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: Social catalogue
“You let a reader recommend a book to another reader!?” asks the manager of a branch that provides RA services.
If you’re a readers’ advisor, have you ever caught yourself doubting the ability of an untrained RA to recommend a book or perform RA work? What, exactly, is the standard for being an RA? A high school degree? A master’s degree? Someone who enjoys reading?
I’ve overheard conversations where managers and other RAs were shocked, yes, SHOCKED, that anyone without at least a 4 year degree and formal RA training would be allowed to suggest books to readers and perform readers’ services tasks.
I’m asking this question today because many, if not most, cataloguing staff in public libraries are NOT considered RAs. I’m also asking this question in view of the fact that our new, next generation catalogues are inviting users to generate and share content. Naturally, this includes sharing reading ideas and collaborating within the social framework of our catalogues on what interests most users of the library – our collection. While this may not be limited to reading, but also recommending or commenting on movies and music, for the sake of this post (and in an attempt to keep it relatively short), I’m focusing specifically on reading and books because of the RA framework.
So, if the catalogue is or can be used by readers as a readers’ advisory tool but cataloguers aren’t considered or trained as RAs and patrons are supposed to collaborate and share reading ideas but aren’t trained RAs either, we’ve come up against a wall. A very big wall that, unfortunately, has been created by the traditional view that it is only librarians and certain “higher level” staff that have the knowledge in the library to tell (“suggest” or “tell”?) readers what they want. But is that the true spirit of readers’ services? Or, is it about putting the tools out their for everyone to use and examining how we can make all of our resources even better by expanding readers’ services in ways that we have not traditionally considered?
Wouldn’t it be exciting if, rather than just having author readings recorded and available on our websites, we provided recorded patron book discussions as well? Perhaps recordings of book club discussions and linked them to the books in the catalogue? What if these discussions were led by a trained readers’ advisor? Would that spark a great conversation within the catalogue around books and lead to further recommendations and suggestions by other avid readers? Would it make our readers stop and think about what, perhaps, attracted them to their last great read? Perhaps they’d realize it isn’t the mystery genre, but the descriptive language or the “tingly”, uncomfortable feeling they experienced anticipating yet another confrontation among the characters.
What about inviting book clubs outside of the library to comment on their latest reading choices or reading lists? Or, putting out a general invitation to our avid genre readers to create reviews for our catalogues? By taking advantage of these avid readers’ interests, we are inviting reader content within our catalogue in a community sense, rather than just from a select group of readers’ advisors who work within the library.
This should not be viewed as a way to undermine the knowledge and expertise of our existing RAs, but is a necessary progression of our services when we view the statistics regarding physical library visits and RA conversations versus our online and catalogue traffic, where users seek out their own “next good read”, without the benefit of remote RA tools. Remote access far exceeds the physical visits to our libraries.
Cataloguers, too, play a role in the future of readers’ services. With the growing use of our online presence as compared to our physical one, we need to explore how those users of the catalogue can also benefit from our readers’ advisory services. Because cataloguers are the primary creators of our catalogue content, it is important to teach them what readers’ services is and how readers look at the description of books and describe the experience of reading as a way to find books, rather than just a simply relying on author recognition or subject headings. Understanding the benefits of adding local additional content to bibliographic records to having cataloguers support the integration of RA tools within the catalogue (Chilifresh, NoveList, LibraryThing) can lead to strong allies and collaborative projects among staff and result in an even stronger readers’ advisory services library.
The first step that needs to be taken in leading RA services out of the physical branch and into the catalogue starts with our existing RAs’ mindsets. Rather than exclaim in shock that a fellow staff member (but not an RA) or a patron were suggesting books, look at these conversations as opportunities to grow our readers’ services. Book discussions are happening everywhere – and most happen without a trained readers’ advisor. Understanding that the few of us trained as RAs don’t own this expertise will help us to embrace the conversations and opportunities all around us – and to look for ways to grow readers’ services and go where the readers’ are. And, right now, they are in our library catalogues and on our websites.
Having just arrived home this morning after taking the red-eye in from Edmonton, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight. And, fighting off what seems to be a cold of some sort.
However, I did want to take the time to post my slides from the presentation which Louise and I gave on our research. I think the session went well, considering we were opposite a “Hot Topic” session, where one of the Panelists was Stephen Abrams. We could certainly hear them through the walls having a good time! Even so, our room was filled and, given the session was at 8:30, the attendees looked interested and asked a lot of follow-up questions.
There’s some great work being done in Canada right now, and lots of excitement and opportunities arising out of the energy and creativity in our libraries. Once I’ve had a chance to look back through my notes, I’ll be sharing some of the themes and interesting ideas that I observed.
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.
Yesterday, Halifax Public Libraries launched their new discovery tool, AquaBrowser! While still in beta, we’re inviting feedback and I wanted to invite all of you to have a look at our new catalogue – and to provide your input. You can do this through the feedback button at the top of the catalogue, or by posting your thoughts right here!
We’ve been working on this installation for a year – and we’re very happy with the results.
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.
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