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The Catalog, The User Experience, and Discovery

I’m still working to figure out what the future of the catalog looks like (in preparation for a short presentation in 10 days), and I’m beginning to realize that I’m doing this at precisely the best time. Nothing’s really been figured out already, so there’s still room for imagination. And yet, it’s becoming a major topic of discussion, so people can learn from each other’s imagination and leapfrog to new possibilities.

I’m particularly interested in a couple of themes that keep cropping up.

  • Allowing user commenting and tagging (the Hennepin County Library’s already doing this – via Library Stuff and TTW).
  • Separating the inventory mechanisms from the end user searching mechanisms.
  • Giving users choices rather than deciding for them what display options are best for them, or what delivery options will fit their needs.
  • Integrating information discovery into the user’s workflow (like Amazon is, via Dempsey).
  • Creating visual representations (such as tag, Dewey, or subject clouds like this one).
  • Leveraging metadata from multiple sources to improve services (metadata from Amazon, WorldCat, and in an academic environment things like class enrollment or year in school might also be useful).
  • Using RSS and other Web 2.0 features to push information out to the user’s environment (such as classes, clubs, etc)

Lorcan Dempsey has a rich set of posts on these and related issues. If you start here he leads you to related posts.

There are some more extreme ideas that may or may not come to fruition (such as eliminating LCSH or eliminating subject classification, as Calhoun mentions as an option and many, many people have critiqued).

There’s also the related issue of what happens when we scan all the books, as Google’s trying to do. There’s been a lot of talk of the NTY Magazine article called “Scan This Book” (Sunday, May 14th, 2006). The Gypsy Librarian, the O’Reilly Radar, and the Library Garden have all written very interesting responses to that article. What would discovery look like if this vision of the future came true? I don’t have answers…just questions.