In today’s post, I will consider several features that I would like to see in library catalogues. For purposes of this post, I am thinking free form as in how would the catalogue look if we could build whatever we wish. In reality, I am aware that catalogues (and the related infrastructure) is a complex tool that is very difficult to upgrade in many cases. Several of these ideas are obviously inspired by Amazon, the major retailer of books and many more things. The fundamental presumption underlying these ideas is that catalogues can gain from involving their users further.
Reviews are often helpful in deciding whether or not to buy something – whether that buying involves time, money or something else. In using reviews, there are at least two models in integrating reviews in catalogue entries: reusing previously published reviews (from journals, newspapers etc) generally few in number or a high volume of user submitted reviews which can vary widely in quality. I like both for different reasons. Based on catalogues I have looked at, selecting a handful of quality reviews from publications appears to be the favoured approach. Such reviews are safe and often quite insightful. The case can be made for using user submitted reviews especially if these are limited by community. If I know that users like me found something useful, then would be great. The format of the reviews could have written comments, a star rating system and then some additional meta-data (e.g. for non-fiction, indicate level of background you think is needed).
The final idea I have in mind is inspired by Flikr and Library Thing, two social cataloguing services that thrive on organic taxonomies generated by the user. From my own use, I like the Library Thing model best as it combines formal cataloguing (both Dewey Decimal and LC) with user generated tags; have a look at the Library Thing tag cloud. I have used the service and found it interesting. With over 800,000 members, there is certainly evidence to show that people like to catalogue and share their views with others. LT is also noteworthy for its achievements in building communities around reading; various authors (mainly fiction) have a presence in LT, there are free books for review and more. Such successes in engaging readers is something that librarians ought to take an interest in.
The question for today’s post is whether or not the social proposal advanced here is legitimate. It would represent a substantial change in the way that catalogues operate and the experience it provides. From a certain standpoint, this might appear a deviation from the purity of the catalogue as traditionally presented. I think such a change is due and that it has the potential to raise user engagement with the Library and meet expectations that users are forming from other services.