It can be hard to truly evaluate software until it's installed and in use, and by then it's too late. If you're hoping to forgo the pain of making the wrong match when it comes to making a major purchase of library software, you'll get some help from a new survey done by Marshall Breeding, "Perceptions 2007: An International Survey of Library Automation." Judging from some of the ratings, I think some librarians were happy to have an opportunity to vent.
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Somehow I completely missed the OCLC announcement back in April of a beta-test of a new service called OCLC's Worldcat Local. But while catching up with my blog reading, I saw this Librarian in Black entry announcing her library's launch of their OCLC Local OPAC and I got excited. Because I've wondered for a while why libraries are paying out all sorts of money for OPACs that aren't as good as what OCLC offers in Worldcat. So how about we cut out the middle man, and pay for our own local version of Worldcat?
I should calm down; I'm getting ahead of myself. We're not there yet. OCLC Local, as it is currently designed, works with the local library's system, and isn't designed, yet, to replace it. But for smaller libraries that don't have sophisticated library software, it seems like an interface like this could be incredibly useful, all on it's own.
That may not be where OCLC is headed, but if not, it's a shame. It could be beneficial to everyone except, oh yeah, the vendors of library software.
At lunch the other day, the conversation turned, as it often does, to the current state library automation vendors. (I kid you not, it does happen, though admittedly, and fortunately, not that often.) Just as an intellectual exercise, I was trying to remember all the different names and iterations, as a result of buyouts, mergers and what have you, of the company currently known as Sirsi/Dynix, the purchase of which was just recently completed.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you can always consult the Library Technology Guide's chart tracing the library automation industry back to the beginning of time, which would be 1973.
I heard a rumor last month that OCLC Worldcat was being released to the masses sometime in August. Okay, so it was more than rumor; InfoToday's Newsbreak ran a story by Paula Hane on the topic on July 17th. But I figured, why tell you about it until it's actually available! Well, now it is, according to Librarian In Black, who has a couple of good comments on the implementation.
This isn't the small subset of Worldcat data included in Yahoo and Google searches. According to Paula, "The WorldCat.org search box will make visible all 70-plus million records in the WorldCat database—not just the smaller data subsets of 3.4 to 4.4 million currently made available by the Open WorldCat partner sites, such as Google, Yahoo!, and others."
For those of my readers who aren't familiar with OCLC Worldcat, it's a collection of library cataloging records that tells you which books or periodicals are available, and the libraries where you can find them. The number of participating libraries is monumental. There's a good chance that your local public library is included, as well as academic libraries in your area. So if you're looking for a particular book, searching Worldcat should tell you the closest library that owns it. (Private firm libraries, as well as other special libraries have probably opted out of Worldcat.org since their collections aren't open to the public.)
You can even include the Worldcat search box on your web site, if you like:
I think it's very neat how they can deep link directly into a libraries catalog. (This isn't available for all libraries.) In other words, when I searched on "Clicker Training", I can see that the Pasadena Public Library has a book with those words in the title. When I click through, I go directly to the Pasadena Public Library catalog record. I'm just loving this.
I also like the "faceted browse" panel that allows users to refine their results by categories including author, subject, format, language and year of publication. Faceted searching/browsing is becoming increasingly popular as an easy way to help users narrow their search results. Considering that most users tend to search quite broadly by just typing a couple of words into a search box, whether it's Google, or your local library catalog, the option to reduce the results to those most relevant to the user is an important one.
If you subscribe to Firstsearch for inter-library loan purposes only, you may be able to substitute Worldcat.org, though there are more sophisticated search options available via Firstsearch. Public libraries will want to maintain their Firstsearch subscription, otherwise their holdings won't display on Worldcat.org.
If you're a librarian, Karen Schneider's series on ALA TechSource, "How OPACs Suck", should be required reading. Certainly any vendor of library software should sit up and take notice. Library online catalogs have not adapted to the expectations of users familiar with features provided by sites such as Amazon, and that can't be good for libraries or vendors!
In Part 1, Karen starts by discussing the lack of relevancy ranking and discusses how it could/should be applied to library catalogs. We're all used to search engines that at least TRY to provide the most relevant results at the top of the list, but library catalogs make no such effort. According to Karen, the default order in most search engines is "last in/first out, in other words, whatever was most recently cataloged will come up first.
That explains a lot, including my typical experience with the L.A. Public Library catalog. I type in a couple of words from the title of the book into the search box, and end up with a long list of titles that don't even contain my search terms! The one I'm looking for is inevitably found at the bottom of such a list. Yes, I know, I could opt to search title only, but when I'm looking for something so basic, I'm like everyone else...I expect a keyword search should do it. The relevancy ranking doesn't have to be complicated, but if a search word appears in the title, don't you think that book would be more relevant than one where the word appears in the description or note?
There are better ways. Karen describes how relevancy ranking could be implemented. In our own catalog, I'd love to see an the option to rank the books most often checked out to the top of the list. Consider it a passive way of collecting knowledge about what books people find most helpful.
Part 2 offers Karen's wish list of features including spell-checking, support for popular query operators, duplicate detection, and sort flexibility, just to name a few. Search logging and reports, an administrative interface that let's you tweak the search engine and "best bets" are among my favorites.
The problem, as Karen describes it in Part 3, is that the catalog is based on the obsolete CARD catalog resulting in what she calls "literalisms." I found her 4th literalism particularly interesting, that is, combining almost all library functions into one is counter-productive, creating an application that doesn't do anything well. I've been suspicious for some time that integrated library systems aren't really the holy grail after all. But I assumed that my view from a special library environment was peculiar to that environment. But according to Karen, "Lorcan Dempsey, VP of OCLC, has been making the case on his blog that the next-generation integrated library system should be dis-integrated. He points out that the modern ILS weds an inventory system with a discovery system—in the end doing poorly at both."
Karen wants a revolution, and that may be exactly what we need. "It's time to dis-integrate the catalog, weave it into the Web, and push forward to the future." That's truly a vision for the future.
Let's face it, most of us have never been satisfied with providing subject access to our books exclusively via Library of Congress subject headings. Though they provide a level of consistency that's important, the terms used haven't always been, how should I say it, intuitive. Many firm libraries enhance the subject headings with more popular terms. I guess you could say, they've been tagging for some time.
Now there's talk about letting your catalog users add tags and comments to cataloging records. There was an interesting thread on Web4Lib on this topic. (See The Shifted Librarian - OPAC Tagging - Who's it?) You can see tagging in action on the Penn Library Catalog. (Scroll down to the bottom.)
While I really like the idea of using tags and other feedback options in a law firm library catalog, it's always debatable whether any will actually contribute. At any rate, it would certainly be nice to have the option to extend knowledge management to the library catalog.
As the number of newsletters available via email grows I hope that we will start to see more tools for managing them. Subscribers have to be added and removed, usage needs to be monitored (is there anybody subscribing to this anymore?) and the issues need to be sent out to everyone on the list as soon as they are received. For whatever reason the serials software used by libraries to check in and route materials seems to be lacking in any tools for email list management.
In addition to the standard newsletter-type current awareness materials, customized email alerts are also are proliferating. Think Westclips and Lexis Eclipses, for example. In this morning's program (Internet Librarian 2004), A Web-Based Current Awareness Management System, Michael Rogers and Mary Talmadge-Breebenar (Bristol-Myers Squibb) showed the in-house system they developed to manage all of the various email alerts that are set up for their users.
As reported by Infotoday's Newsbreak, OCLC has agreed to open up the entire Worldcat database, all 53.3 million records complete with library holdings from OCLC libraries (unless they opt out), to both Google and Yahoo! Soon any web searcher could potentially retrieve books matching their search terms, including the more esoteric ones, and easily locate a local library that owns it! That should increase business at our local libraries! (Sorry for all the exclamation points, but the librarian in me gets excited about this kind of thing.)
As previously reported, OCLC has already made available a subset of their catalog records, about 2 million of them, for inclusion on both Yahoo and Google. That's all very nice, but rather incomplete. Expect to see the new and improved coverage possibly starting as early as November. So the Google-Worldcat bookmarklet is about to become even more useful!
A few selected software vendors have offered library applications (cataloging, serials, etc.) using the ASP (application service provider) model for several years now, but the idea is apparently gaining in popularity. I can understand why. Configuring and maintaining cataloging software is no trivial task, and in most law firms, it's not exactly a high priority for IT. Companies that offer hosted cataloging solutions maintain the software on their own servers, eliminating the need for technical support for the catalog within your own organization.
There's been talk in certain librarian circles for several years now about the failings of MARC format. MARC was designed when catalog cards were the norm, and considering today's technology, seems quite unnecessarily complex and inflexible. Online library catalogs, typically based on the MARC format, suffer in comparison to Amazon.com's full-featured system for displaying all kinds of information about books including pictures, reviews, reader ratings and even the full-text of the item. The gap widens each time Amazon introduces a new feature to its bookstore.
Did you know that you can search cataloging information on over 120 million books on RedLightGreen from RLG at no charge? Then you're one up on me, because I didn't until I read this entry from Librarian in Black. This is a great tool to use to confirm the existence of a particular book, and to learn which libraries in your area own it.
Most law firm libraries have relatively small collections, often too small for a full subscription to OCLC to be economical. If your library falls in that category, but you'd like to be able to download OCLC catalog records for your online catalog, you may be interested in this item from Catalogablog, OCLC for Smaller Libraries.
I've never had the urge to browse the web on my cell phone. Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of viewing web pages on a 1" square screen just doesn't strike me as a satisfying experience.
I readily admit not everyone is like me. Case in point, Irene McDermott, librarian at the San Marino Public Library recently wrote an article called "Cell Phone Reference" for Searcher Magazine (Oct. 2003 - yes, that's a few months back, but what can I say, I'm at the bottom of the routing list).
Marshall Breeding will present Where is the Industry Headed? Top Trends to Watch in 2004 on Feb. 11, 2004, 8 AM to 9 AM Pacific as a Dynix Institute Seminar. It's a free web seminar so you don't have to travel any farther than your desk! If you miss the live presentation, not to worry, I see an archive for past presentations. You've gotta just love web conferencing!