On the final day of cil2007, most of the workshops I attended ending up having a common theme – tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input.
The first of these sessions was called “Catalogs/OPACs for the future,” led by Roy Tennant (California Digital Library) and Tim Spalding (LibraryThing.com). Tim followed up on points he made in yesterday’s presentation with some criteria that future library search systems will need:
Roy followed Tim, and also had general criteria for a catalog of the future
Sometimes, existing knowledge just does not translate well when things change. And, having worked hard to obtain that knowledge, people are sometimes reluctant to let it go.
This seems especially true in libraries. Some of the convoluted procedures and jargon we come up with are not just barriers to entry for new patrons, but also barriers to evolution for experienced patrons who have learned our complex requirements.
This week's reference question was posted to the Maine Libraries Listserv, but I thought it was worth sharing here. I thought it was both funny and sad, but also intriguing:
patron: Is there any way to interlibrary loan a downloadable audiobook?
(I've actually encountered this before myself, with the Boston Public Library's eCard program. My consortium subscribes to Overdrive, and so does the BPL. We have different downloadable audiobooks in our collections, so my patrons (since anyone in Massachusetts can get a BPL card) essentially has two collections to borrow from. It isn't quite interlibrary loaning, but it is worth knowing.)
Why it's funny:
This question makes me laugh just because it's such an unusual idea - right on the border between clever and naively optimistic.
Why it's sad:
As clever as this might be, it also sounds like someone trying to circumvent the system - which always bothers me. But too, it could just as easily be a case of the system failing the needs - if we can freely share books, magazines, videos, CDs, DVDs, and pretty much everything else in the collection, why can't we share digital audiobooks? Such strict copyright laws exist for electronic media (which laws covering other media don't even approach in restrictiveness) that it's frustrating to me to see this shortcoming. What this patron wants is possible with current technology, but is prohibited by the current business plans of corporations.
Why it's intriguing:
But even still, the idea of interlibrary loaning a digital audiobook is interesting. Aside from the file size, why shouldn't libraries be able to loan around their digital audiobook collections? They could be emailed or made available in a password-protected section of our website. This is another case where, if libraries banded together and spoke with one voice, we could possibly force change so we can get the tools we need to best serve patrons, rather than just take the tools that vendors develop.
Like with opacs - as companies like Sirsi/Dynix decide to drop entire product lines [pdf], librarians are developing tools like Evergreen and Scriblio (formerly WPopac) that actually address the needs that exist, not just make sense in a boardroom.
Lichen reviewed the interview, which ranged from why libraries need to provide better electronic access to their collections to Google's book project to what libraries and librarians should be like in the near future.
They also highlighted their Scriblio project, and how they are working with the Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth, NH, as a beta site. Part of the benefit of Scriblio is that it is a huge improvement over the typical and traditional library website - in fact, it turns the library's website into both an efficient tool for finding information and an information resource itself. Plus, using Web 2.0 standards, library websites become easier to update and maintain, and become interactive and responsive, as information flows freely from the library to the patron, from the patron to the library, and from the patron through the library to other patrons.
I got to thinking about why this is different than what's been going on. To me, the core library function is to provide access to information. In the past, that information has been in print (books, newspapers and magazines), but that no longer necessarily the case. In response, libraries need to adapt to provide access to all types of information in all types of formats, be it printed or electronic (especially since so much information today is native to the electronic world). But also, this information is not limited to just reference or fiction information you'd traditionally find in books - it also includes community information, such as events, as well as the transaction of information, between community members, of which the library is one. Communicating not only the information we house as an institution, but also facilitating communication within the community, is what the core library function now encompasses.
There's my little sermon for the day. Good thing there are people like Casey and Lichen to actually put some of this stuff into practice.
Today, my library consortium is upgrading from Sirsi/Dynix's Horizon 7.3 to 7.3.4. Which means, our catalog is unavailable to both the staff and the public. Which means, I've been brushing off my Dewey knowledge and helping people by memory rather than relying on a computer.
Whew, I've worked harder today than I have in awhile.
More about Libraries Without OPACs:
It's hard to realize how much you rely on something until it's gone. But the good news is that the library didn't come to a standstill just because the catalog is offline. People are still coming in for storytime, reserving museum passes, using the meeting rooms, using the computers, etc. It's a nice reminder that, even though they're right there on the shelves, people do a lot more here than just check out books.
More about Online Catalogs In General:
When our catalog software went down, so too did our online catalog. Which means that I can't do keyword searches unless I use a neighboring consortium's catalog (just to find the right call numbers). But what if a library's catalog records were open to the entire internet, instead of hidden away in the little boxes we call the catalog?
To that end, I would like to congratulate Casey Bisson for his work with WPopac, and for being awarded the Mellon Award for innovative search software for libraries. This effort could make days like today a thing of the past. This is one small step for libraries, and one giant leap for patrons.
More about Horizon:
As noted, we're upgrading from 7.3 to 7.3.4 - regardless of the fact that the current version of Horizon is v8. I complain about this because all we're getting from this upgrade is the ability to handle the 13-digit ISBNs. Which, granted, is important and necessary, but I would have much preferred to fix a lot of the other shortcomings with the system to make being down all day more worthwhile.[/rant]