Rethinking the Catalogs

December 12, 2006 at 10:47 am

For the general user, the library catalog can be a complete pain. They are not set up for general users, at least users who don’t know exactly what they are looking for. Today’s catalogs, although improved, still require a certain understanding of the cataloging system and a large amount of creativity in order to the full amount of information from them.

If you wanted to search the Socialism movement in Poland during the 1920’s, there are several search strategies to try. You could start with a title or keyword search and hope there is a specific book on the subject. If no results come up, then move to lesser specific terms and find books with either Socialism or Poland in the title, then go to the shelves and hope there is a section in the index on your desired subject.

My personal preference would be to browse the subject headings under Poland and see if Socialism is a subheading. If that doesn’t work, switch the terms and see what happens. If there still aren’t any results, then it’s time to start thinking of alternative subject terms that this research might be found under like “Political Parties,” “Communism,” or general Polish history done by decades.

It’s all good and fun for me, but how would our patron feel if they were looking for this and having to try all these different search strategies?

How can we wonder why our patrons turn to the Internet for their information?
It’s not even a matter of whether or not they trust what they read, it is a matter of convenience. There is far less hassle for them to type into terms and come up with results… usually in the first couple tries.

Whether librarians (guardians and keepers of information and bibliographic control) like it or not, our patrons are moving along without us; they have found another way. It is up to us to bring them back and make our catalogs easier to use. We need to find ways in which they can find the information they want in ways they are used to searching now; ways like relevancy results, tagging & folksonomy, recommended/alternative/similar reads options. Perhaps our catalog could even link to a couple trustworthy Internet sites. If you are feeling really daring, let your patrons have the option to add their own tags to a specific title (obviously, put an administration hold on submissions for approval).

There are libraries that have taken notice and made steps to improve the usability on the patron of their catalogs but many of us are still way behind. We can contain bibliographic control for our sake and use but we have to start looking at things from our patrons end. After all, what good is all this information and entertainment if they are unable to find it in the first place?

Blog is cross-posted here.

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Patrick Jones, Mr. Inspiration AND Agents v. Gatekeepers When Librarians Attack!


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