Opening General Session: Googlezon, Episode VI: Return of the Librarians

ROAR says the Googlezon!

Roy Tennant from the California Digital Library opened the LITA Annual Forum with a rousing discussion of the Googlezon world takeover. The always engaging and enthusiastic Roy began his session by noting that the theme of the Forum, “The Ubiquitous Web,” apparently does not apply to the conference hotel, where each of us has to pay $9.95 per day for wireless access. Hear hear!

Roy’s presentation started with a brief self-created video set to REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know it.” The video chronicled the start-ups of Amazon and Google and how they and their branch projects have since affected the world of finding information, products, and people, and ended with a series of projections for the future, including the merger of Google and Amazon, the creation of the “Library Alliance” of OCLC, RLG, LC, and the DLF, and Microsoft taking over a great deal of previously free content and re-packaging it as a premium for-pay service.

Roy tells us that libraries have our eyes on the long haul…not just on moving fast. He cautions, however: “If you’re comfortable you’re not paying attention.”

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. Search engines are all well and good, but they don’t always serve our users in the best way possible. Roy highlighted the OCLC Open WorldCat project and OpenURL as a way to get libraries’ resources and information into search engines.

***AND THEN THE EMERGENCY EVACUATION ALARM WENT OFF (NO JOKE).. THE AUDIENCE ALL STOOD UP AND BEGAN TO EVACUATE THE BUILDING. THEN THEY LET US BACK IN ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AND ROY STARTED UP AGAIN…I HAVE A THEORY THAT SECRET GOOGLE OPERATIVES PULLED THE ALARM TO QUASH ROY’S SUBVERSIVE EXPRESSION***

Back to the presentation.

Take the concept and run. RedLightGreen uses a simple search box and relevancy ranking, much like Google, but also uses controlled vocabulary in a useful and visible way. They also use FRBR to collapse multiple bibliographic editions into one record (usability rocks)!

Stop putting lipstick on pigs. Stop spending energy tweaking systems that are clearly outmoded (e.g. library catalogs). Focus this energy instead on creating new systems that work well. A revolution must occur, and those of us in library technology are the ones who can push this kind of revolution forward.

Be user-focused. Libraries tend to focus on creating systems that work for us as librarians and not for our users. Roy quoted his popular maxim: “Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find.” Minimize the number of clicks to get from the library’s homepage to library-licensed content. Do usability testing—testing mock-ups or beta sites. Roy advises doing this for small as well as large scale projects.

Keep what works. Example: OpenURL Resolvers. OpenURL Resolvers do one specific thing, and it works. Interoperable components can be easily mixed and matched, and this is key.

Fix what’s broken. Instead of giving us a grocery list of what’s broken, Roy gave us homework: to go back to our home and search Amazon, then search our library’s catalog. Which do we prefer and why? What could we do differently to make our resources work for our users? We need to talk to our users about what they like and dislike about our catalog. Roy also discussed naming: what meaning does Lexis-Nexis have for non-librarians? “While we’ve been happily automating the back office, we’ve let the front office languish.” We need to build tools that maximize the power of our licensed databases, while minimizing the pain users must experience to get access to those resources.

Strive for efficiencies. Roy says we need to learn from Amazon. If Amazon had to MARC record each of their items, they would have failed. We also need to streamline things that are routine: acquisition and circulation. Automate circulation through self-check-out.

Foster agility. The need for agility stems from uncertainty. Roy encourages a flexible taskforce structure to deal with new projects and needs in the organization.

United we stand, divided we fall. We need to collaborate with book publishers, libraries doing digitization projects (let’s all have access to that data!), and search engines much more than we have.

The presentation ended with a slide of the Nancy Pearl action figure standing in front of the vanquished Godzilla-Googlezon. Roy believes that the values we hold dear as librarians are what make us unique and valuable to our communities. We are beholden to our users, not to profit or corporate structure. This is why he continues his work, and this is why he encourages us to continue ours.