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Catalogs that are Both Useful and Fun

[Update 4/27/2007: LibraryThing for Libraries tour available here.]

[Update 5/14/2007: The Danbury Library catalog has LTfL active in it’s catalog (sample record here).]

I went to the exhibit hall the last morning of CIL, had a great time talking to Tim Spalding about Library Thing for Libraries (demo link coming soon to his blog, he promised). I want it. I need it. Gimme gimme gimme!

I almost always come out of vendor demos feeling a little like I need a shower. Stuff always looks great but there’s always the point when I ask a question and the vendors try to pretend they didn’t hear me, or understand me, or that I’m silly to think that would be an issue. Not so with this thing. There’s no downside. It doesn’t take anything away from the current functionality of our catalogs (and it’s “platform agnostic,” according to Tim, so it should work with any type of catalog out there), but it adds a whole lot of information and fun. You can see the most relevant tags (i.e. often used and cleaned up by a poor, overworked librarian at Library Thing) that Library Thing has for a particular work (not book). You can browse tags and retrieve your catalog’s holdings that match specific LT tags. And you can see related items! What’s not to love?

Anyway, when I’d finished drooling, I went back downstairs to sit around and wait for the next session to start: “Catalogs of the Future” starring Tim Spalding and Roy Tennant!!! (Did I have a good morning or what?) I sat down next to Jason and Michelle, who were also hoping to get good seats for that presentation, and was just about to blog about the coolness that is LTfL (I can acronymize ANYTHING) when Tim showed up and sat with us. Well, you can’t blog about somebody who’s sitting crosslegged on the floor four feet from where you’re sitting… And besides, that would have meant missing out on hearing how his colleague was speaking at the National Library of Australia that day, and how he was speaking at the Library of Congress the next day. Very cool.

This was one of those sessions that needed overflow rooms for the overflow room… but it was well worth the squeeze. Tim asserted that while we’ve been concentrated on fixing the three known problems of our catalogs (lack of usability, findability, and remixability), we haven’t paid much attention to increasing it’s funability. He argued that while the ILS may dis-integrate sometime in the future, we need to look toward making what we have NOW fun. Enter LTfL, stage left. LT increases by over 60,000 tags per day, and that’s enough to really DO stuff with. More is more when it comes to tags.

But even beyond that, our catalogs need a whole boatload of lipstick, blush, and mascara. Add pictures (and he is definitely still working on an open database of images, but he can’t say more than that just yet), allow inbound links (permalinks are essential), link out (Google, Amazon, you name it), and get your data out there.

These last two points were particularly interesting. He pointed out that we don’t want to be like big malls, were all the stairs lead to other places in the mall, and the exits are incredibly hard to find. “That’s how big corporate web sites work; the sites you want to leave immediately.” Instead, he said we’ll likely garner trust and become more useful if we are generous with our patrons’ attention.

Not only that, but if we’re generous with our data all the “bored programmers” out there who haven’t yet discovered library data would love to sink their teeth into our data and figure out ways of manipulating it. But they won’t struggle through MARC. We need mark, and our catalogs need MARC, but programmers don’t. So we need to figure out some way of opening our catalogs up and feeding our information out there in something other than MARC.

Then Roy spoke. His main theme? “Future? What Future? Catalogs ain’t got no stinkin’ future.” That’s not to say that we need to start over or throw out what we’ve got. We still need the ILS to do our work well. And contrary to what some people say, we still need good, detailed cataloging. But we don’t need to show this thing we use to the public. They need something different. They need a discovery system that manipulates our data for their benefit.

He also had a more is more theme. Maybe WorldCat is our future, and we should all sign on for WorldCat Local especially now that Open WorldCat has article-level records. (This would privilege the large libraries that actually submit their holdings information to OCLC.) This isn’t because they are the be all and end all of catalogs, but because they have enough aggregated information that they’re starting to be able to do really interesting things with all that data. (Things like WorldCat Identities, which I hadn’t played with before but which could be very useful.)

So I’m officially a Tim and Roy groupie. Can we start a fan club? I know a guy who can hook us up with T-shirts.

It was too bad that Tim was working on his presentation for LOC that night. We were all hanging out for our last evening together, and he worked. Too bad.

(This is a really bad picture of Tim working while we play.)

p.s. Did I mention that Meredith signed my copy of her book with Tim’s pen?!? I’ll allow visits to the book by appointment only, so call ahead if you want to see it. :)

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