Category Archives: Social catalogue

Thoughts on Library Journal’s article: “Catalog by Design”

While checking out my Facebook timeline on Friday, I notice Library Journal’s new article, “Catalog by design: the user experience” written by Aaron Schmidt was available online.

I read Mr. Schmidt’s article with interest.  In short, he summarizes his thoughts on the shortcomings of catalogue displays and functionality.  To Mr. Schmidt’s credit, he was not questioning the skill of cataloguers or the information found within our records, but making a common observation: the appearance that user functionality in catalogues is an afterthought in catalogue design.

I’ve linked to Mr. Schmidt’s article so that all of you can read it.  I also urge you to read the comments.  I find his article and the comments a good jumping off point for a conversation on cataloguing design and functionality.  What must be understand is that this article is very much like dipping your finger and sampling the icing on a cake and then wondering why it’s so difficult to make a cake that tastes delicious and looks good, too.

Rather than focusing on user tasks, let’s first just talk about design and Mr. Schmidt’s suggested design.  Immediately, I notice the similarity between the draft designs and a mobile application screen; big buttons, clean display and highlighting only a handful of key services.  This is interesting to me, that a catalogue design for a desktop computer should mirror the look and feel of a mobile application.  While we understand why mobile applications provide only key elements and simple displays, is it enough for desktop (non-mobile) designs to offer the same limited features?  I was once told by a mobile application designer that the average user is on a mobile site/page for 40 seconds.  Forty seconds.  Keeping that in mind, we can understand why a site, like a library, would offer a clean, simple interface that provided gateways into the catalogue/library with key entry points for a mobile app screen design.  However, as some of those professionals point out in the comments section of Mr. Schmidt’s article, it isn’t as clear as performing a known item search, especially when users are entering the catalogue from a desktop computer.  While many users may be performing a known item search, it is on a desktop display that we are provided with opportunities for searching newly catalogued material in the library, browsing reading lists, collections, similar titles or “wandering” virtually to stumble upon an item of interest.  When many of us use our phones, we use the apps for quick access into known item searches or activities.  When we sit down at our computer, we are often searching for more: that may be in the form of research, browsing, online shopping, or whatever activity that allows more freedom, options and navigation opportunities.

The second point is that many library catalogues, called social catalogues or social discovery tools, provide the flexibility and design clarity that Mr. Schmidt seeks.  One of the comments made by a reader suggests the popular social catalogue BiblioCommons.  This is an excellent example of a flexible, clear and user-friendly interface that has not only become a popular choice with many libraries, but users, too.

The interface designs of library catalogues have gone ignored for many years.  Functionality and the ability to recall information has traditionally trumped design and user-friendly interfaces.  This may be the result of a lack of research or options, but in recent years, there has been an increase in focus on user-friendly interfaces.  Librarians and decision-makers have been forced to take an interest in the design as well as the functionality of library catalogue interfaces and many are addressing the issues.

Vendors, aware of users’ growing expectations for intuitive interfaces are also attempting to address this shortcoming in the form of social catalogues and catalogue overlays. Just like the future of the library catalogue, I do believe vendors might also understand that their relevance is tied to providing libraries and users with products that meet today’s demands – not from within the library industry, but expectations created by the robust, user-friendly and customizable options available throughout the online environment.

While this topic can easily turn from a basic design conversation into an RDA debate, I’d like to keep it simple.  Up until now we, as professionals, haven’t demanded better interfaces for library catalogues.  We have moaned and groaned about them, but without real usage studies, evidence and support, it hasn’t been possible to force the design changes many of us know are essential.  We can credit the advent of the social catalogue with a push in the profession to study what, exactly, users’ expectations are in the catalogue.  Knowing that it is now possible to provide a social interface has provided many of us with an opportunity to bring in theories and evidence from the web design industry and ask for these same features within our catalogues.

Mr. Schmidt’s article only gives us a taste of the icing on the cake.  As cataloguing professionals, we understand the depth of the catalogue and the need to make something intricate appear simple, customizable and intuitive (or, like a cake, simple, elegant and beautiful) – while still meeting the demands of a wide variety of users’ needs (and that’s the rich, smooth flavour of our cake).


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

Readers’ Advisory Services in the Library Catalogue

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management. Speaking to a readers’ services centered class, I tailored my presentation around my theories regarding the perfect marriage between RA work and the library catalogue. Although this is an area only starting to be recognized, and still meeting resistance on many ends (RAs, Cataloguers, software shortcomings, etc.), I wanted to introduce the class to a new way of thinking about RA work, and collaboration outside of branch staff. For those of you who are interested, the presentation is below:

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

Online AquaBrowser Tutorial

With the implementation of AquaBrowser at my library, I was charged with creating a tutorial for staff. Rather than the usual pdf or Word document, I wanted to create something dynamic which allows for continuous updating and editing, as AquaBrowser continues to develop and we find new ways to use AquaBrowser in our everyday core library services.

When I started writing this tutorial, I realized that there wasn’t a lot of available literature around to assist in developing this, and that while a lot of libraries may want to train their staff on AquaBrowser, or schools want to introduce their students to what social catalogues are, there were limited resources available to do so. As a result, I not only wanted to created this tutorial for staff here at my library, but for other professionals to adopt as they saw fit and for library schools, hoping to not only teach what features are common in next generation catalogues, but the many different ways you can implement its functions into services such as Readers’ Services, Youth Services and Promotions/Events. Hopefully this tutorial will spark lots of ideas for you, indicate some future directions these catalogues should be exploring and the possibilities for using social catalogues.

One of the key objectives was to show staff that AquaBrowser (which we have named “Discover“) is more than just an updated version of the classic catalogue. As a result, the different sections of the tutorial explore, albeit not too deeply, the many ways we can use social catalogues to assist and enhance core library services. It isn’t just about pointing out what features exist and where they are located, but how to implement the use and benefits of AquaBrowser into everyday library services – and perhaps, while doing this, to realize some shortcomings, some potential and inspire additional ideas and thoughts about how social catalogues will be used in the future.

Because this is an ongoing work and the tutorial will continue to change and be updated to reflect ongoing enhancements, versions or components, I welcome new ideas or additional thoughts on how these catalogues can be used – or are being used in your libraries.

In the meantime, please feel free to use this tutorial at your own libraries, or to create your own tutorial using this one as a guide. Rather than re-inventing the wheel and duplicating the same “how to use our new catalogue” tutorial, I’d rather see other professionals spend their time thinking about additional ways to use these catalogues and how they benefit library services.

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Filed under Discovery tool platforms, Social catalogue

Presentation of interest focusing on Research and Next-Gen Catalogues

With Remembrance Day being a holiday on Thursday (here in Canada), I decided to take Friday off as well, giving myself a four day weekend, and an opportunity to work on finishing my first book (which has a deadline of December 15th!). While doing some additional searching on the internet and taking a look at the future directions next-generation catalogues might take, I ran across a presentation that I thought some of you might be interested in.

Some of you might have seen this already, especially if you attended ALA Annual this past summer and the session Cataloging and Beyond: Publishing for the Year of Cataloging Research. Amy Eklund gave a very good presentation on the shortage of research we have examining next generation catalogues, and areas that need to be explored.

Key points?

We should examine next generation catalogues because:
1. So far, a build it and they will come approach has been taken with these catalogues;
2. Discovery tool overlays, such as Encore and AquaBrowser, are not integrated with the catalogue, but sit on top, like an interface;
3. Next generation catalogue features are not based on large scale of evidence; and
4. Rich content contained in our bibliographic records is still not being used to its greatest potential.

I found Eklund’s presentation well-thought out and enjoyable. She hits on key areas of research that we need to explore and provides a few ideas as to specific concepts we should be examining.

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

Discover! Library Catalogues and RA Services

This morning, I gave a presentation in our library to new readers’ advisors. While my topic was short compared to the rest of the RA training for the day (but maybe this will change down the road!), I thought I’d share my presentation with all of you.

Unlike in past years, this year I focused on our new catalogue – AquaBrowser, which we are calling “Discover“. With the launch of our new catalogue looming in the near future, I felt it important to show the possibilities these new catalogues hold for RAs and Readers’ Services. With only a half hour to present, I had to fit a lot of content in – and leave out a lot too. If I could have presented everything on my wishlist, I would have addressed the following:

1. Theory behind using the catalogue and its benefits
2. Future directions with using the catalogue – especially with the direction next generation catalogues are heading and the integration of tools like NoveList Select.
3. How to use the catalogue today as an RA tool and the benefits of collaboration.
4 A hands on exercise for staff to attempt to use the catalogue in an RA conversation or to add RA content into the catalogue.

Alas, I only had time to present on number 3 – and only in the most superficial capacity. However, as always, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to present and to expose staff every year to the possibilities of the library catalogue – beyond that of the traditional, static inventory model that focuses on Boolean searching.


Filed under Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

How to: Deep Linking in AquaBrowser

Yesterday, I tweeted a quick post asking for assistance in creating either hrefs or URLS that could link into AquaBrowser. Specifically, link into canned searches, such as author searches, a specific subject or a combination of the two.

This is an issue that has been uppermost in my mind because of the popularity of reading lists and canned searches which we all use when linking from our websites or library blogs into the catalogue. For example, if we want to create a genealogy splash page, we want to link into key resources or pre-determined searches in our catalogues – if we can’t do this with our new catalogues, it’s a failure. One of the purposes of social catalogues, such as AquaBrowser, is to enhance user access and make the collection more visible by asking users to share and collaborate – and to make linking into the catalogue even easier! Fortunately, thanks to two colleagues of mine (one from my own library, and one from the New Brunswick Public Library Services), I’ve discovered this is possible. Not as easy as, perhaps, it should be, but we can continue creating our reading lists, resource lists and canned searches. Hopefully the “ease” in creating these links will develop as part of the vendor’s “intuitive” vision for these catalogues. From my own experience, the hands-on AquaBrowser crew are keen on new ideas and addressing shortcomings – so I think we’ll see some enhancements to deep linking in AquaBrowser.

While I’m still working out how to create complex canned searches that include Boolean – basic subject, author, ISBN and simple Boolean (with an implied AND) do work.

So, for those of you who have been trying to figure this out – I’m going to provide some examples straight out of our catalogue. Also, a nod to my colleague in New Brunswick who provided a really neat URL resource for linking into other libraries’ catalogues.

Examples for Deep-Linking in AquaBrowser

If you use a MARC tag, such as the 449 tag, to create linkable reading lists, you can recall those lists as well. For example, we have a Teen Picks List at HPL. This is how you’d link to it: Picks

And finally, just some helpful tips when creating links into AquaBrowser:
• – ‘q’ initiates the Aquabrowser with a query. This can be used to build a search box on another site or page, and deep link into AquaBrowser with a query.
• – ‘uilang=en’ sets the user interface language ‘ENglish’. Also supported are ‘nl’ ‘fr’ etc. More languages can be added in language.xml.
• – ‘itemid=default::31234′ (2.0 only) gives a direct deep link to the item in the table ‘default’ and id=’31234′.
• – ‘itemid=|library/marc/howardcounty|453410′ (2.2 and up) gives a direct deep link to the item with extID=’|library/marc/howardcounty|453410′ (extID can be found in record when ?debug=true)
• ‘branch=branchcoe’ allows you to preselect locations (branches). Note that you need to branch CODE, which may be different than the name displayed. To see the branch codes use debug=true and look at the xml generated for the branch selector (under the feedback module).

This is new to me as well – so please play around with it. As you can see, it’s not as intuitive as it can be – and will definitely take some time to create. In the past with our classic catalogues, all we had to do was use the URL provided to us by our search. However, in AquaBrowser, the URL never changes or “refreshes”, so we can’t see the URL. Unfortunately, patrons still won’t be able to share more than a single item URL with friends. Hopefully, in time, we’ll see if this changes. But, in the meantime, libraries can continue to link to pre-determined searches and reading lists in AquaBrowser.

And, just for fun, my New Brunswick colleague sent me the coolest link. Here’s what she had to say:

This is my favourite type of link to do in a social catalogue:

Everything user-tagged “Awesome”


Filed under Access Issues, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

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

ALA 2010: Eklund’s Slides for Research on Next Gen Catalogues

As with many of you who attended ALA (if you’re cataloguers) I, too, attended the “Cataloging and Beyond: the Year of Cataloging Research” session.

For those of you following me on Twitter, you might have seen my tweet observing the mass exodus of cataloguers when the last presentation – “Research on the Next Generation Catalog“, presented by Amy Eklund – began.

While I’d like to think half the room had another session to go to (and it was vital to leave this session early to get there), I’m wondering if many of the attendees left because they don’t believe next generation catalogues will impact their work, workflow or the future of cataloguing. Or, maybe they just have no interest in them. What a shame, because we need to study these new catalogues and their impact on cataloguing, as well as their impact on core library services and users/staff.

However, for those of you who are interested, Amy’s slides are now available, and I’d recommend taking a look. They address the shortcomings of research into next generation catalogues and the areas where further examination needs to occur.


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

Implementing AquaBrowser

Back in May, I was invited to give a presentation on Halifax’s implementation of our social discovery tool, AquaBrowser. Here are my slides of that presentation.

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