Now that things have settled down after ALA, I’ve had a chance to go through the rest of my notes from the sessions at ALA. On Monday, July 12th, ALCTS hosted this session on keeping our catalogues relevant.
The panel for this session included Renee Register (OCLC), Beth Jefferson (Bibliocommons), David Flaxbart (University of Texas, Austin) and Ellen Safley (University of Texas, Dallas). Their slides should be available for viewing shortly.
After watching two shuttles (at 7:00 am) depart from the Hyatt, there was finally room for me on the third. As we rolled over to the 8:00 session at the convention centre, I was excited about this presentation. What new ideas will be presented? What are other libraries doing? What are the triumphs or disappointments they are facing? I was not disappointed.
When I arrived, the room was already quite full. By the time the session started, there were a large number of attendees, something I was very happy to see. Let’s hope some of them were frontline staff, as well as technical services professionals!
I’m going to outline the highlights of everyone’s presentation, emphasizing key points, and issues we should be thinking about. Much of what I’m outlining are my own thoughts, based on the presenters’ presentations, so for those of you who also attended, my notes and outline may differ from yours.
Renee Register (OCLC)
We should be thinking of the “catalogue as an experience”
• Think about catalogues in terms of metadata. How will our content evolve with the birth of next generation catalogues?
Is the catalogue dead?
• The catalogue is more present than ever. It is only our methods that are changing. There are more players in the metadata field. Especially in the electronic form.
• Amazon doesn’t create, they pull metadata from other sources to create the “mash-up” of information our patrons have become familiar with.
• **We need to create the ability for end-users to interact with our metadata.
• Because our catalogues are taken for granted (we do all the work but the work is not seen) our cataloguing and the catalogue is only noticed when the information is wrong, or doesn’t work right. There’s a level of expectation.
• Encouraging interoperability
• Homogenizing data
• Ability to re-mix and re-use metadata
• Create neutral formats for seamless sharing from a variety of sources
• Capitalize on our strengths of metadata contributors
• *Participate in the exchange of metadata
Beth Jefferson (Bibliocommons)
Although I hadn’t met Beth until this conference, I am familiar with her work and Bibliocommons. It’s a popular new social discovery tool in Canada, which is gaining a certain amount of attention. If you’d like to see an example of BiblioCommons, see the Oakville Public Library Catalogue.
Beth’s presentation focussed primarily on public library catalogues. She began by saying it is not a matter of resuscitating our catalogue, but of re-thinking the possibilities of our public catalogue and what it can do.
Rethinking the public library catalogue
• We’ve missed a generation of technology. While we are only starting to introduce tagging, new technology is already moving beyond this.
• Less is more. We have a habit of loading down our catalogues with information, rather than remembering our purpose – helping to narrow down our users’ searches to get less.
• We need to consider precision vs. recall. It matters with facets. From what I gathered from Beth’s comments, Bibliocommons has created two levels of searching. The first searches only title, author and subject. The second searches all indexed content.
• Catalogues are meant to enable discovery. Many users are searching by format first, then audience, etc. How are our catalogues coping with this?
What users traditionally did in the physical library we need to recreate and automate in the library catalogue. How do we mirror this search/behaviour in our OPACs? Let’s consider or watch how our users browse and search in the physical library. They look at our shelving carts for popular reading ideas (if someone else just took it out, it must be good). They look at covers and books they’ve read reviews about. So, why don’t we create widgets that reflect recently reviewed or returned items? Why not add cover art that can be browsed?
What I really enjoyed about Beth’s presentation is that she has some of the same ideas and interests as me. When pushing the catalogue beyond our familiar boundaries, she too is an advocate of introducing discussion forums into the catalogue, as well as the ability for users to respond to comments/reviews about items. Like social networking sites, why not connect our users to each other? Perhaps we should add the ability to “follow” other readers comments and reading suggestions. Like in facebook, we can provide a forum where users can “trust” one another for reading suggestions and allow for them to send messages to each other. This goes beyond what we think about the catalogue today. It goes beyond tagging, even. This allows a new level of interaction and brings me back to my own vision – that a catalogue is a place, not just an inventory. It’s great to see a vendor taking the same view.
Making the catalogue practical and personal
• Allow users to control their account activity
• Users want to manage and personalize their accounts. They want to create usernames (rather than using a barcode) and many users want to keep track of “their stuff”, which may include writing personalized annotations about books they like or have read. This will allow them to refer to their account for future reading ideas, or assisting in suggestion reading ideas to the online catalogue community.
One catch phrase Beth used that I really liked is “Using collections to build connections”. Our collections are in the catalogue, let’s enable our users to really use our collections to connect with eachother.
David Flabart and Ellen Safley discussed their experiences implementing new catalogues in academic libraries. David’s library only recently implemented Innovative Interfaces (purchased in 2005, implemented in 2007). David walked us through his library’s experience, including the need for setting early goals (for example, customization was key on their list). While they created customized search examples, icons and external linking, he also spoke of the challenges academic libraries face, as opposed to public libraries. Academic libraries have two very different users: students and professors. They have different needs, wants and expectations. This difference goes beyond public library vs. academic library, but user “class” differences. Professors want reviews from colleagues, not their students and students expect a certain level of service based on their tuition fees.
Ellen had a great line that I wanted to quote. “If people don’t need to learn how to use Google or Amazon, why do we make our catalogues so difficult that we have to offer training?” That’s an excellent point. She offered the following in her presentation:
• To find, NOT search
• Lose the professional jargon in the catalogue – for example, “holdings”, acronyms and so on.
• Make it simple
• Make options more visible (facets)
• Boolean is out – let’s give users one single search box.
I think that all of the speakers made some excellent points. Next generation catalogues are about building community and allowing users to participate as much or as little as they want – just as they do in our physical library community. We should be looking into ways to maximize on our users wants, needs and expertise. Mining this social data will allow a new level of discovery in our catalogues. With the inevitable implementation of RDA and the relationship mapping that we are starting to build upon, we are going to see changes in cataloguing practices and they should allow us to grow with our user community. I hope that the attendees who were at this session walked away with ideas and an understanding that the catalogue can change – if we’re not afraid to let it.