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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
The Convenience Catastrophe
Anyone who has worked a reference desk has seen users pleased with a quick and mediocre answer when, with a bit more time and effort, they could get a better one. It's called 'satisficing.' It's human nature to seek that which is 'good enough' rather than the best. For many, it's a simple equation of effort vs. payback. At a 'good enough' point that can only be determined by a specific individual, it becomes too much trouble to reach the optimum for the perceived gain. Nobel prize-winning economist Herbert A. Simon came up with the concept of 'satisficing' in 1957. Although he was attempting to explain the behavior of firms, the concept appears to apply to individuals as well, and perhaps even more aptly. Such behavior by and of itself is neither surprising nor necessarily detrimental. But when this aspect of human nature intersects with digital libraries, we have all the makings of what I call the 'convenience catastrophe.' This catastrophe is nothing more or less than the disappearance of our print collections in the face of more easily obtained digital content. Collections that are easy to access by using a computer and an Internet connection will very frequently win out over print collections-no matter how much better and more inclusive our print collections may be. Once our clients begin to see the Internet as the answer to all or most of their questions, our sources of support will be in jeopardy. So how do we fight this tendency? We must provide more information online about what our print collections hold, so that potential users of our holdings can more easily discover the treasures they contain. Converting our card catalogs into digital form was merely the beginning. A title, an author, and a few subject headings are often inadequate to determine if a particular book will be useful or not. We need to work cooperatively to provide much more information about our books, particularly nonfiction works. Tables of contents For nonfiction works, the best first step is to provide the table of contents. Can you imagine a student's face lighting up when a book with an entire chapter on his/her paper topic is discovered? How could a student find this from the comfort of a dorm room unless we have made such information available online? Luckily, we don't even have to do it ourselves. Blackwell's Book Services has sold digital tables of contents of books since the early 1990s. The company web site has a great deal of information on the topic, including an argument for the added expense and an explanation of how such information can be integrated into a MARC record. MARC record enhancement is already happening. OCLC recently announced it would bolster WorldCat records with tables of contents provided by Ingram Library Services. At Cornell, a 1997 report made the case for adding tables of contents to the catalog and summarized the state of such enhancement services at the time. Although that report focused on books, Cornell is now developing a MyContents component for its MyLibrary system that will enable users to select journals they wish to track and have the tables of contents of those issues e-mailed to them. The tables of contents are provided by vendors. The system is being constructed using open-source components, and the university plans to make the code available as open source. Online indexes Providing indexes online is less important, overall, than providing tables of contents, but it can be a useful service if done appropriately. To be most effective, the indexes must be searchable. This can be done very simply by using optical character recognition software to turn scanned images into text and not bothering to correct any mistakes (which is costly in time and money). Instead, when a user discovers that a particular index has the terms searched, the page images will be displayed rather than the converted text file. This technique is used by JSTOR and others to cut down on the expense of fully correcting the scanned text, while still providing a search function. A few years ago I proposed such a project at the UC-Berkeley Library, and the proposal and demonstration site are still available. (The project wasn't funded.) Making reviews available Librarians write a lot of reviews. By and large, these reviews appear in professional journals such as Library Journal and Choice and are never seen by most library users. Admittedly, they are written for other librarians to make purchasing decisions, but such reviews could also be desirable for library users. Some libraries are already offering library reviews to their users. Many books never get reviewed by the standard review media, however. By reviewing these books cooperatively, as we do for cataloging, we could begin providing hundreds (and soon thousands) of additional reviews that would help users select books. Seeing covers Part of making books desirable is creating interest and intrigue. Book covers have been designed to do this for many years, since trying to get a customer to buy a book in a bookstore isn't all that different from getting them to come down to the library to get it. So why not use the marketing savvy of the publisher? Amazon.com certainly uses book covers (and not just the cover image, but also front and back flaps) as well as book excerpts, customer reviews, and even pointers to books that others bought at the same time. Institutions like Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, and some 300 others provide similar information via companies like Syndetic Solutions, which supplies reviews, book jackets, and summaries, as well as excerpts, tables of contents, and more. Integrated searching If a business sees a fall-off in customers, it would be wise for that business to consider what it is no longer doing right. We should be no different. Our customers are increasingly leaving us for the Internet. We need to create powerful, effective, and easy-to-use search systems that integrate access to not just Internet resources but also our rich set of online databases and print content. If libraries began providing the kind of integrated portal services that I profiled in ' Cross-Database Search: One-Stop Shopping ' (LJ 10/15/01), users would beat a path to our doors. And in so doing, they would discover that print collections have something to offer as well. But to enable them to discover this, we will need to have much more information in our online catalogs. The convenience opportunity Everyone has heard the saying that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Trite but true: we now have our opportunity to take this 'catastrophe' and fashion an opportunity from it. If we can meet the challenge of moving our users from satisficing to satisfying, from minimizing to maximizing, we will have done not only our users a favor but ourselves as well. __________________________________________________________________ Link List Blackwell's Tables of Contents Bibliography www.blackwell.com/services/techserv/TocH.htm Blackwell's Tables of Contents Enrichment Service www.blackwell.com/services/techserv/TOC.htm Ferguson Library Catalog www.futuris.net/ferg Ingram Library Services www.ingramlibrary.com OCLC Announces Enhancements to WorldCat www.oclc.org/oclc/press/20010918.shtm Table-of-Contents Enhancement of the Catalog www.library.cornell.edu/cts/martyrep.htm UC-Berkeley Library Proposal sunsite.berkeley.edu/PEP