Monday, March 19, 2007

Putting my head back into the OPAC

A couple of months ago I questioned whether the quality of our library OPACs figures greatly into the overall satisfaction of our customers. Something I read in the New York Times this weekend: made me reflect on that post and wonder whether I was asking the right question. This is the what got me a'ponderin':
Almost every Web film purveyor is planning to solve this bane of the modern culture consumer "too much choice" with some form of social networking. Recommendations, user reviews, friend lists and member pages are designed to help viewers determine which films they should watch.

When I read that, I found myself making these mental substitutions:

Almost every Web film purveyor library is planning to solve this bane of the modern culture consumer "too much choice" with some form of social networking. Recommendations, user reviews, friend lists and member pages are designed to help viewers library users determine which films they should watch books, cds and film they might enjoy next.
Now I'm wondering if the question I should be asking is, "how much value co
uld we add to our customers' experience, how much more engaging could libraries be, if our OPACS were integrated with social software and offered reviews, friend lists, member pages and (not incidentally) filters and recommendations?"

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At March 20, 2007 10:57 AM, Anonymous Rose said...

It's an attractive idea. I honestly think the public would love it. The only issue I see is privacy. More frequently, librarians seem to be the only ones concerned about it, though. Making the OPAC more like Amazon means that a user's likes, dislikes, and borrowing habits are on display for anyone to see. Most people don't seem to think this is a problem, though. Perhaps they trust the government a lot more than they should!

At March 20, 2007 11:33 AM, Blogger Peter Bromberg said...

Hi Rose,

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure I see that there's much of a privacy issue here. Sometimes I think librarians take our responsibilities vis-a-vis privacy too far--and at the expense of better service.

My understanding of a library's responsibility is that the library, by law, has to keep library customer records confidential. That means the library doesn't share those records with anyone other than the customer, short of a legally executed court order. (Of course the specifics will differ state by state.)

But privacy doesn't mean that we should restrict the customer from choosing what to share. That's their privilege, not ours. Sure, let's educate customers, and help them be smart about it; but I'd like to see us take a page from Netflix, a page from Amazon, a page from MySpace and a page from LibraryThing. I'd like to see libraries, and their systems and policies, offering a better balance between privacy on the one hand, and offering an engaging experience to an empowered customer on the other.

At March 20, 2007 3:56 PM, Anonymous Rose said...

Hi Peter,

I agree with you 100 percent.

I hate to say "Devil's Advocate", so maybe I'll just call it "hearing voices", but my previous comment was sort of a regurgitated chorus - the same old song that folks afraid of change tend to drag out whenever they're faced with new technology.

I probably wouldn't have even been back here today, but I just got home from a meeting where one of my colleagues shared some interesting news. I have always held Hennepin County Libraries in high regard, mostly based on their web presence. Today I learned that they're pretty much doing what you talked about. They've started something called "Bookspace", which provides a social portal for users to share favorite books and authors, keep track of reading lists and other things. Best of all, once you're logged in, it's linked to the catalog, so you can add comments and build lists without difficulty.

The technology is out there, and there are libraries already on board. Like you, I hope the rest of us won't be too slow in joining them.

At March 21, 2007 5:58 PM, Blogger contrapunctus said...

I am currently studying to become a librarian and coming from an IT background have been looking at the 2.0 zeigeist for a while.
I agree with Peter on the privacy issue, as it is an opt-in service and those who participate have probably already done something like this online somewhere else, any concerns are unlikely.
I also believe that as more info resources become digital then the importance of the OPAC will increase as it blends into library webpage.
My background is with academic libraries and while Opening Hours is an issue, being able to easily find electronic journal articles 24/7 from your computer at home is becoming increasingly important.

At March 21, 2007 8:41 PM, Blogger Liz B said...

I love all those ideas.

But first, I'd like a good OPAC to go along with it. I want an OPAC where a library customer (or staff member) can find the materials that the library owns, rather than doing a search they think is accurate, not finding the item and then looking elsewhere for the item (barnes & noble or netflix). The reason I'm currently a fan of BookSense & AADL is by allowing tags and the like, it helps to overcome some of the OPAC flaws.

I confess, I'm not techy enough to say whether the problem is the OPAC technology; or the cataloging that's locked into card catalog design; or inconsistent cataloging. (For example, cataloging for TV shows is ridiculous). Whatever the reason, the end result is the same; customers who think we don't own an item even tho we do.


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