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Christina's LIS Rant
Thursday, August 11, 2005
  Our whole model of online presence needs to be changed
See summary list of citations/links/influences below. This may be a rant, skip if you want to avoid rants. As always, opinions are only my own and wander around slightly.

We're getting ready for a perfect storm at MPOW (to borrow frl's abbreviation). We're migrating our OPAC to a new system and vendor and integrating it with our affiliated institution's OPAC. We're doing a complete redesign of our intranet portal. We're introducing a meta search. We're getting ready to migrate a ton of different internal databases and "document management systems" to a massive enterprise CMS. We're shedding print materials as fast as can reasonably be accomplished and adding online as we can afford.

Any one of these things has the potential to fundamentally change how the users interact with the library and how they access information in general. This provides us with a unique opportunity to come up with -- and implement -- a strategic plan, a paradigm, a model....

Scary, very scary.

As many in the list below lament, most changes to library web sites and OPACs are "organic" and incremental. OPACs are still just digitized card catalogs (although I understand our new one will have spell check and stemming, woo-hoo) and frequently don't have branding or links to other library materials and services ... hell, they frequently aren't even tied at all to the library web site. How about skins or whatever for different flavors of user?

We need to hide in the bushes and watch our users in their native habitats. Do we really know how they approach these things? Yeah, there are tons of articles, books, and websites...

I pretty much know that users really don't know when they should use our catalog and when they should use our portal. They sometimes think they're searching the catalog or a research database when they're searching our portal. They can't seem to find things in our portal... And these are brilliant, amazing, wonderful people. We have 0 (zero, no, nada, zilch) stupid users here so it's obviously a failure of the library.

There's also the whole deal about the nature of information and what types of information can be obtained from a source. Even though answer sites on the web are getting better, a well trained librarian with a print reference collection will beat the sites in a heart beat in finding an actual answer. Are we so awful that users still prefer a list of 200,000 pages where the words might occur over our expensive resources (um, yes?)?

How do we communicate to our users
fact, formula, property data -> handbook (or something like Beilstein which is technically a handbuch but really looks like a database)
overview of unfamiliar area -> textbook, book, review article
state of the art, updates -> research database, conference proceedings (and not a publisher collection but a REAL research database that goes cross societies and cross publishers)

I think they know this in the backs of their minds, but then librarians keep pushing reference databases as the answer to all evils. We can do a guided resource module -- but do we have to think of every question they'll come up with? Standard resource guides arranged in librarian terms have a reputation for only being useful for the curator.

Back to the ebook issue. Well, you can search across each individual platform like a database, but a practicing engineer really wants to go to an exact chapter of an exact title -- so she'll need to go directly to the chapter. She won't want to be forced to search across a database when she just needs a table she knows is there. Some of the ebook providers give marc records, so then we push the engineer to the OPAC. But what about all the vendors who don't? Who's got time and money to catalog the entire holdings of Wiley Interscience, for example. So then we tell our users... oh, if you're an ee, you might try Wiley, but we don't have everything that's in there so you'll just have to keep hitting the pdf links until something goes through...

I haven't seen any decent way to really break the barrier between the web page and the OPAC (well actually I just noticed that CSUSM did a decent job of this -- go little guy). I've also sat in on several sessions where the librarians built an entire site and then invited a focus group only to be told that nothing made sense.

huh. I'm going to take a step back from this and see what more I come up with. Hopefully there's light at the end of the tunnel because I'm feeling pretty gloomy.

 
Comments:
Great set of thoughts and references.

I think part of the answer may lie in exposing the OPAC data through a service interface (API), so that the information can be sucked up and displayed in many different formats in many different places.

rethink your model of the net: data + protocol + interface
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina's LIS Rant by Christina K. Pikas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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