Category Archives: The Library 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).

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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

Where are the kids’ catalogues?

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?

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Filed under Access Issues, Discovery tool platforms, The Library Catalogue

You let a READER recommend a book??!!

“You let a reader recommend a book to another reader!?” asks the manager of a branch that provides RA services.

If you’re a readers’ advisor, have you ever caught yourself doubting the ability of an untrained RA to recommend a book or perform RA work? What, exactly, is the standard for being an RA? A high school degree? A master’s degree? Someone who enjoys reading?

I’ve overheard conversations where managers and other RAs were shocked, yes, SHOCKED, that anyone without at least a 4 year degree and formal RA training would be allowed to suggest books to readers and perform readers’ services tasks.

I’m asking this question today because many, if not most, cataloguing staff in public libraries are NOT considered RAs. I’m also asking this question in view of the fact that our new, next generation catalogues are inviting users to generate and share content. Naturally, this includes sharing reading ideas and collaborating within the social framework of our catalogues on what interests most users of the library – our collection. While this may not be limited to reading, but also recommending or commenting on movies and music, for the sake of this post (and in an attempt to keep it relatively short), I’m focusing specifically on reading and books because of the RA framework.

So, if the catalogue is or can be used by readers as a readers’ advisory tool but cataloguers aren’t considered or trained as RAs and patrons are supposed to collaborate and share reading ideas but aren’t trained RAs either, we’ve come up against a wall. A very big wall that, unfortunately, has been created by the traditional view that it is only librarians and certain “higher level” staff that have the knowledge in the library to tell (“suggest” or “tell”?) readers what they want. But is that the true spirit of readers’ services? Or, is it about putting the tools out their for everyone to use and examining how we can make all of our resources even better by expanding readers’ services in ways that we have not traditionally considered?

Wouldn’t it be exciting if, rather than just having author readings recorded and available on our websites, we provided recorded patron book discussions as well? Perhaps recordings of book club discussions and linked them to the books in the catalogue? What if these discussions were led by a trained readers’ advisor? Would that spark a great conversation within the catalogue around books and lead to further recommendations and suggestions by other avid readers? Would it make our readers stop and think about what, perhaps, attracted them to their last great read? Perhaps they’d realize it isn’t the mystery genre, but the descriptive language or the “tingly”, uncomfortable feeling they experienced anticipating yet another confrontation among the characters.

What about inviting book clubs outside of the library to comment on their latest reading choices or reading lists? Or, putting out a general invitation to our avid genre readers to create reviews for our catalogues? By taking advantage of these avid readers’ interests, we are inviting reader content within our catalogue in a community sense, rather than just from a select group of readers’ advisors who work within the library.

This should not be viewed as a way to undermine the knowledge and expertise of our existing RAs, but is a necessary progression of our services when we view the statistics regarding physical library visits and RA conversations versus our online and catalogue traffic, where users seek out their own “next good read”, without the benefit of remote RA tools. Remote access far exceeds the physical visits to our libraries.

Cataloguers, too, play a role in the future of readers’ services. With the growing use of our online presence as compared to our physical one, we need to explore how those users of the catalogue can also benefit from our readers’ advisory services. Because cataloguers are the primary creators of our catalogue content, it is important to teach them what readers’ services is and how readers look at the description of books and describe the experience of reading as a way to find books, rather than just a simply relying on author recognition or subject headings. Understanding the benefits of adding local additional content to bibliographic records to having cataloguers support the integration of RA tools within the catalogue (Chilifresh, NoveList, LibraryThing) can lead to strong allies and collaborative projects among staff and result in an even stronger readers’ advisory services library.

The first step that needs to be taken in leading RA services out of the physical branch and into the catalogue starts with our existing RAs’ mindsets. Rather than exclaim in shock that a fellow staff member (but not an RA) or a patron were suggesting books, look at these conversations as opportunities to grow our readers’ services. Book discussions are happening everywhere – and most happen without a trained readers’ advisor. Understanding that the few of us trained as RAs don’t own this expertise will help us to embrace the conversations and opportunities all around us – and to look for ways to grow readers’ services and go where the readers’ are. And, right now, they are in our library catalogues and on our websites.

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Filed under The Cataloguer, The Library Catalogue

The Hole in our Cards: Celebrating the birthday of a professional

Ever wonder who came up with the idea of putting holes in our cards in the card catalogue? I didn’t know who was responsible for this idea until I saw Larry Nix’s blog post on Otis Hall Robinson. December 3rd marked the 175th anniversary of the birth of Otis Hall Robinson who served as Librarian of the University of Rochester Library from 1868 to 1889.

What’s interesting, and Nix points this out as well: How often has a single idea or practice been adopted by every library in America?

Read more about Robinson here.

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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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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.

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Filed under Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue