I have submitted my paper. YEAH!!! If I weren’t dying of heat, I would probably be much more excited. As it is, I’m having trouble keeping the sweat that is dripping off my forehead from landing on my keyboard (I bet some ice cream might help). Anyway, I thought I would summarize the paper that I just submitted. I will probably be adding it to the site with the rest of my work from my MLS program, but maybe not until it is graded. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat in that respect.
The Library Catalog Transformed [I’ve never been good at titles. I have very little creative ability and even less patience for the fine art of titling my papers.]
The catalog or OPAC as it stands today is inefficient as an information discovery tool – so inefficient that people have turned to other discovery tools to fulfill their information needs. In order to compete in the race to provide people with information, libraries need to rethink the way they do business and the ways in which they provide information. It isn’t enough to simply transform the catalog without looking at the entirety of information that a library makes available. The catalog is but a small and underutilized pointer to library materials. It is in effect, the library’s shelflist and useful to library staff.
We really need to abandon the current library catalog concept in favor of one interface or portal that the library presents to the world (with single sign on). This one system should index everything available including the physical items owned by the library, the virtual items owned by the library, the sum total of all physical materials available to users at other libraries (via OpenWorldCat??) and internet resources. This one portal should also include access to interlibrary loan request forms, requests for library cards, online renewals, the ability to place holds, access to journal articles along with all other services that the library provides. Search engines and the like are global in scope and this is a trait that libraries need to copy. Z39.50 (too slow and clunky) may not be the answer, but it illustrates that this can be done.
In addition to adding a global perspective, library portals need to add a great deal of functionality in order to be able to transform into online communities in which patrons want to participate. People expect highly configurable systems with a great degree of interactivity. This would allow the public to be able to log into the library portal, see and interact with their circulation records, save their search strategies, save favorite publications (citations or actual links to full-text documents), create research bibliographies directly from the portal (rather than have to export citations to EndNotes or Refworks), track ILL requests, add their own tags to records, see book jackets, see book reviews, create their own books reviews and to interact with others from the library community. With RSS feeds, patrons could sign up for alerts to remind them about the material they have checked out, sign up for alerts when new issues of journals they are interested in are published or sign up for alerts when new books matching certain criteria (author, subject, etc.) they specify arrive at the library.
MARC structure needs to change. FRBR and RDA are in the works, but most catalogs are still formatted with this outdated standards. Simple things need to be improved for better search outcomes. Last name, first name conventions for searching for authors need to be more flexible. There is no reason why people shouldn’t be able to input author names in natural language format and receive results rather than see also references. LCSH need to be completely scrapped. If patrons need to consult a multi-volume set in order to figure out which subject heading to use, the system is way too complicated. Additionally, searching needs to be improved to handle natural language queries. Relevancy ranking is also important. Ranking algorithms need work – possibly a combination of how often an item is checked out, viewed (online resources), and saved to patron records along with analysis of patron ranking and reviews. This needs some serious thought in order to best serve the patron base.
A well built system that provides real services that library patrons need will attract users by itself. Marketing new and better services is key, but people who like a system will encourage its use among their peers. As for training, if new users cannot successfully use the new interface to execute a search and retrieve relevant information then there is a problem with the design. In addition to a well-built system, help pages and FAQs are a necessity – especially for more advanced search options and features. Libraries can’t forget that significant portions of their populations access library services remotely.
This is a pretty brief overview of the paper which ended up begin 13 1/2 pages. I decided to make the paper pretty basic given that it was an assignment for an beginning graduate course. I cut several points that I would have liked to have made, condensed several sections that could have used more explanation and included a great deal of basic description in the first several pages. This fact has me INCREDIBLY nervous and anxious. I can’t say I’m overly happy with the paper, but can also admit that generally when I complete an assignment I need some serious downtime to even be able to think about it with any objectivity.