Tag Archives: Library catalogs

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

Slides: Social Catalogues and Readers’ Advisory Services

For those of you wondering why I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, my husband and I were in Italy on vacation. Visiting family and touring around, it was a much needed break before the writing deadlines, conferences and Spring yardwork begin!

However, now that I’m back and well-rested (at least for now!), I thought I’d take the time to post my slides from the audio conference that I gave on March 17th.

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Filed under Access Issues, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

Reading: Library Catalogs and Other Discovery Tools

Some of you may already be aware of OLA’s quarterly publication that was put out last Spring. But, I just ran across this Oregon Library Association’s issue devoted entirely to library catalogues and discovery tools.

In addition to an introduction by John Repplinger, Perspective on Catalogs, the following contributions are included in this publication:

The Evolution of Library Discovery Systems in the Web Environment by Mark Dahl

The Library Catalog as Experimental Sandboz by Tom Larsen

Reflections from Menucha by Stephanie Michel

LibraryFind: The Development of a Shared Library Platform at Oregon State University Libraries by Terry Reese

The New Summit: Building the Foundation for Enhanced User Services by Al Cornish

Building Catalogs in the Sand by Wade Guidry

Legacy Metadata and the New Catalog by Richard Sapon-White

Northwest Digital Archives: Evolution Access to Archives and Special Collections in the Northwest by Jodi Allison-Bunnell

A Usability Survey of Keyword Searching Using a University Library’s Catalog by Elizsabeth Ramsey

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Filed under Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

Librarianship’s Future Strengths: Are OPACs Broken?

I recently stumbled across an older ACRLog posting “Academic Librarianships’ Future Strengths?”

While the entire article gave me something to reflect upon and think about regarding our future strengths, I think the most interesting part of the post, from my perspective (and likely most of you if you’re reading this “Cataloguing” blog!) is the following:

While it’s still enough of a future strength to make the list, I’m optimistic about the OPAC. NC State, Koha, Evergreen, VuFind, Fac-Back-OPAC, WorldCat, LibraryThing, Aquabrowser, the Open Library, and the last proprietary ILS vendors standing, are making inroads. That said, your OPAC is broken if [emphasis added] it:
1. Doesn’t offer faceted browsing;
2. Doesn’t include federated search that retrieves relevant results from your entire collection (e.g. monographs, serials, other media, special collections);
3. Doesn’t have a permanent, clean URL for every item in your collection;
4. Doesn’t produce that URL in a way that shows up in Google/Yahoo/MSN/Ask, etc.;
5. Doesn’t offer useful feeds (e.g. new material, sorted by subject);
6. Requires that your constituents get trained in order to use it effectively.

Out of the 3 comments offered by readers at the end of this article, two of them are commenting on the OPAC. I find this very telling, given that the main thrust of the article is not about OPACs, nor does the section on them dominate the post.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say an OPAC is broken if it does not provide the features listed above, I believe that an OPAC that does not have these features is certainly in serious need of attention. However, if your library doesn’t have a plan or hasn’t started a dialogue about implementing these features, I would be very concerned. While some of these features already exist as an option in catalogues or have the capability of being implemented without significant expense, others require new ILS software, upgrades or the purchase of software such as Webfeat or Search 360 (federated searching). And, of course, when an OPAC requires these things, our first consideration is budget, followed closely by justifying the need for it and the demand on resources (including staff time and expertise for implementing these things).

As long as an OPAC can provide access, it isn’t broken. But, without useful features, it faces serious limitations and handicaps that will only escalate into very serious concerns for the future of any cataloguing department and the future of the catalogue in your library.

That said, I too am very optimistic about the OPAC, given all of the technology and attention it is being given by vendors, library management and professional literature. So – now we need to start making our own lists. What do you think about your own OPACs? Is yours broken? Half-broken? Just a little worse for wear? Or, are you already talking about these feaures and well on your way to implementing them?

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Filed under Access Issues, future of cataloguing, The Library Catalogue

An article of interest

If you follow the blog In the Library with the Leadpipe, then you’ve seen the recent article We’re Gonna Geek This Mother Out. It’s an interesting piece and worth reading even if you don’t agree with what Mr. Singer writes.

Mr. Singer performs two searches at the end of his article as supporting evidence for his position. I urge you to try these searches in the Queens Borough Public Library Catalogue (which uses AquaBrowser). The searches and results are far more successful and allow for some “discovery” if you use the word cloud (specifically for the Olive Kitteridge search).

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Filed under Access Issues, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

Subject navigation for today’s and tomorrow’s library catalogs

This entry is further to Cataloging Futures’ post  LC working group report: an insider’s view.

I found John Mark Ockerbloom‘s ALA midwinter presentation “Mapping the library future: subject navigation for today’s and tomorrow’s library catalogs” on the blog Resource Shelf.  Although posted on several sites, I haven’t found any discussion on this presentation yet.

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Filed under Subject Headings, The Library Catalogue