ALA Session – Resuscitating the Catalog: Next-Generation Strategies for Keeping the Catalog Relevant

This session was sponsored by ALCTS Collection Management and Development Section (CMDS), RUSA : RSS Catalog Use Committee and LITA Next Gen Catalog Interest Group.

Program Description: In today’s complex information environment, users have come to expect evaluative information and interactive capabilities when searching for information resources. A panel of experts will address various aspects of providing links to external information in library catalogs, implementing user-contributed functionality, and using computational data to support bibliographic control.

Next Generation Metadata

Renee Register, OCLC Senior Product Manager, spoke about the OCLC’s Next Generation Cataloging pilot.

Renee focused on metadata and its relevancy and visibility, in particular information produced early in the cycle by publishers for which there is no mechanism for later update. Renee explained that the time and money spent on metadata continues to rise, but that large gaps in the chain increase cost and create redundancies. Her vision for metadata is “an environment where metadata is exchanged seamlessly between different stakeholder systems” and “reduced cost of metadata creation, transformation and exchange for all participants”. To move in this direction, Renee argues that systems should homogenize data sharing, encourage interoperability, and encourage data flow that allows metadata to “grow up” over time–that is, participate in the process as data changes, from data before the publication is available through an item’s release process.

Renee then explained the “Next Generation” work, which is a seemingly complicated process involving conversion of publisher metadata from ONIX to MARC that is enriched in WorldCat, then converted back and supplied back to the publisher. The process was made to seem even more complicated with the graphic showing the process, but the essential purpose is to allow publishers to share their information earlier, and for catalogers to add value through terminology and authority work that then becomes visible in the publisher’s environment. OCLC is currently running a pilot of this process, and wants to incorporate additional information. They are working with publishers, vendors, libraries, and other partners on this project.

The Public Library OPAC – Not Resuscitating. Re-Thinking.

Beth Jefferson, president of BiblioCommons, discussed seven principles used in re-thinking and improving public library catalogs:

  • Less is More. Information scarcity led to the idea that more resources are better, but users want to find the best choice. To provide a better search experience, two levels of search are done: one search on author, subject, and title, which will meet 99% of search needs; then access to a second search in all fields, displaying how many results would be available.
  • Putting metadata to work where users expect it. Use authority information to inform type-ahead search. Enhance metadata – if 60% of the collection is fiction, subject headings don’t help. Let users add tags.
  • Enabling “true” discovery. Number one searches: dvd, dvds. Among top 16 searches, 9 are format searches. For certain words, try treating the search box as a format search.
  • Making it “truly” social. Adding reviews isn’t social, it’s individual. Add a way for users to comment, see others’ collections, follow users.
  • It’s a space – not a database. See what the closest copy is to me, don’t want a long list of every copy (but can make that available with “view details” button).
  • Making it practical – and personal. Create a username in place of a barcode. Most people want to keep track, so allow them to. See comments by trusted sources to inform decisions. If a user has added tags, button should be “edit tags” not “add tags”; similar with holds, “remove hold” if already have one. Allow users to use the collection to build conversations.

Lipstick on a Dinosaur? Keeping an Old-Gen OPAC “With It” in a Next-Gen World.

David Flaxbart from University of Texas Austin talked about adding features to an out-of-the-box system to make it more applicable to the needs of today’s users. In discussing the name of his presentation, he explained: “It’s hard to put lipstick on a dinosaur. Someone also might ask ‘Why bother? What are you doing this for?’” He described the work they did to customize their Millenium OPAC, including adding cover image (first Syndetics, then Amazon), Google Books info, SFX, links to e-books, local review blog link, and LibraryThing information (tag cloud, recommended books, other editions). Some concern about page loading times due to amount of information being displayed, but mostly okay since it’s just for one item on the full record view. Also talked about paths into the OPAC: new books list, search on external pages, and browser widgets. Assumptions going forward are that system is in perpetual beta, that it’s a bridge to the next system, that people won’t like change but won’t really remember the change later.

Installing an OPAC Discovery Layer

Ellen Safley from University of Texas Dallas discussed adding Encore to the library’s OPAC. The goal is to make a system that users don’t need training to use, allowing users to find things rather than search for them. The method for this include losing the jargon (“holdings”, acronyms, abbreviations), making it simple (show one box), and improving navigation by adding layers and facets. The basics are one box without drop downs, so there’s no confusion about type of search. The results are based on relevancy, and tag clouds/facets make it possible for searches to be refined. The catalog needs to speak English, not acronym: books instead of PRINTED MATL. To focus on the customer, add a spellchecker (one that doesn’t have an attitude): Did you mean ___? Show electronic books and print books together, link with other search results, provide more visuals. There are some issues in including all this information: complicated to display print and electronic titles together, some elements can be changed while others cannot, new system versions ay change functionality. The system continues to evolve, but working on such a project brings library units together.

My thoughts

It’s amazing to me that each individual library, even in the same university system (UT), goes through this level of extra work to customize something out of the box. Why don’t we have more open source, component sharing? After you’ve done the work for your library, share your whole, step-by-step process with someone else, so they don’t have to replicate work. I heard someone as I was leaving the session say something along the lines of, “I would love to use Encore, but I can’t afford it and we don’t have the tech resources to implement it.” I don’t know how expensive Encore is, but is it cheaper to hire a programmer who could make changes to an open source catalog (and then make those changes available to other libraries), than it is to have opac + discovery layer + changes? Either way, we need to share more–and not just principles and basics, but details and code.