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Internet Librarian October 24, 2006

Posted by nanette in IL2006.
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So my presentation was yesterday, and I feel like it went really well. Exceedingly well. Since the wireless isn’t the greatest, I haven’t had the chance to look around and see what people are saying about it, but I did catch Michael Stephens taking photos of some of my slides, and that totally ruled. I’ll put the slides up shortly, once I’ve managed to add some links to some of the places I discuss. (Tim told me I should do that if I’m going to put the slides out there for people who weren’t at the presentation, so I’ll follow his sage and expert advice. As always.)

I think I’m going to write a couple of posts here expanding on some of the ideas that I discussed in my presentation—namely, what libraries, vendors, and catalogers can—and should—do to make online catalogs better. I feel that we often spend a lot of time attempting to assign blame for “why OPACS suck” and not enough time trying to think up collaborative solutions for improvement. We are all accountable for the state of our online catalogs. It’s easy enough to scapegoat vendors and blame them for selling us a crappy product, but guess what? We’re the ones who BOUGHT the crappy product and didn’t insist on something better.

I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow attendee yesterday after the presentation, and he told me that the default search on their online catalog was a title search because that’s how the catalogers and the acquisitions staff wanted it.

What?

First of all, I find it really odd that catalogers and acquisitions staff are using the online catalog to locate materials. Don’t they have a staff-side search view? I’d go nuts if I had to use the online catalog every time I needed to locate an item to make a change to the record, check on holdings, or even place a hold for my personal use. As a somewhat-experienced searcher, I tend to use title searches whenever I’m stuck using the online catalog (say, when I’m at home and I don’t have access to the staff version), but this is a keyword-searching world, no matter how hard we try to educate our users otherwise.

I’m troubled that catalogers feel that the online catalog is there to serve them, rather than the user. I tend to use “online catalog” rather than OPAC—which stands for online public access catalog. Not “online catalog for the benefit of the awesome catalogers,” but online public access catalog. Anything we’re doing with our online catalog should be based on making things easier for the public. It’s not the cataloger’s catalog. It’s the public’s catalog. As catalogers, we provide access to the materials, and then we LET IT GO. We release the materials and our precious cataloging records out into the wild for the benefit of the public.

I told the librarian to keep fighting for a user-centered online catalog. I don’t know how successful he’ll be, because it sounds like he’s up against people who completely misunderstand who is being served by the online catalog. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

I’m in the middle of watching a presentation about Flickr and libraries–a presentation that is worthy of my full attention, so I’m going to go ahead and publish this post, close the laptop, and pay attention to it! Expect further observations from IL, as well as slides and other stuff from my presentation, within the next couple of days.

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