Computers in Libraries 2007: Catalogs for the future

Tim Spalding, Library Thing

Your OPAC needs to be more than usable — it needs to be fun.  Usability and findability aren’t enough, you also need “funability”.   [which is now a Danish word, due to giving this talk in Denmark.  Heh.]

Get away from the notion that the website and the catalog are not the same thing.  Libraries hide their catalogs on their site — which is because they’re ashamed of them.  They suck, and they’re static, and they’re not fun.  But if it were fun, you’d be proud of it, and you’d help people find it rather than hiding it.

Stuff to do:

  • Allow inbound links to the catalog.  Make pages and bibs and items static-ly linkable so that people can connect to your content from their home on the web on their own terms.
  • Link outwards, not just from your website but from your catalog.  Outbound links = inbound traffic (one of the paradoxes of the web).  Libraries like to say “No, we’ll never link out to a commercial service”.  WHY?  “Your users know about the local bookstore.  They know about Amazon.”  So why are you pretending they don’t?  Provide links!  Make it easy for people.  [Make ‘em like you.]  “Don’t be the mall.  The mall wants you to stay indoors, and hides the exits, and all stairs lead to more mall.  Let people leave.”
  • Link wildly.  Link everything you can, make it all clickable, have it go places, and let people go where they want to go.  Embrace serendipity!  “It is advisable to have your patrons get entertainingly lost”
  • Dress up your OPAC.  Use Syndetics, or use Amazon (but then you have to link to them, oh the horror) to put book covers in.  Right now.  Link to Wikipedia’s pages by ISBN.
  • Get your data out there, because there are people who can do stuff with it.  You’re not the only one who can do things with data, and people will do cool stuff with it if you let them.  There are more tech people who want to do fun stuff than just work for you.  Use RSS feeds for searches or subjects or new books or … whatever.  Stuff.  Stuff pushed to users.  Because people don’t want your content, they want their content — so let them make your content their content.  Allow widget creation — widgets for what users have checked out, widgets for what they owe in fines, widgets for … stuff!  (and ignore your gut concerns about privacy — if someone voluntarily downloads a widget that exposes their personal information, that was their choice and you’re not violating anything.)

Roy Tennant
Future of the catalog?  What future?  Catalogs DON’T have a future, at least not as we know and hate them.

The demise of the local catalog.  Discovery increasingly happens at the network level — Google, Microsoft, Open WorldCat — not at the local level, in the catalog.  Few users want to limit one search to just books, and the library catalog is [the last] place that insists on that.  This doesn’t imply the ILS is dying, just that we must think differently about helping people find content and resist our standard focus on catalogs.

New world order:  Disaggregated searching.  Google, Union catalogs, Worldcat, ILS, federated search, etc.

Users have always assumed that they would find articles in the catalog, and we’ve always explained why they won’t.  Let’s stop that, and let them find articles and books with one search.  Which is what users prefer.  This isn’t going to come soon from our vendors, but others are making it better — OpenWorldCat could change things for us.  (faceted browsing, clean displays, relevance ranking, integrated articles).  FictionFinder.  WorldCat Identies.   Etcetera.  All of this gives a richness to the data that we’ve been creating over the last 40 years, and it’s a richness we haven’t been able to provide.  [We need to embrace these things, rather than insist that the way we do it is best, and that these are ‘add-ons’.  These aren’t add-ons, these are important tools for our users to have access to.  Just because we didn’t make them, or buy them intentionally from a traditional vendor, or give permission for them… that must not stop us from accepting and embracing them.  We have to let go of our territoriality about our data.]

Next Gen ILS:  Focus on the back-end of library work, and getting that work done.  Constructed with discrete components, and able to work better with other systems.   Inexpensive, scalable, and easy to maintain.  And, hey, it exists – Pine’s Evergreen can do it, and continues to develop more and more features.

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