Tag Archives: User generated content

You let a READER recommend a book??!!

“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.


Filed under The Cataloguer, The Library Catalogue

Social Tagging in the Catalogue: You allow that?!

If you’ve been reading the latest American Libraries Direct, you’ve seen the article about the “hate speech” tag that has been assigned to a significant amount of works by Ann Coulter at Mount Prospect Public Library.

A patron, scrolling through a list of books by Ms. Coulter, discovered the books and complained:

“I don’t understand why the library is letting people make political statements on their site,” said Alaimo, a political conservative. “By not taking it off, the library is agreeing with it.”

Fortunately, as the article goes on to state, the library officials disagree with Mike Alaimo, the library patron who made the complaint.  Unfortunately, many other library officials reading this are nodding their heads in affirmation that it was only a matter of time a patron complained – after all, how can we “control” our catalogue and what goes in it if we allow users to generate their own tags and contribute to our catalogues. 

This is a heated discussion that often comes across AUTOCAT, with the most recent occurring over Sarah Palin’s new book and the tags “I can see Russia” and, if memory serves, “Sea of Pee”.

I’ve had a look at Mount Prospect’s catalogue and records.  Mount Prospect Public Library is using the discovery layer AquaBrowser. I am very familiar with this product because our library is just finishing the AB implementation process.  AB uses LibraryThing tags to populate the user tags in bib records.  This is a perk, because many libraries don’t have the population or patron usage to make tagging successful without an underlying foundation.

However, as tags are added by users, just like in LibraryThing, they are weighted by the amount of times they are used.  Absurd, ridiculous or inaccurate tags as considered by the general user (or us) will become buried as more and more users tag with similar or “better” tags.  In the end, those tags that aren’t useful will fall to the very bottom of the retrieval list as newer, more useful tags are added or reaffirmed.  This system only fails when there are very few tags, or the library makes the decision to display all tags associated with an item, rather than the top 5 – 10 – 15, and so on.  Is there a need to display more than 10 or 15 terms?  Usually, those terms in the top 10 are the most useful and most frequently used. 

AB also has an option for a “black list” that allows a library to build an index of terms that are not allowed.  There is an existing, standard list by many libraries using AB and each individual library can build upon or remove from that list as needed or desired.  As a result, socially unacceptable terms (as determined by each library) are barred from appearing in user tags and reviews.  However, tags that reflect public opinion, emotions, ideas or views should not.  After all, these are user tags, not access points created by the library – by professionals.  And, despite many professionals’ concerns, user tags are not inserted into our records, they merely sit “on top” like another layer of icing on cake.

Studies have shown that user tags result in a consensus of acceptable vocabulary created by users.  The masses outweigh the handful of individuals that tend to fall into the extremes – whether it is through individual point of views or a creative use of language to get around the black-listed words.

Steven Arakawa, Catalogue Librarian for Training and Documentation at Yale University made a good point on AUTOCAT when speaking about the controversial tags assigned to Sarah Palin’s new book:

“It’s to be expected that political and cultural friction works will generate tags that push the envelope of decorum and often do more harm than good for the position being advocated. And the official “tags” provided by catalogers can introduce objectivity and neutrality which is a positive contribution if sometimes bland, like network news.

But no one seems to have put in a good word for taggers’ specialist knowledge–as opposed to emotional connection–regarding many niche subjects, knowledge that might very well go beyond the general knowledge of the average cataloger.”


Filed under Access Issues, Discovery tool platforms, Social catalogue

LibraryThing for Libraries

What does it look like?  I admit, in this instance, I’m a little slow on the uptake.

While we’ve all heard a lot about it (and many of you have seen examples), I haven’t actually encountered a library using LibraryThing for Libraries until last week. If you’d like to see a legacy catalogue that’s using LibraryThing for Libraries, check out Palmerston North City Library.

The example below is a search I did on Ami McKay’s “The Birth House”.


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Filed under Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue