The conclusion of my series exploring catalogue developments will look at open source tools and catalogue hacks. This fifth and final post in this series about the library catalogue admits that these tools are complex and difficult to redesign. Some of the ideas that I have discussed earlier in the series such as faceted search and visual search would likely require a major upgrade to new software, no easy task by any means. I have been told by academic librarians that upgrading a catalogue (and the ILS that goes with it) can easily take a year or more. Beyond upgrading the catalogue itself, what can users do to make catalogues more useful to them? I have three ideas: learn to use advanced search like a rock star, experiment with LibX and consider Social OPAC.
Using advanced search options may not seem like the traditional idea of hacking; you’re not modifying the technology for your own ends (my preferred, ‘classical’ definition of hacking) nor are you using technology to commit some sort of crime (the other definition of hacking). That said, I think you are hacking expectations of how people typically search. The power of advanced search can vary quite a lot; it is instructive to contrast Google with something like Factiva. Constructing a good search can take a bit longer at the beginning but I cannot recommend it enough. Instruction in searching is a traditional strength of librarians and it is something that we can continue to do.
Some weeks ago, I learned more about LibX – the browser plugin for libraries – and this is a great idea that I would like to see more of. LibX represents an alternative way to improve the user experience of search. Rather than coming at the problem from the server side and the ILS, LibX changes the experience from the user’s end through the installation of a browser plug-in. LibX has several good features to recommend it, but I would focus on two that are best likely to be understood by users: Support for xISBN and Support for Google Scholar. Say you have LibX installed and you’re checking out the latest releases on Amazon. LibX will read the ISBNs of books and turn them into a link to the institution’s catalogue. Likewise, if you are looking for academic articles using Google Scholar, LibX connects you from a citation you find in GS directly into the journal or database where the article can be read in full text. This makes the user experience of locating materials less complicated, with fewer steps.
I will close this post and my series on the catalogue with The Social OPAC. The creators of the Social OPAC describe it as, “an open source social discovery platform for bibliographic data.” As I understand it, the software stands between the user and the catalogue. Interesting features include support for SMS (i.e. you look up a book and instead of having to scribble a note on scrap paper, you just send the relevant information in a text a message to your cell phone), “RSS everything” (potentially, this could be a could way for people to stay informed about works by authors of interest or subjects) and a “Recommendation engine.” I am not sure how the recommendation engine in Social OPAC is powered but I very much like the idea of this. To see the Social OPAC in action, have a look at the Palos Verdes Library District in California. When one does a search there, faceted search is integrated on the left side (“Refine Your Search”) while there are tags on the right side. It looks like the tags are not specific to a given search though, which makes them a bit less useful in my view.
Thanks for reading this series. I have found it interesting to look at some of the major developments in catalogues and searching. As the title of the series suggests, I think the catalogue is going through a transition and that it can only become better.
Read the rest of the series: