OPACs On The Edge

Here is a guest post provided by Scott Vine, Reference Services Librarian at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Vine provides a report from a recent one day ACRL chapter program. If your chapter is having a program that you wish to share with ACRLog readers, please have someone blog the program for us. ACRL chapters have great programs and we need to hear more about them.

The ACRL Delaware Valley chapter held an intriguing event Nov 3rd at the American College in Bryn Mawr, PA. ‘The Future of the Catalog: Deconstruction or Reinvention?’ brought together four national leaders from search-related fields, resulting in a vibrant and content-heavy one day conference.

Thom Hickey, Chief Scientist at OCLC, reviewed his ongoing research and reflected on some current reports on the changing nature of the catalog and cataloging. Using OCLC products such as LiveSearch, WorldCat.org and WorldCat Identities as examples, he showed how remote users are pushing the trend toward centralization of data and more flexible implementations. The next question, for him, is whether this will drive more use of libraries.

Emily Lynema, Systems Librarian for Digital Projects at North Carolina State University outlined the implementation and current use of Endeca, a new kind of catalog based on e-commerce tools such as relevance ranking, faceting and visual searching. In faceted searching, users search, get clustered results, and then can click on related authors, subjects and other narrowing options. User testing has shown a general decrease in task duration – users get what they need faster using Endeca rather than a standard OPAC.

Tim Spalding, the founder of LibraryThing, demonstrated how combining custom cataloging and social networking has created a bibliographic, user-centered catalog of 6.8 million books with almost 100,000 users. LibraryThing users provide the tagging, combining, authority control, recommendations, ratings, and conversation. User-driven tagging applies contemporary terms to identify books and subject areas more accurately than the LC Classification system can, and Spalding predicted that the OPAC of the future would accept a similar level of user input.

Karen Calhoun, Senior Associate University Librarian for Information Technology and Technical Services at Cornell University, and author of “The Changing Nature of the Catalog and Its Integration with Other Discovery Tools,” offered the ARL library viewpoint. While recognizing that new initiatives vie for human and financial resources that are presently devoted to producing catalogs, she feels we must innovate and reduce costs. This would involve developing new uses and finding new users for our catalog data, and integrating outward rather than inward. For her, the future holds a catalog fully integrated with outside resources. Obstacles to this include people and systems not ready for change, copyright issues, and not enough cash available for large-scale collaboration. She also noted that our profession is sometimes uncomfortable working with the partners necessary to make this happen.

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photo caption: Tim Spalding, Emily Lynema, Karen Calhoun and Thom Hickey

All four speakers welcomed questions about their work and their ideas, and the afternoon panel could have continued longer than scheduled. Topics included how WorldCat results are ranked (by number of holdings – Thom), the use of libraries’ MARC records in LibraryThing, the process of deciding what facets to include in Endeca (they met, they chose – Emily), the possible use of natural language searching in OPACs (popular topic in info science research- Karen), what to do if outward integration isn’t happening locally (Innovative, ExLibris and Sirsi are working toward it – Karen), whether Endeca-like companies will replace ILSs (maybe just the OPAC modules, but we need to demand innovation from them – Emily), whether library inventory can’t just be tracked with e-commerce software, such as that used by UPS (don’t underestimate how different libraries are from for-profit companies, but do that research and tell us, please – Thom/Karen), and why WorldCat Identities links to Wikipedia (because they were open to working with us – Thom).

These are just the highlights of the audience/panel conversation. The day offered a glimpse at where catalog searching is going, who the major players are, and some real goals for those involved in its progress. When the event wrapped up, everyone left, head spinning, pondering the possibilities.

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