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Category: Search and Discovery

The ILS Futures Forum: Catalogs and Discovery of the Future


Yesterday librarians from several small institutions in the area gathered to hear Roy Tennant and May Chang (of the University of St. Thomas) talk to us about the future of the catalog and the ILS, and a good time was had by all. The Carleton and St. Olaf librarians were all energized and inspired by what they heard. (And the surroundings couldn’t have been prettier.)

In terms of concepts, I didn’t hear anything that I haven’t heard or read before (thanks to all the amazing bloggers out there working hard to keep me up to date). But Roy was so much fun to listen to, and he spoke with so much enthusiasm and good humor that the whole thing sounded new. For those few of you who want the 4-page version of my notes on Roy’s talk, I’ve put them up here (PDF Word document), but I didn’t want to inflict them on the rest of you.

So what resonated so much? What was it that caused one of the librarians to say, “I was actually, dare I say it, excited,” and that rallied all of us around tagging in the catalog? I think it was a combination of a couple of things. First Roy couched his whole talk in terms of assisting user discovery. Our two libraries have heard a lot recently about workflow redesign because we’ve got a grant to help us do just that. So we’ve been steeped in the rhetoric of “you’ve got to change” and “you’ve got to catch up with those millennials.” What we haven’t heard so much of is what we heard yesterday: “look at all the cool stuff we could do with the metadata you’ve created” and “look at all the cool ways computers can exploit that metadata on behalf of the user.” Roy put the focus squarely on serving the user as the motivation for change rather than on change for the sake of modernization.

Another thing that resonated strongly with our group was the way he placed this change into historical context. First we automated circulation, acquisitions, and cataloging. Then we figured that as long as we had all this stuff computerized, we may as well let the public search through that information, too. Now we’re thinking of ways to create an actual public search interface rather than inflicting our workhorse on an unsuspecting public.

Placed in this context, and delivered with an attitude of “onward and upward” rather than accusations that librarians are digging in their heals, even the most conservative librarians in our group started talking about the possibilities. One person came up with the brilliant idea of finding commonly used tags and reverse-engineering subject headings to match, thus increasing number and usefulness of formal access points. I think tagging would also be a flexible and nimble way to create “scopes” for collections that aren’t actually shelved together.

I’m still not sold on sucking Amazon information and book covers into the catalog (mentioned several times throughout the day). I’m all for images of book covers, but I wish that if you clicked on them you wouldn’t get pulled over to Amazon and into the world of buying rather than borrowing. I wouldn’t baulk at having options show up to interlibrary loan or buy a book that is checked out, and I like having reviews handy… I guess I just want to have my cake and eat it too. Call me a stogy librarian who’s digging in her heals over change… :)

p.s. A big thank you to the chef at the conservatory for making me the best special-order lunch I’ve EVER had. It’s the first time I’ve ended up with better food than everyone else because of my allergy.

p.p.s. Another big thank you to the people who came up with the idea of having an hour-long question-and-answer session with Roy. What a good idea!

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Endeca Making More Inroads Into Libraries

Search and discovery is changing rapidly in libraries. Last January the North Carolina State University Libraries overlaid their ILS with an Endeca-powered search interface (here’s their catalog, and here’s their announcement from last January). This caused quite a bit of talk about dis-integrating out library systems and was a key feature in my research into the future of the catalog (see my list of related posts below).

Since then the NextGen Catalog listserv has undertaken to plan out the catalog of the future and WorldCat has gone open-access and web 2.0-ish.

And last night, ResourceShelf alerted me to the fact that McMaster has just overlaid their catalog with Endeca (Endeca press release here and McMaster’s news item here). If this trend continues I see three possible futures for our catalogs: our ILS vendors will improve their search interfaces, third party search vendors will get better and better at working with MARC and library ILSs, or (best of all) both the previous two will happen and libraries will have a real choice in search and discovery systems and functionality for the first time.

Related posts:

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WorldCat Wikified?

The Next-Generation Catalog listserv (ngc4lib) has been imagining and planning the catalog of the future. Lately, they’ve started bringing cataloging into the discussion, arguing that catalogs and cataloging, search and metadata, are inseparable. We can’t really overhaul the catalog without at least examining cataloging and MARC to make sure that we create fully exploitable metadata and then exploit it fully using the next generation of search systems.

The newest development in the debate between local and union catalogs is an idea to combine the best of both worlds. What if there was a core of authority controlled records (from WorldCat and others) overlaid with a wiki-like structure that would allow catalogers from all over enrich the records?

This layered service would have all the multi-faceted richness of collaboratively-produced union catalog and would increase efficiency by reducing the duplication in effort by millions of catalogers. It would also have to be filterable down to local holdings and possibly only the record enhancements needed or wanted by local catalogers.

Needless to say, this has sparked a lively discussion. Some people worry that allowing general modification to the wikified records would result in less authoritative records, while others argue just as vehemently that records would end up no worse than they are already.

As with most other discussion on this list, this particular debate is raging over a structure and service that does not yet exist. But it is fascinating to watch people negotiate their visions of the future and, in the process, uncover and define the fundamentals of good catalogs.

For those who are interested, this list is open to all, and instructions for signing up (as well as list archives) are located here. Also, the members have begun building a wiki to track the conclusions of their discussions. You can see this developing resource here.

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Material Type Icons

This last year my library finally designed and implemented a coherent set of material type icons for our catalog. Now they’re up and available under a creative commons license as an open, downloadable icon set. So if you like’m you can have’m.

They were designed by a member of our college’s Web Services Group with input from our Public Access Working Group (of which I am a member).

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