Tag Archives: collaborative tools

Are catalogues more than an inventory? Or, more than just a place to query library holdings?

Yesterday, Ivy from The Catalogs of Babes, posted a great piece called All catalog queries are reference questions, but not all reference questions are catalog queries.

Ivy’s post goes to the heart of what I’ve been exploring for the past year. In fact, the book I’m currently writing explores the idea that catalogues can be much more than inventories. In fact, if we are willing to redefine and explore the potential of catalogues through the new technologies available to us, they can play a vital role in enhancing not only local “core” library services within the physical branch, but create a remote “all-in-one” branch that includes interaction with reference staff and readers’ advisors.

What struck a chord in this post is Ivy’s exploration of the following:

If catalogs truly aren’t designed to work like reference librarians or Google information searches, then it’s not fair to patrons who have that impression and expectation. It should be on us to make it clear that the catalog is a list of what the library holds and nothing more. Maybe we need to start referring to it as an “inventory” rather than a catalog?

Exploration, acceptance or even the concession that library catalogues can never be more than an inventory should give us all pause; given the technology at our fingertips and the continual growth and maturation of “social” (what I have recently been calling “Collaborative”) catalogues.

The shift has only recently occurred that we no longer compare ourselves to Amazon or Wikipedia, but now to the grander and all-encompassing Google. It is fair to assume that many of our patrons may not understand how the search box in Google differs from our library catalogue and the ranking of results. However, is it safe to assume that users who find themselves on the library website or catalogue believe that the catalogue is another Google? If they do assume we are just another Google search engine on a local scale, why do they believe this and why do they continue to believe this? Does some of the fault lie with us, trying to be all things to all people?

Rather than comparing ourselves to Google, I’d rather look at what the library offers (can offer, doesn’t yet offer, etc.) and the expectations from users as to what they want from us (where does our value lie in community?) and then look at if we are successful at doing this. And, as a result, how to carry out these expectations to meet the mandate and needs set by our users, and our profession.

One of the primary topics I am interested in focuses on the catalogue being MORE than an inventory, rather than just an inventory. If we use the technology at our fingertips, a library catalogue can incorporate reference and readers services into it. There are chat widgets for reference and RA staff that can be placed not only on the catalogue interface, but within the catalogue. There are add-ons to catalogues that includes faceted navigation as well as reading recommendations (NoveList Select).

In that way, catalogues can be more than just an inventory. In fact, catalogues can offer remote patrons access to reference staff, reading recommendations, access to readers’ advisors and access to all of the holdings in the library (including “virtual” holdings like our downloadable collections and subscription databases). In fact, with the genius of Youtube, author readings and other programs that occur at the library (and are recorded) can now be catalogued so that they, too, can be accessed. I’ve even seen libraries work together with local museums, community groups and cultural groups to incorporate museum exhibits, events, courses, organizations and so on in search results within the library catalogue.

As a result, the library catalogue has now become a gateway to numerous core branch services, as well as a wealth of other information not housed within the library.

It is only our own definition of the limitations of what the catalogue can and can not do that hinders the potential of the library catalogue. Will everything work that I suggest? No. Do I want professionals to disagree? Absolutely. It is only through discussion and exploration of these issues that we can truly see the catalogue mature and grow. However, I don’t think that I can accept that the catalogue is only an inventory. Not when I see the wealth of opportunities and creative ways we can use the catalogue now and in the future.

I think Ivy’s post should get us all thinking about the limitations of the catalogue – limitations we place on it, technology and resources place on it and then, we need to explore how many of those limitations we can eliminate.


Filed under Discovery tool platforms, future of cataloguing, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

Our wiki celebrates it 1st anniversary

We celebrated the passing of our wiki’s  first anniversary by making it available to all Halifax Public Library staff.  We call the “public” side of our wiki, CataWiki. 

This has been a work in progress for over 8 months.  It began to take shape in my mind when our department continually received the same questions about the catalogue.  So, I began soliciting questions for a FAQ for our catalogue and our department.  For example, what constitutes a 3 day v. 7 day loan for feature DVDs? Why is there no item information in the public display of the catalogue but the staff side has the item information?  What items get what stickers? What do I do if I accidently delete an item from the catalogue? and so on. Rather than preparing a static document that would become outdated within weeks, I wanted a live document that could continue be used as a resource and always be in a constant state of improvement and growth.  And, as Oprah would say, that was my “Ahah” moment.  Why not put this FAQ on the wiki, where staff can bookmark it and refer to it.  They can even subscribe to an RSS feed on the wiki (this feature is forthcoming).

Of course, my immediate concern was security.  I have experience with a wiki on a public domain which was spammed beyond repair.  My concerns in that regard were put to rest at the inception of our wiki – which is housed on our local server and only available through the library’s intranet.  But what about keeping department information private and inaccessible to branch staff?  What about editing privileges?

So began my collaboration with our IT manager.  Brainstorming, we came up with the idea of two wikis – linked by providing a URL on each wiki.  The wiki with our department information, which includes minutes to meetings, project proposals and in-depth information on cataloguing practices, procedures and decisions was protected by a login page.  The login page prevents access to anyone who doesn’t have an approved account.  As the system operator of the wiki, I have final approval of the users and am able to block unwanted users or accounts from being created.  As a result, no one outside of our department can view or edit our department information. 

Once that security was in place and URLS were provided on each wiki for easy navigation between the two (for ease in editing for our department), I began protecting the “public” side of our wiki.  Again, while I wanted to make this information accessible to the branch staff, I didn’t want them to have editing privileges.  At this point, some of you may groan and say I’ve missed the point of the wiki.  Not at all.  I understanding the concept of collaborating and user-generated information.  But there are specific purposes for everything and in this case, our wiki is, in a way, a marketing tool to help us come out of the backroom.  It is a window into the cataloguing department which, I hope, will remove some of the mystique and negative attitudes often directed our way. 

Allowing all of the library staff access to our latest fiction genre headings, changes in subject heading usages and FAQ will provide staff with a glimpse into what cataloguers do.  It will also assist in providing staff with the knowledge to better use our catalogue, and as a result, better serve our patrons.  We’re also including access to lists that may be “hidden” in the catalogue when off season or if they’ve been popular in the past.  For instance, Best of lists, holiday lists or topical lists that we just don’t have room to feature on our catalogue will shortly become available for staff to view.  This will become an incredible resource for patrons because staff will be aware of lists that are generally forgotten about.  Each list will have a link directly into the catalogue so that staff can work directly with patrons to help them find items to borrow. 

Given that this launch only occured this past Monday, I’ll have more to report down the road.  However, the initial feedback has been incredibly positive.  I know there is still a long road (and perhaps a steep hill or two) to travel before this idea really takes off and the wiki is used to its full potential but, we have to start somewhere.


Filed under In the Cataloguing Department, The Cataloguer

Using our in-house Wiki to keep cataloguers aware of subject heading changes

We recently received our hard copy of the Cataloging Service Bulletin from the Library of Congress. Our usual practice is to circulate this bulletin among all of the cataloguers so that they can make changes or add new subject headings in our own catalogue. In addition to the new subject headings that may or may not be adopted, there are subject headings that we alter or change. It is important to let all of the cataloguers know about these changes so that we maintain uniformity in our catalogue. Our practice in the past has been to send out group emails to advise everyone about these changes once all the decisions have been made.

Earlier this week, I had some great suggestions from two of my cataloguers. Rather than having a meeting to discuss the changes or additions, as we have in the past, one of the cataloguers suggested we add this information to the wiki. As each cataloguer has a chance to read the bulletin, they can add to the list of new, changed or old subject headings. Another cataloguer also suggested linking the pdfs of the Bulletin to the wiki. This will allow everyone to revisit decision made by LC, and in essence, everyone will then have a copy of the bulletin at their fingertips for reference.

Both of these are excellent ideas. Because of the format of the wiki, the entire department can also enter into discussions, or read the comments from the other cataloguers regarding any changes.

I’m looking forward to implementing these ideas.

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Filed under Authority Work, In the Cataloguing Department, Subject Headings

Wikis and Cataloguers: Success for the First Step

Our new wiki was installed in the beginning of December. I was both nervous and excited. This is the first “big” project that could have a huge impact not only in the cataloguing department, but also throughout the rest of the library. If this pilot project works, I can write a report that recommends wikis for other departments throughout the library system, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses that I have encountered, as well as the learning curves, training challenges and staff participation.

The First Step
Although not fully implemented, my first step with our Wiki was to introduce the cataloguers to its possible functions and uses. I put up many of our cataloguing “cheat sheets”, links to relevant cataloguing sites, department announcements and recent cataloguing decisions from LC and LAC. Sending them the link to the Wiki, I asked them to have a look around, get use to the navigating aspects and layouts. Upon reviewing the site, I asked for their feedback: What did they like? Dislike? Ideas for adding new content?

With my excitement in this project and by taking the time to answer questions and explain the possibilities of the Wiki, all of the cataloguers began suggesting ideas or providing me with feedback. One of the most rewarding moments was when one of the cataloguers suggested we put our “working” New Lists on the Wiki.

Collaborative Lists
New Lists are created as we catalogue items. Like most cataloguing departments, each cataloguer is in charge of cataloguing specific materials (DVDs, CD, Fiction, Talking books, Non-fiction, Children’s Non-fiction, etc). As we catalogue, items published or released within the last two years are added to “New” lists which are provided to the public and are constantly being edited and updated. Each cataloguer is responsible for their list, which reflects the items they catalogue. However, when backlogs occur, several cataloguers may be assigned to a specific collection to reduce the backlog.

With several cataloguers contributing to these New lists, it was becoming difficult for the main cataloguer in charge of the list to keep track of the item, how long they had been on the list, and when they should be removed. In addition, many cataloguers have their own system for keeping track of the lists (I.e. Word documents, Excel Charts, Handwritten notes). The time to organize these lists when multiple cataloguers were contributing was becoming a concern.

Our solution was to place the New lists on the Wiki. Presently, we are actively contributing to the New! Latest CDs list. This is an internal list that can be seen and edited by all cataloguers.

Because of the backlog, there can be up to four cataloguers contributing to this list at once. Because of the Wiki, there is one master list for each collection and the items are sorted by date. The cataloguer in charge of the list can then see when the item was added, how long it has been on the list and who added the item. This makes editing the live list in the cataloguer much easier. The amount of time that this has saved is equivalent to a couple of hours a week. As a result of the hours being saved organizing and editing the lists, more time can be spent cataloguing and reducing backlogs in other areas.

This is the first of many steps that I hope to take in the department. My next step is to set up a tutorial to allow cataloguers to create a group page and to collaborate on a project, using the features a Wiki has to offer. Once they have completed this tutorial, they should have the skills and knowledge to jump in to using the Wiki on a regular basis.


Filed under In the Cataloguing Department, The Cataloguer