“Future of the Catalog” conference notes

My second systems analysis project is done, and now I have a bit of breathing
space (next week, thanks to Thanksgiving, is a no-classes week). So
here, a bit belatedly, are my notes from the ACRL-DVC Future of the Catalog
on the 3rd.

Thom Hickey, OCLC: OCLC and the Future of the Catalog

came in a little late, so I missed the first part of Thom Hickey’s
talk, which was a preview of new things OCLC is working
on. The part that really caught my attention was his demonstration of
the not-yet-live "WorldCat Identities," a project to create a page for
every person in WorldCat, part name authority record and part
Wikipedia. The identity pages will include associated authors, a
publication timeline, and a widget that displays audience level
graphically, so you can tell whether an author wrote for children,
adults, or specialized scholarly audiences. This project will go public
later this year, and they’re also going to roll out a new version of
FictionFinder. (I’ve been interested in FictionFinder since I first
heard of it a couple of years ago. I hope someday there’ll be a
PoetryFinder to go with it. For that matter, I think it would be really
neat to help build such a thing. Psst, OCLC! Want to hire me when I
finish my MLS?)

Turns out the slides for this talk are available on OCLC’s site (scroll down to "Thom Hickey").

Emily Lynema, NCSU Libraries: Endeca — Faceted Keyword Searching

The slides for this talk are up at NCSU’s list of presentations on the catalog (first link on the page).

This was an exciting talk for me even though I’d already
heard about NCSU’s new Endeca-powered catalog. Emily
Lynema’s demo focused on what she called "searching the way patrons are
used to searching," but also leverage information that patrons don’t
always see because it’s hidden behind codes. She showed us how Endeca’s
faceted search lets a user narrow down what they’re looking for without
having to keep re-typing in new queries or guessing at subject
headings. There are all kinds of features that make life easier; the
ones that especially impressed me were the spelling correction and "did
you mean…?" suggestions, a la Google. (Who amongst us hasn’t been
stymied by the combination of rogue typos and an OPAC’s inability to
recognize misspellings? If you haven’t, you’re a much better typist
than I am.) Other features: "limit to what’s available" (this is going
to be massively popular with time-strapped undergrads, I can tell), a
"browse new books by call number" feature, relevance ranking, and
facets for subject and LC classification (the most popular facets, thus

And they implemented the whole thing in less than six months. Yowza!

Tim Spalding, LibraryThing: Catalog/Share Your Personal Library

of people in the audience had heard of LibraryThing, though fewer
seemed to have used it (Tim Spalding did a quick poll at the start of
his talk). He gave an overview of how the "bibliosocial network" of
LibraryThing works, did a quick demo, and then went on to talk about
how tagging does and doesn’t overlap with traditional cataloging. He
presented a couple of standout examples of fiction-genre tags:
cyberpunk and chick lit, both of which pull together a good working
bibliography of their genre, and neither of which can be found in the
Library of Congress classification (did you know that the subject
headings for William Gibson’s Neuromancer include "Nervous system — Wounds and injuries — Fiction"?
Neither did I). Then he showed us a couple of examples of the drawbacks
of tagging: magic (Harry Potter, books on card tricks, history, fantasy fiction)
and leather (leather-bound editions, books on leather crafts, and erotica for leather fetishists). He also drew a parallel
between the LT author pages and the OCLC identity pages.

Karen Calhoun, Cornell University Libraries: The "Calhoun Report" on the Changing Nature of the Catalog

Calhoun (author of the Calhoun Report, available as a PDF from the
Library of Congress) talked about the future of catalogs, especially as
they become more and more integrated into other discovery tools. She
talked about the difference between the old "library-centric" model, in
which scholars’ information universes revolved around the library, and
the newer "user-centric" model, in which the user’s activities — gathering, discovering, sharing, and creating — are at the center, and
the catalog is one of many resources, lots of which are networked and
remote. She compared it to the difference between Ptolemaic and
Copernican views of the universe: now that the library isn’t the center
anymore, where does that leave us? Her answer to the "future of the
catalog" question was: dismantle, reassemble, reduce costs, find new
uses for data, reach out to new users.

This talk covered so much ground that my notes got a bit
scattershot. Among the things I jotted down: the OCLC report on college
students’ perceptions of libraries
and its finding that "the library’s brand is books"; 48 hours is the maximum amount of
time the casual user is willing to wait for information; Cornell has created an "ontology of scientists" called VIVO; and the catalog’s future includes visual browsing interfaces like AquaBrowser.

Then we all had lunch, followed by a Q&A with the four speakers. The discussion went from the need for and problems of data-sharing, to the possible uses of tags in library catalogs, to the response to NCSU’s new catalog (largely positive, though the students have been quiet about it so far), to the question of why libraries shell out so much for our information systems when commercial systems outside our niche market have figured out how to do similar things faster. The final question was "If I were a 19-year-old college student, how would what you talked about help me find stuff?" Thom Hickey stressed giving the 19-year-old college students access, Karen Calhoun emphasized going where they are, Emily Lynema explained Endeca as "a less frustrating interaction with the system," and Tim Spalding got a big laugh by saying that when he was 19, he was most interested in getting a date — and that the social aspects of LibraryThing provide an enjoyable introduction to the world of books and learning, too.

All in all, a good conference. I’m hoping to catch up with the ACRL-DVC folks at the big ACRL conference in Baltimore in March.

2 Responses to ““Future of the Catalog” conference notes”

  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks, Tim! And I love the concept of “enjoyable metadata.”