We made history in the RA world at APLA this year. For the first time outside of Ontario, an RA in a Day pre-conference session was held in Canada. I was able to speak at this conference in a presentation called Social Catalogues: Enriching Content that Enhances RA Services.
Social catalogues will play a vital role in promoting RA services in the future. It’s already happening. I believe that the future of the library catalogues will rest on whether we can become a place, rather than an inventory.
When we talk about RA services, we emphasize that true RA work cannot be accomplished without the trust of our readers. What about our silent reader? Our remote readers? What about our avid readers who wish they were librarians and want to share their reading suggestions? You won’t find these readers in the library asking our RAs for help, but you will find them in the library catalogue – at least, that’s where they should be. Right now, they are using social cataloguing sites like LibraryThing. But, I believe they are just waiting for us to catch up and when we do, what’s coming will be amazing.
When I presented at the pre-conference, I emphasized the movement toward social features in our library catalogues and the new face of the library catalogue. Much of what I discussed already exists to some extent, but much of what I discussed is what’s coming, or should be coming soon. There are so many ways we can explore social technology to create a community of trust among our readers through the library catalogue. That trust will bring RA work into our readers’ homes.
From the expressions on some of the attendees’ faces, I can certainly say I was met with skepticism as well as doubt. Many “traditionalists” either don’t want to believe or have a hard time believing that the library catalogue will ever be more than a static inventory. That’s unfortunate. However, many more librarians were eager to hear my ideas and what can be accomplished in the future, should RAs and cataloguers begin working together. I am assuming this by the smiles, nods and discussions I had later that day and throughout the rest of the conference.
For so long there has been a divide (okay, a gigantic chasm) between technical services and frontline services. But, I view RA services as another “backroom” service. Like cataloguing, many people don’t understand readers’ advisory services and as a result, they believe it’s “easy”, unimportant or grounded in common sense. After all, how hard is it to suggest a book for someone to read? That’s the same attitude that many professionals have directed toward cataloguing for many years. However, both cataloguing and RA services are growing and gaining popularity. The RA work that is occurring is new and fresh, as are the changes being made to the library catalogue. This is an opportunity and a possible collaboration that cannot be ignored.
To quote Karen Calhoun, “the future is so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.”