I know that you’ve been wondering since I posted about the Future of Catalogs what my favorite session was at CIL this year – well, here it is!
Paul Miller is the Technology Evangelist for Talis – how fun does that sound?? Paul said “One day I’ll have a normal job” but why would you want a normal job? Not only is Paul’s job title fun – he was fun – it was a great presentation and I loved every minute of it. My hand was hurting at the end because I was trying to take notes as fast as he talked.
To start, Paul wanted to bring us back to reality – We need to reach out of the library to reach people wherever they happen to be – he said “I have really bad news for you. The library isn’t necessarily the place they think they want to go everyday.” So we need to reach out to where they actually are and help them do what they want to do better. It’s not just about vendors – it’s about all of us too.
He asked “How do people find stuff?” We all answered Google – he then asked “How else?” and there was a series of other answers that came from the audience and Paul told them they were wrong. The correct answer was Google, Google and Google – accessed in different ways – Google desktop, Google toolbar, etc. So how do we compete? And should we compete?
He pointed us to a few publications that may be of interest.
- Johnson, O’Doherty. Vines, Eds. Mori. Understanding The Audience, CIE, 2005. (CIE, pub 2005). http://www.common-info.org.uk/docs/mori-report.pdf (not linked because the link is broken – if you can find it let me know)
- Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources from OCLC
- another title that was cut off in his presentation about Library Stats in the UK
I could go into the stats that Paul shared with us, but you can see the graphs yourself on his presentation. In short people are still visiting the library and they trust us – so where did we go wrong online? Why are people still turning to Google first? According to the stats, a much lower number of people have visited the library website than those who have visited the building – and Paul thinks that most “were probably put off by what they saw”. He gave us an example from the Edinburgh University Library – look at this page – look at the length of this page – and the information on this page. It’s a list of databases – and we’re saying to the average user – “pick one”. The users do not need to know the names of all of the databases you have available – in fact they are probably overwhelmed and totally confused by this list.
So who – other than Google – are we up against? Paul put up the widely used image of Web 2.0 logos and let it scroll by. And he defined them as:
Isn’t that what we want to be? How many of these things can we apply to ourselves at this point in time? The thing is – we can be all of these things, we can do it just as well if not better than these companies if we work together. Paul pointed us to the Talis whitepaper on Library 2.0 – it was in our conference packs, but you can read it online.
So how do we respond to this trend? Library 2.0 is about opening the library up and delivering content to our users where they are when they want it. We need to engage our users – which we are doing, but we need to do even more. Paul called for us to “disaggregate our monolithic library systems…”. He explained this to us like this: Imagine a great big black box which a vendor sells you and instead of taking everything the vendor offers you take only the bits you need. Plugging in bits of other applications – maybe from other vendors – or that you have written yourself. Which is what I have the hardest time with – we have this ILS that was written for primarily academic libraries and we’re forced to buy the whole package and use only 1/3 of this – then out comes an add on that makes more sense for us – but we have to pay extra to get it – why not let us pay for the core and then pick and choose the other pieces we’ll need – customizing our catalogs to our specific institution? Paul says library systems should be like Lego, you can build the picture on the box or you can build something new and different.
Sidenote: Keep an eye on Talking with Talis for a podcast from the Library 2.0 gang on the “Future of the OPAC”.
Some people don’t like the idea of Library 2.0 because it implies a need for technology that some libraries can’t afford – a need for a programmer – and not just any programmer – a programmer who understands libraries – but what if we all worked together instead of individually – what if libraries with programmers shared their skills and code so that libraries without could still have new innovations? Paul called this “shared innovation” – we need to work together to fill in the gaps and make all of our libraries better.
He then went on to show us what libraries are already doing like the wpOPAC and greasemonkey plugins for Amazon that show the status of a book in the library. It’s not about black or white – library or Amazon – it’s about bringing things together and letting the user choose. Maybe the library can’t get the book for 5 days, but Amazon can deliver tomorrow – or vice versa – it’s about empowering the user to make informed decisions. He also showed the new book covers from the Ann Arbor Superpatron Edward Vielmetti and John Blyberg’s card catalog images. Paul says “It’s about letting people to take ownership and feel a connection to the items in the library. It’s a little bit gimmicky – it’s not what we’re going to replace the OPAC with. But it’s about reaching out in different ways and leveraging the data you already have. Making the data work harder does not always have to be for some worthy cause.” (maybe not an exact quote – but close enough).
The problem with these examples is that everyone has a different vendor, a different library system so we’d have to start over and program it ourselves – we need to work together – “By working together we can do better” – and I agree 100%. We need a shared platform – something that crosses vendor divides.
Now the next part of Paul’s talk was very hopeful – but knowing what I know about our vendors – it’s probably never going to happen – unless we (librarians) refuse to work any other way – and that won’t happen either – maybe I’m being pessimistic – I sure hope I am, because I want what Paul is offering – I want to work on a shared platform, I want to be able to share information with other libraries and use what they have to share.
So here we go – what is the “platform”? It’s a set of core pieces that every library system will have – built as a collaborative effort to make our lives easier. Everybody doesn’t need to start from scratch every time – instead we can build on shared pools of data. An example that he used was recommendation services. An individual library probably doesn’t have enough data to do this effectively. A lawyer may have taken out a NJ law journal and a book of business forms – they’re not necessarily related, but because we only have 9000 members and so many books, we can’t give effective recommendations – but what if we could access the data from all of the other law libraries in the world?? In aggregate we have more data than Amazon does.
The platform breaks down barriers – it has to cross the divide between vendors – it doesn’t make any sense for us to not be able to work together because we have different ILS packages provided by different vendors. It is much easier now for us to do something about this. The vendors need to work together and define the areas where they’re going to work together – and where they’re going to compete. Why should they all invest their time and money in building the core infrastructure? Why not all build it together? If we all have the same core in our ILS packages we’ll be able to communicate. Our role in this is to push our vendors to cooperate.
The platform will also allow us to expose the data to others – Amazon, a CMS – thought a similar API. The API will be the same across vendors so that changing won’t require as much changing – consistent access to data and exposure of content will allow us to build off of the core to make what’s best for our library.
Talis has built such an application called Whisper – and you can demo it online. Paul went through how it works and it was pretty darn impressive. It includes plugins to Amazon, Map mashups and desktop widgets.
So where do we start? Well first off we need to tell our vendors what we want – and we need to tell them in the right way. We need to include IT staff in the decision making and discussion with vendors so that our requests are put in a way they understand – like Roy Tennant said – it is partly our faults that things are the way they are. We need to visit Talis’ Shared Innovation site:
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What a wonderful presentation – I hope that someone in your library attended and bought the recording so you can listen to it – it was well worth it!
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