Letting the Cat Out of the Box?

Presenter: Edward M. Corrado, Systems Librarian, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Library
October 6, 2007, LITA National Forum

Edward Corrado has presented on social software, Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 on numerous occasions and is interested in the use of open source software and Web 2.0 applications in libraries. He is the author of an upcoming chapter in a book from Libraries Unlimited. He has a Masters of Library Service from Rutgers University and is on the Code4Lib Journal editorial committee, an e-journal designed for programmers in libraries.

Where are our users, and how can we meet them on their turf?

The library web site is not necessarily the first place students go, e.g., a student in the library near the reference desk was looking at B&N to find books and then wondering if the library had it.

Next Gen catalogs have generated lots of discussion and some implementations andprojects, e.g., Endeca, Aqua Browser, XC (eXtensible catalog), WorldCat Local (University of Washington), Koha Zoom (Athens County Public Library, Ohio), VU Find(Villanova University open source), Primo by ExLibris (University of Iowa just went live) to try to make the catalog better.

Other services try to engage users with the library website to modernize and take advantage of Web 2.0 ideas, social software, getting users involved in creating content, e.g., New Books at D.H. Hill Library at North Carolina State University, Penn Tags.

What are the common characteristics of these examples?

  • Faceted browsing
  • Additional resources (other libraries, book jackets, etc.)
  • Modern look and feel
  • Reviews, tagging, recommendations

This is definitely a major improvement over the previous catalog, but do they really hit the target? If people aren’t searching the catalog, it doesn’t matter how good it is. Beta was better than VHS but it didn’t make it.

Lorcan Dempsey talks about the “low gravitational pull” of library resources. Librarians may like library resources, but that’s not where our patrons look first and sometimes they don’t even go there at all. Do faceted browsers really increase use of the library catalog or materials? NC State can document an increase in the number of searches, but has it really led to increases in circulation?

Where are our patrons? Home, dorm room, computer labs, coffee shops, friend’s house, occasionally in the library.

When are they looking for info? 24-7, when the library (or at least the reference desk) is closed, one hour before an assignment is due. But, Google and Amazon are always available.

Where do they look for info?

  • Course management systems – that’s where their assignments are
  • Student portals – campus wide, MyLibrary software for library portal
  • Course web sites
  • Google, including Google Scholar
  • Wikipedia
  • Social networking sites – MySpace, Facebook

How are we going to remain relevant in the digital age?

  • “Good enough is good enough.” Richard Sweeney. Google works.
  • IT could buy a database for a department and the library could be cut out of the loop.
  • We must go where the students are to remain relevant.
  • We must find new, creative ways to market and advertise library materials and services.

So how do we get into these spaces?

A recent article in the Journal of Academic Librarianship indicates a much higher percentage of academic libraries collaborating in person than through course management systems (CMS), even though librarians think we should provide information literacy support in the CMS. So why don’t we? There are barriers from IT and others, but how can we get there?

Getting into course management systems:

  • E-reserves, direct links to databases, persistent links to articles or books …. But we have to make it easy for faculty to do this.
  • Library pages in the CMS – but will anyone ever click on that page? Even in the old traditional world, we didn’t reach everyone. We have to balance the amount of work with the percentage that we can reach – work/effort vs. expected return – it’s still worth doing as long as it reaches some people.
  • Web-based library tutorials in CMS
  • Links to subject guides
  • Librarian contact info
  • Embedded librarians right in a course (involves campus politics, configuration of CMS and what it allows) – TCNJ has homegrown CMS that allows for embedded librarian and has been used successfully by the business librarian. You answer one question and all students get the answer, so you can reach the whole class at once. This saves time for the librarian to do other things, makes librarian more recognizable to students.
  • RSS feeds (Corrado did an ACRL presentation on this) provide dynamic content with low maintenance, e.g., new books, database listings, canned database searches using their RSS options (issues linking to library databases – proxy, long URL, etc.). TCNJ has found that people are putting these RSS new book feeds in other places (e.g., Music puts it on department home page, professors put on their web site) – they did this without talking to the library, shows they want this kind of stuff and recognize ways to use it. Other libraries do this, e.g., Yale University puts course reserves dynamically in their CMS.

Getting into student portals:
MyMonash is a great example from Australia, Monash University – reading lists, past exams from professors (scan and put in portal instead of just reserves), search OPAC, links to library resources, podcasts of online lectures, library SMS notification (students can sign up for library messages – overdues, requested item is available). Look at Simon Huggard’s 2007 presentation (http://users.monash.edu.au/~simonh/).

Non-technical ways to go where students are:
Washington State University made door hangers that say “Shhh! Thanks for the courtesy. I’m at the library in my room.” On one side, library info on the other side of the hanger. This is a good marketing tool. See Cummings, L.U. (2007) Reference Services Review.

Roaming librarians have been effective at some schools.

Getting into Google Scholar:

Link to full-text within Google Scholar (students are using it, we should make sure they can get to our resources). This can be a Firefox extension or vendor supplied service.

Getting into Google Books:

  • University of Michigan – but they are a partner in the Google Books Project.
  • We can make out of copyright digitized books available (Project Gutenberg – e.g., if you only have two copies of a book needed for a class, you can provide a link to the Project Gutenberg copy).
  • With Google Books you can make links to your holdings (but you have to pay).

Getting into Worldcat.org:

If our students are going to worldcat and our books aren’t in there, students will think we don’t own things (TCNJ surveys found that some students are searching worldcat and their holdings aren’t there). How do you let them know the books aren’t in worldcat since they aren’t coming to the library anyway? How do we do this outreach?

Getting into social networking sites:

  • Note wikipedia’s “social networking service” definition and how Facebook defines itself in its “about” page.
  • It’s not just online sites that have these properties but this is often where our users are.
  • Where are our students? Even if only 50-60% of our students are in there, that’s where they are, especially for incoming student groups
  • Beebo is the big thing in the UK.
  • Denver Public Library has MySpace presence for teens (news and events, write reviews, homework help, search the catalog, video promoting the library)
  • Brooklyn College Library in MySpace (library blog, contact info, calendar of classes on library technology).

In Facebook it should be done with groups (organizations aren’t supposed to set up), but you can still put up contact details, tutorials, links to relevant materials (students who join the group will get updates on their Facebook page). It takes about an hour to set up something.

Facebook applications: Create apps that people can install on their profile (JSTOR search, ask a reference question, entire pages with advanced search forms, Ryerson University has news headlines and other links) – just one more place where students can go for information.


  • Patrons don’t come to the library first.
  • Even if they come to the library, they don’t necessarily use the library resources.
  • They don’t search the library for fun (they need info for the class – just what will satisfy the requirements). They don’t want us to guide them to the 7 best articles, so how do we guide them to get 7 good articles instead of 7 mediocre articles?
  • Library should go to patrons in the online environment.
  • In many cases, this is a small investment in time and money, so even if the return isn’t huge, both the library and the patrons still win.

Our mission isn’t to create cool tools that librarians like to use – it’s to create tools for our users.


  1. Pingback: google » Letting the Cat Out of the Box?

  2. Edward M. Corrado

    Thank you for the nice overview of my talk. For those who are interested, the slides can be found at: http://www.tcnj.edu/~corrado/scholarly/lita2007cat/.

  3. Genny

    Actually, I think his point about Google Books/Google Scholar vs. WorldCat was that it’s WorldCat you have to pay to be listed in. His college is not a FirstSearch participant and therefore isn’t listed in worldcat.org results. So the question was whether to pay OCLC to get into those results. I would have thought that would be completely un-worthwhile since I would have assumed students didn’t know about or use worldcat.org — what was surprising to me was hearing that their studies found students did actually use it, apparently with no prompting from the library to do so!

    This means worldcat.org is out there in the popular consciousness. Now that’s something to pay attention to.

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