Friday, January 13, 2006

What are Catalogs For?

There's an interesting thread on the Collib-L discussion list about linking information about books to the catalog. Bill Drew posted some information about the memoir A Million Little Pieces by James Frey; it's veracity was challenged by a blogger, turning it into a big story (even though the Star Tribune scooped the blogger by two years and Janet Maslin seemed to have doubts when she reviewed it for the Times). He's linking this blog entry to the library's catalog.

While an intriguing idea, I'm not sure what to make of it. There are a great many books whose "truthfulness" has been challenged, or which have been found to be plagiarized. Do we "add value" to catalogs by making them interpretive rather than descriptive? (I have to admit, it might make cataloging more fun. It certainly would make it more time-consuming.) Or should we let people draw their own conclusions and assume all books are subject to scrutiny?



Emily said...

I agree that adding links to blogs and news information in the catalog would make it a bit more exciting. However, the purpose of the catalog isn't to act as a review or reader's advisory service. Perhaps a happy medium would be to link users to Amazon where they can find the review and advisory information they might be looking for.

Amy said...

But perhaps in our quest to find new roles for libraries, this would be an excellent place to bring this information. Where do people go to find good, reliable information on current topics? Sure would be nice if "Google" and "Amazon" didn't always beat us out. I think it would be a good idea to start thinking about ways of enhancing catalogs to make them more useful tools to people. We are so restricted by the few vendors and the less-than-ideal products they offer. I'd like to see more institutions go the way of NCSU (if you haven't seen their new catalog, be sure to take a look) and develop their own products.

Barbara said...

I agree our OPAC choices are miserably slim, and tend to be desiged for ... who? I'm not sure. They aren't librarians' best friends, but they are harder yet for users to figure out, and certainly don't seem very imaginative.

My main concern, though, with making them interactive is that it's so easy for people to game any system - the user reviews on Amazon are largely useless because so many are written by friends and family or enemies of the author, not by average readers. Or they're contributed by their top reviewer, Harriet Klausner, who reviews over ten books a day. Quite a feat to write that many reviews; no wonder she doesn't have time to read those books too carefully. I'm also leery of rankings that use circulation as a prime factor--popularity doesn't seem that relevant to me in an academic library. What I'd like is a choice of various sorting algorithms.... in my dreams.

I just read an interesting review of research on information-seeking in public libraries that touched on a study that found 88% of OPAC searches for known items by patrons were successful, 88% of searches that relied on finding where a subject was shelved with a couple of quick searches, then browsing were successful, and less than half of searches by subject that relied on the OPAC rather than browsing were successful (failed to find relevant items). Haven't read the study to find out how it was done, but it was an intriguing idea.