LibraryThing for Libraries

May 14, 2007

Tim Spalding announced today that LibraryThing for Libraries has gone live at Danbury Library in Danbury, CT. I’ve been messing around with Danbury’s catalog this afternoon – and it is very, very cool! I am impressed with it. Personally, I love the similar books feature – and the other editions and translations. Tags are excellent – and I think that they are can make an important addition to the search and discovery process – but think that similar books could be invaluable from a research perspective. I can’t believe that most of us don’t already have this type of thing in our catalogs (ok, yes I can). As for the other editions and translations, we have this information already – but not in the actual record itself (usually at a browse screen). LibraryThing for Libraries helps to pull multiple editions and translations together in a much more user-friendly manner. The tag searching and retrieval can be a bit slow (as Spalding admits in the announcement), but I didn’t find it terribly slow – which I think bodes well for the future of the feature.

I do wish that it were easier to search for tags. Currently, one has to do a search, retrieve a record with tags and click on a tag in order to get the tag dialog box to open.

FYI, the Danbury Library has 56 books tagged “swashbuckling.” I could get lost (and almost did) playing with tags for hours!

The Plight Of The OPAC

January 11, 2007

The poor, sad OPAC is certainly suffering from a massive identity crisis currently. OPACs have taken quite a bit of heat and have many in the library world chanting the mantra “OPACs sucks” repeatedly. Personally, I think the discussion has been wonderful – and is the first step in what will probably be a long and drawn out process to overhaul our library systems. Today, Peter Bromberg joined in the recent discussions about how maybe it isn’t just the OPACs that we have problems with in a post comically titled Get your head out of your OPAC. In the post, he writes: “How does the quality of the OPAC ultimately affect the total quality of customer experience and customer satisfaction?” Important question. My thoughts – our users are not judging our services based upon our OPACs – not at all. I seriously doubt most patrons waste their time thinking about our OPACs. They reside in the background; people use them when they need to find physical items on the shelf – and they probably have no clue about what a better designed system could actually do. Fixing the OPAC will not make people use the library and its services. Libraries should be focusing on how to improve the overall experience. Improving the OPAC might be one way to help achieve this – but it will only be one part of a much larger initiative.

The OPAC Isn’t The Only Problem

December 30, 2006

Meredith Farkas has a great post over at Information Wants To Be Free – It’s not just the OPACs that suck. I think Meredith hits the nail on the head when she writes: “It’s not just that our OPACs suck. The physical layout of our space sucks. I would guess if you did a survey of patrons, they would rather have a welcoming space and good materials than an OPAC that doesn’t suck.” I would add that welcoming and helpful staff is also essential. All of the recent talk about sucky OPACs on the part of librarians is certainly valid – and is a conversation that we need to have. But I agree with Meredith that our patrons probably don’t really care – and would be more impressed with inviting spaces. Until we offer a welcoming atmosphere to our patrons – in every respect including our staff, our physical layout and our online resources – we aren’t going to make people want to come to the library. It seems to me that everyone who talks about libraries has stories about unwelcoming and unhelpful staff, confusing signage and/or layout or overall bad experiences. Don’t you find this really troubling???? Fixing our OPACs, but not fixing our attitudes isn’t going to help us gain constituents. I am utterly amazed at the number of stories people have about library staff making them feel unwelcome. This needs to change.

Like Meredith, I will admit to not being a library user. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a library for a non-work related purpose. Part of this has to do with the fact that I can get whatever I need from the library where I work and part of this has to do with the fact that because I work in a library, I can honestly say that the last place I want to go when I am not at work is another library. Realistically, this means it is very hard for me to view libraries from a user standpoint. However, it stands to reason that a space in which we want people spend time and feel comfortable needs to be designed better – with the patron in mind. People linger in bookstores, browse their collections and return again and again. Libraries aren’t bookstores. Yet, we do compete with them in a way. After all, if people choose to buy every book they wanted to read, there would be no need for libraries. Meredith writes: “No matter how great our Web presence is, if we don’t create a space that people want to be in and that is conducive for the kind of browsing most people like to do, we will lose people.” Very well said!

I will also second Meredith recommendation of Walt Crawford’s Patrons and the Library article in January 2007’s issue of Cites and Insights. The article has a great summary of the problem and of the discussion surrounding the topic. Can I say how surprised I was to have a couple of my blogs posts quoted in the article??????? Wow!!!

Update: Mark Lindner from Off the Mark responds to Meredith’s post with some salient points that are well worth reading.