Friday, May 29, 2009

What is the Role of a Library?

I've been busy lately and, to my disappointment, I've haven't been keeping up with the blogs I like to follow. So when I finally had a chance to catch up with a bit of reading last night I was delighted to come across the latest post from John Blyberg - The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians.

The statements are the result of a conversation between John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor about the fundamental purpose of libraries and librarians. In this time of increasing pressures on libraries - technological change, shrinking budgets, new competitors - many libraries are examining what they do and where they should be heading into the future. The Darien Statements are therefore a very timely, thought provoking piece of work, around which a great discussion may develop. (judging by the comments on John's blog it's already got a head of steam)

This manifesto of sorts is full of great stuff but three sentences in particular resonated with me:

...The Library has a moral obligation to adhere to its purpose despite social, economic, environmental, or political influences. The purpose of the Library will never change...

...Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict.

Why we do things will not change, but how we do them will...

To me, this says that libraries are about more than the individual tasks that we perform. They're not about a bibliographic record or the service at a reference desk. We have a bigger purpose. However, what we need to do to achieve those objective will change regularly (and alway has) if libraries are to remain part of the landscape. No area of library operation has a right to keep doing things 'the way they've always been done'.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NLA Discovery Service Prototype

The National Library of Australia has released a prototype of a search engine for their wide range of digitised resources - called SBDS.

Here's a quote from the site:
SBDS will be a new discovery service focussed on Australia, Australians, and items found in Australian collecting institutions. It will provide a single point of access to resources currently discoverable via the Library's multiple discovery services, and to digitised material freely available online anywhere in the world.

They are now asking for feedback and ideas for improvement. I think it looks great but have a look yourself and see what you think.

Mosman Library vs That Search Engine

For those of you who haven't already caught up with it you should definately check out Mosman Library's wonderful promotion for their online reference collection, Mosman Library vs That Search Engine.

What an ingenious, fun way to illustrate the worth of their databases.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What do Users Want from Your Library Catalogue?

I've just been having my first look at the most recent OCLC report, Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want. The results don't paint a very flattering picture of current generation catalogues but I don't think those findings are particularly surprising.

So what do users want? Here is a summary:
  • Direct links to online content - text and media formats
  • Evaluative content, such as summaries/abstracts, tables of contents and excerpts
  • Relevant search results
  • Item availability information - if the item is available and how to get it
  • Simple keyword search with an advanced, guided search option
You should read some of the detail in the report - it's really interesting. It certainly got me thinking. I believe that the results illustrate a couple of key points:
  1. Users want to start with a simple keyword search and get relevant results.
    Remember when Google just started up and the impact that their relevancy ranking had compared with search engines like Alta Vista and Yahoo! Now that's how everyone experiences the Internet and they want it in our catalogues.
  2. Catalogues are good when you know what you want.
    A bit of detail in the report suggests that catalogues are good when the user is looking for known items but really let people down when they are trying to discover information on a new topic. Random results from a keyword search aren't good enough. If you can't have the full text available online then people expressed a real need for more data to help them choose the good stuff. That included table of contents, summaries and excerpts as well as faceted searching to help them narrow down large result sets from keyword searches.
  3. If the whole thing isn't available right now online, 'how do I get it?' becomes the most important question.
    Assuming the user chooses a library catalogue as a discovery tool and manages to find some worthwhile resource their first preference is to link straight to the full text of the item online. If they can't have direct access there and then the detail around how and when can they get hold of the item becomes paramount.
What does this mean for the future of libraries and reference services? I see reference as the process of discovery based on identified information needs. However, the window (catalogue) to our biggest resource (our collection) doesn't appear to fulfill that need for discovery.

Does the library industry have enough dollars and/or expertise to develop catalogues that will meet our users expectations? Maybe libraries will not be in the discovery business for much longer? Should we be focussing on the delivery side of the equation? Could/should we outsource the discovery process to the institutions who are doing a better job of it (Google, Amazon, etc.) by making our collection data available to them in return for them sending traffic our way. Should reference services move to the Cloud to meet our users? Is it sustainable for individual libraries to all have their own uniques collections with an individual, self-contained discovery tool?

I see change coming and interesting times ahead.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reference Excellence 2009 - welcome to the Ref-Ex wiki

The slides from my recent presentation at the Reference Seminar are also available on Slideshare (helpful, 'cause the accompanying notes are listed there as well).

Reference Excellence is an online training tool using a wiki as the delivery tool. The Ref-Ex project has been a long time coming (since 2004) but it's now finally up and running. Covering modules from introductory reference through to reference interview skills and legislation and policy the aim of Ref-Ex is to expand across all areas of reference and information services (readers advisory, local studies, and so on) providing core training for public library staff across NSW.
Take a look and start your own professional development today!

Reference Excellence

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beyond the Search Box

The slides from Paul Hagon's fascinating talk at the Reference at the Metcalfe Seminar are now available on
Paul is doing some really interesting things by mashing up data from the National Library with web services and APIs from sites like and Flickr to create enhanced services for users.
Visit Paul's blog for some more insight into what he's been up to...

RSS 4 Libraries

If anyone would like to catch up with my talk on how Libraries can use RSS feeds (without needing any technical skills) from the Reference at the Metcalfe Seminar last week I've just posted the slides on the RISG New Technologies blog.

You can also see them at