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:
Tag Archives: Next generation 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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question on Twitter: Should next generation catalogues allow user to manipulate data within the catalogue or focus on great sharing and “breaking apart” of data for external use?
I received several responses. Some asked “why can’t they do both”? while another indicated that we should stop asking questions and “…move on. Times a wastin’” [sic] Yet another indicated that the term “catalog” might be the problem, given that the term is steeped in tradition and therefore hard to redefine.
The question was prompted a day after attending my last ALA session, You found it, now what? Extended services in next generation catalogues. Eric Lease Morgan, John Blyberg and Tim Spalding were the panelists for this presentation, attended by an (unfortunately) underwhelming crowd of about 20 (I’m rounding up). The number of attendees was disappointing because it is a valuable topic and an issue we need to address.
The session topic can actually be broken into two questions: What types of features and functions will next generation catalogues provide in the future? and What can we do with next generation catalogues after they’ve been implemented that goes beyond findability and discoverability?
Okay, we’ve implemented these *great* new catalogues and yet, now that they’re in place, we really don’t know what to do with them or where to go from here. While there are a small number of professionals exploring their potential beyond tagging, rating and reviewing, many professionals are accepting that they represent the new catalogue, but are nothing more than another “version” of the catalogue. Similar, in a way, to our first automated library catalogue – it’s a migration from the card catalogue, but it’s still the same ol’ thing.
In the literature that I’ve been reading, there’s talk of moving to next next generation catalogues. While we can all find humour in the amount of “nexts” we’ll use until we think the catalogue has mutated and transformed into something perfect, just when are we going to say enough!
Let’s say, for example, we stick with the name “next generation catalogue” and now, focus on the technology and uses of these new and ever-evolving catalogues. Because they are still relatively new and underdeveloped, we don’t need to move on to new names, such as next generation catalogues 3.0, 4.0 and so on. Let’s stick with one name and figure out what we have in our new catalogues and, not just from a cataloguing and technology perspective, but from a frontline staff (reference, readers’ advisory, programming and so on) perspective.
So, we’ve implemented a next generation catalogue, now what? So many libraries have implemented these catalogues and then…nothing. Staff are trained, a preliminary feedback survey may have been implemented to seek patron and staff opinion and that’s where it ends. However, exploration needs to go beyond this most basic and preliminary stage. How are staff using the catalogue? Has it made the reference department’s tasks easier because of federated searching and the ability to search multiple, additional external data sources (such as websites) all in one search? Are staff promoting the tagging and reviewing features to local book clubs? Are cataloguers looking at tags and their local usage by patrons? Has the library website been added as a data source so that library locations and hours, as well as programming, can be searched from within the catalogue in one search?
I suppose, rather than asking a question about whether a library catalogue should be “this or that”, we should be asking “if” a catalogue can do something, “how” it can do it and “why not try it”. Exploration of next generation catalogues and their true potential has not even begun to the extent that is needed to realize their potential.
While we can talk about adding extra features to the catalogue (which is good!), we also need to talk about existing uses of next generation catalogues and their features to enhance core library services, perhaps significantly altering staff workflow or procedures to create even better services, options and access to patrons – however they want to use our library catalogue – and by whatever name they choose to call it.
In a world where information flows freely and we’re slowly shedding the limitations of our existing ILSs, it’s easy to take for granted that the statistics and data on which many of our services rely upon is ours. We can run reports on it, use it to justify new programs and services, observe trends and justify (or not justify) the existence of extra staff, resources or departments. Statistics are important and, the longer I work as a cataloguer, the more it’s reinforced. As a result, I’ve become a “data girl”.
I love statistics. On any given day, I can take a look at what is happening in our library, what’s “trending” and the most popular searches. Being able to observe dead-end searches, where our users are coming from and the amount of interaction (in a variety of ways) that patrons are interacting with the catalogue is exciting and informative.
With new discovery tools and social catalogues, library management and cataloguers are taking it for granted that the same freedom we’ve had with our ILS data carries over to these new tools. However, that isn’t always the case. And, just like the many complaints about limitations we’ve had with our ILSs, there are limitations on the access to your data and types of statistics kept by discovery tools.
While many professionals are already pushing for a next next generation catalogue…and maybe even a next next next generation catalogue (perhaps we can think of something easier?), many of us are still navigating through the intricacies of implementing our first “next” generation catalogue. In all of the excitement of what is NOW and what is coming with catalogues, especially the features, potential and “shiny new” characteristics, it’s easy to overlook why we’re implementing them.
And, while it has been a habit in many public libraries simply to say “we’re implementing it because people want it”, there are problems with this method. To get to the point where we know “people want it” we need to look at data – surveys, user groups, usage patterns and a variety of other data sources. To prove that the new catalogue is successful, we need more data – surveys, user groups, usage patterns and so on.
But, what happens when you don’t have access to your data? What if the data provided to you is limited or restricted? What if it’s usage and access is restricted by your vendor? What if the data that concerns you most, such as statistics on social features in catalogues is missing?
Data is powerful. How it is manipulated (and I’m using this word on purpose) for reports, how it is presented and what it can show you is vital to properly evaluating a discovery tool and its success/failure at your library.
For me, I tend to look at statistics throughout the month. But it’s also comforting to know that the data I look at belongs to my library and we can share it with whomever we choose and pull out a variety of detail that may appear useless to someone else.
Because many discovery tools sit on top of your ILS, it’s easy to rely on the data from your ILS to give you a picture of usage. However, your ILS can’t give you usage statistics on social feature usage, use of facet navigation features and user generated information – the key features behind why a discovery tool/social catalogue was implemented. If we can’t see if these features are being used or if the usage changes over time, we can’t justify their existence. And, we certainly can’t provide supporting evidence to vendors when we ask them to change, alter or create additional features for our catalogues.
When choosing a discovery tool, social catalogue, or whatever you call it at your library, ask questions and read the fine print. Who owns your data? How much access will you have to it? Can you share it? While it’s easy to get caught up in the wealth of opportunities and potential benefits that next generation catalogues offer, don’t forget to ask vital questions that will assist you in examining the justification of their existence.
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.
Okay, confession. I think about social catalogues more than is probably healthy. During the day, at night, on weekends…in the car while I’m drinking my Tim Horton’s…
But, there are some days when you do wonder, just why am I doing this? Is it worth the time and energy? The stress? But, then you receive a suggestion like this from a patron, and you think with a smile, that’s why.
Here’s the suggestion:
“Combine your website with social networking web technology so that when people put items on hold, they have the option to connect with other library users who have also put that item on hold at some time. I got this idea as it occurred to me that I’d like to chat with other library patrons who might share similar interests. I’d put a book on hold, such as “Songwriters on Songwriting”, and think how fun it would be to find other local people who share my interests in songwriting; others who would have also signed out this book.”