Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
What I Hope Will Be
My recent column "What I Wish I Had Known" (LJ 11/15/05) took a look back at lessons learned from years in library automation. This month I look forward to a bright library future and the ways it will be accomplished. Effective and easy-to-use finding tools: You might think that library users who delight in role-playing games that have complicated formulas for acquiring tools, skills, and powers would also delight in puzzling out our overly complicated search tools. But, no, it turns out they typically wish to minimize time spent trying to find information or library materials. Meanwhile, our systems have yet to catch up, although there are hopeful signs. The Research Library Group's (RLG) RedLightGreen system was an early entry in the move to better finding tools, and now there's more. North Carolina State University Library recently unveiled a system that uses Endeca's capacity to provide hierarchical topical browsing of the entire collection. And the University of California has released a groundbreaking report on how it should remake its bibliographic services, including its union catalog. Compelling user services: Our users don't use Google and Yahoo simply because they have cute names. They search on them because they're useful. To win back and retain our users, we must create compelling, effective, and easy-to-use services, and we can. We already have a number of valuable services, but they are often hidden behind an overly complex interface or are poorly promoted. We can do a better job of showcasing our services not only by fixing the native interface to make it more user-friendly but also by exposing our data (e.g., catalog information) to other applications (e.g., courseware) through application program interfaces (APIs). Thankfully, this is already a trend among library systems vendors. We also must be better at getting the word out about these and other services we offer. A professional association that gets it: I find myself increasingly alienated from my main professional association in ways that I find deeply troubling. The American Library Association (ALA) leaders and staff need to know that times have changed. ALA can no longer assume that its role at the center of professional communication and development is secure. The Internet provides many opportunities for professional communication and development that are timely, convenient, cheaper, and more effective than twice-yearly conferences and a monthly journal. Meanwhile, ALA is so hidebound by tradition it cannot marshal the same tools that its members work with on a daily basis, instead clinging to outmoded ways of doing things (e.g., despite the valiant efforts of at least one councilor, the ALA office still doesn't put key documents online so paperwork must be packed up and trucked to conferences). Wide and deep collaborations to solve common library problems: Many libraries share the same problems and wish to exploit similar opportunities, yet they often create or implement unique, one-off solutions. The institutions for which I have worked have been as guilty of this as any. We can no longer afford such behavior. We need to work together to create solutions that we all can implement, with appropriate local configuration options. Collaborations can just as easily coalesce around opportunities. A prime example is the Open Content Alliance, which lets libraries cooperate on digitizing and sharing content on a massive scale. To do this well, we must jointly develop policies, procedures, formats, and protocols. Institutions must be ready to contribute staff time to a common pool of software developers, and only organizations of a certain size will likely be able to participate. But smaller institutions should still be able to benefit from this work nonetheless. We will need to set aside our pride and misgivings and commit to the common good. Maybe we can't realize all of these hopes, but, collectively and individually, libraries and librarians can create the kinds of compelling services that will bring our users back. We can't expect a brighter future unless we work hard for it. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Endeca endeca.com North Carolina State University Catalog www.lib.ncsu.edu/catalog Open Content Alliance opencontent.org RedLightGreen redlightgreen.com UC Bibliographic Services Task Force Report libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/sopag/BSTF/Final.pdf