Catalogs, the reinvention

WoePac to WowPac

Roy Tennant reiterates the need to kill the term OPAC (like, duh). He also acknowledged just how successful he’s been on this. (heh)

Some taxonomic housekeeping:
ILS = integrated library system, to control circulation, acquisition, inventory control, etc.
Discovery System = the public-facing tool, to sit on top of the ILS, harvesting its data through a different interface.

Before looking into next-gen ILS and discovery tools, ask yourself, do you want to replace the ILS, or the discovery system? Do you think you can consider open-source options? Do you have the technical expertise in house to manage a system? Are you willing to do the maintenance required by a discovery system that needs harvested data? The answers to these questions need to inform your process.

Koha and Evergreen – well deployed, so go check them out in live searches around the web.

VuFind – catalog discovery tool out of Villanova, very much still in development – in fact still in .8 release, not even v1.0 – but looks interesting, with faceted browsing, tabbed navigation, and a good clean interface.

LibraryFind – metasearch out of Oregon State, where they have a live search on their library website. Go check it out.

WorldCat Local – catalog discovery tool, currently in use at University of Washington. WorldCat Local is unique in that OCLC has most of our data already so there’s no data harvesting needed, plus the geographic holdings feature allows users to explore local, regional, consortial, and global delivery options.

Kate Sheehan: “We’ve all heard that the OPAC sucks”. We know this. It’s a movement and a problem, but radical movement is hard for libraries – we have to negotiate our relationship to vendors, to our tech resources, to our users – so what can we do?

Use the internet. Use book lovers. Use your users. Use LibraryThing. “LibraryThing tells us that people want to be catalogers.” LibraryThing for libraries takes all the data in LibraryThing and drops it into you catalog. It’s platform agnostic, so whatever ILS you’re on will take it. (I always challenge this statement, since ALEPH is so damned hard to integrate things into.) It FRBRizes, tags, suggests similar, and generally harnesses the power of book lovers to categorize, describe, and recommend books. Unlike Amazon, it’s based on what people have read, rather than what people have purchased, so it’s a more holistic approach to reader’s advisory, plus when you do things like browse tags, it shows you the things not in LibraryThing but in your local collection – “prevents frustration due to unmet expectations.”

LibraryThing, since it relies on ISBN, does not work perfectly with pre-ISBN books, but since “Danbury had a fire about 11 years ago, burned to the ground. Arson is great for collection development, keeps the collection fresh, and makes LibraryThing for Libraries work really well”, this may be more of a problem for some libraries than others.

“Copy. Paste. Dance with Joy.” It’s actually very easy to install. It’s also an extremely easy way to harvest huge amounts of data – the data is there, so that your users don’t have to create critical mass all on their own, or use a social network to benefit, or learn a skill set that they don’t need to have elsewhere in their lives. And stats are now available, so that you can track the success of the implementation at your site.
Is it successful? For Danbury, yes. Patrons like it when it’s show to them, no one is complaining about it. “You don’t hang out in your OPAC, but this makes it so that you can spend time there, looking at cool books. It’s gentle, and easy, and fun.” (I like that distinction – LTfL isn’t a huge, jarring, alarming change, but it’s an impactful one. A gentle change that makes a small difference is probably more powerful than a dramatic change that makes a big impact.)

Question: Does LTfL work as well for nonfiction as fiction? KS says yes, that “there are a lot of geeks on LibraryThing”, so there are a lot of well-done tags from scholars and enthusiasts.

Question: Tell me about the authority of tags. (Griffey and I both just melted down, but Kate took the question seriously and answered it appropriately. But OH MY JEEBUS, why are we still obsessed with authority? The whole freakin’ point is that LTfL is additive to the MARC which we already have authority over, and that it’s power is in the authority-free interpretation of the crowd, or, alternately, that the crowd has its own authority that complements our own. And another audience member with a slightly less melted-down reaction gave a cogent response about the quantity of tags ensuring relevance in the “top” tags for a title.)


  1. Sounds like a great session. 🙂 Just wondering if there is a link anywhere to Kate Sheehan’s slides? Some of that stuff is very relevant for my latest assignment.


  2. I think part of the reason some people are concerned about the authority of tags is because there is discussion of using them as a _replacement_ for MARC and authority headings at some institutions. Good cataloguing is expensive (just ask LC…) and administrators are looking to cut costs any way they can. Some colleagues in cataloguing have told me that they assume that tags will eventually replace authority records even if they start out as being additive.


  3. I guess I have too much respect for MARC to think we’re going to pitch it out with the bathwater, and so envision tags as an entirely additive concept. And I think I’d also say that concerns about tags as the sole source of metadata are concerns more about the future of that library’s metadata than the authority of tags…


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