parents in providing them with access to juvenile collections? Can we point to faceted navigation and spell check as a replacement for larger images, more white space and simplified interfaces? What about the targeted retrieval of specific collections? We must acknowledge that as powerful as next generation catalogues are (and may be in the future), we cannot claim they replace the need for a children’s catalogue and that they are successfully filling the need that our kids’ catalogues do or rather, did.
Will the vendors of next generation catalogues start to implement features for children? Will we be provided with alternate interfaces for our youngest patrons?
Before we throw out our kids’ catalogues, we need to understand why we implemented them in the past and, with a growing computer savvy population of children, why we are doing away with them today. Do our new catalogues, which rely heavily on text and therefore serve our most literature users really respond to the needs of children and replace the need for a kids’ catalogue?