Thinking outside the books: A Travel log

This travel log outlines some of my experiences at a conference in Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) entitled "Think outside the books: Creating the customer-driven library" hosted by PALINET in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Office of Commonwealth Libraries, October 23-24, 2006. In a sentence, the conference was a joy to attend and it was interesting see how the concept of a "next generation" library catalog is being manifested.

Fall Color
Fall Color
Fall Colors
Fall Colors

Andrew Pace (North Carolina State University Libraries) gave the keynote presentation called "Dis-integrated library systems and the future of searching" as well as a follow-up presentation "E-matrix - electronic resources management". In them he provided an overview of the "integrated library system" and elaborated upon how it wasn't really integrated at all. Instead it is really a monolithic application that can not be taken apart in used with other applications. He noted that the "ILS" worked well in a world of books, and to some degree in the world of traditional serials, but as the content of libraries has evolved the ILS has not kept up. No relevancy ranked searching. Poor browsing. Too much reliance on controlled vocabularies. Little ability to handle networked content. There is more to a library catalog than finding known items.

The North Carolina State University Libraries have always been strong on collection development, and in an attempt to be a better handle on some of these activities they created a thing, based on Electronic Resources Management work previously done by the Digital Library Federation, they called e-matrix. This thing is/was a technical services tool first and a public services tool second. Essentially it is a database containing their world of library content: books, journals, other serials, abstracting & indexing information, etc. Each of things sets are described in more ways than just subjects but also in terms of content (definitions, maps, images, novels, etc.) and containers (books, journals, data sets, etc). After each of their descriptions are enhanced the indexing application (Endeca) provides the searchable/browsable interface.

The future of integrated library system, Pace believes, is really in dis-integration. Breaking the monolithic system into smaller component parts. There will be fewer and fewer library software vendors. (The market is too small.) Libraries will increasingly explore non-library vendors for software solutions. More social network components will make their way into library systems. More "bling". RSS. Book jackets. Shopping carts. Links to locally digitized content. Metasearch. Full-text content. Images.

I enjoyed the presentations, "Thank you, Andrew." It was refreshing to see a library that saw some of the problems they were having a instead of looking to company to sell them a solution they created their own solution. Empowering.

In "Library as place" Joseph Lucia (Vilanova University) described how he sees his library facilitating communication. He began by asking the question, "What are the unique characteristics of libraries, and how can these characteristics be amplified and made appealing?" According to a recent OCLC report, most people think the identifying characteristics of libraries are books, but Lucia asserts books are merely symbolic entities -- experiential frames surrounding narrative and argument. In this light, libraries are not about the books themselves, but the process of connecting people with the books and thus the ideas they contain. Libraries are about conversation and knowledge. Libraries are an intellectual commons. A cross-roads. A contact zone.

To make these ideals reality the Vilanova University library sponsors a great deal of "programming". Faculty book talks. Student paper presentations. Musical performances. There are about two to three programs a week. These programs take place in a common area in the library -- an area that is public and seen as "user space" -- not hidden away in an unknown corner of the library. Out in the open. Library staff can configure and take down the programming space is just a few minutes, and as the programs are in progress Lucia has noticed how people are drawn in even when they hadn't planned on participating. In conjunction with Vilanova's One Book Program, Lucia is making sure libraries continue to be relevant in an increasingly digital and networked environment.

The next day Tim McGeary (Lehigh University) & Eric Lease Morgan (University Libraries of Notre Dame) presented "MyLibrary - open source code for portals". McGeary began by describing how MyLibrary was implemented at Lehigh. Specifically, library administration mandated the need for a library presence on the campus-wide portal (SCT Luminus), and MyLibrary was seen as a way to make that happen. They began by extracting user data from the portal and using it to populate MyLibrary. Next they created "subjects" based on library fund codes. Finally, they extracted content from their library catalog to populate the resources table of MyLibrary. The result were sets of pages designed for patrons containing content relevant to their areas of study. McGeary believes the system is moderately successful, especially with graduate students.

My follow-up presentation described the differences between MyLibrary 2.x and 3.x. In a nutshell, MyLibrary 2.x is/was a turn-key application whereas MyLibrary 3.x is more like a toolbox. Technically, MyLibrary 3.x is set of object-oriented Perl modules providing the means to read and write to a specifically shaped database schema. The database is composed of four parts: librarians, patrons, resources, and facet/term combinations. Librarians and patrons are described with simple contact information. Resources are described using a superset of the Dublin Core elements. Facet/term combinations are sets of two-dimensional controlled vocabularies defined by the local institution. Example facets may include: subjects, formats, and tools. Example terms might include: astronomy, music, philosophy, books, journals, data sets, dictionaries, indexes, and catalogs. Finally MyLibrary provides the means for librarians to create relationships between themselves, patrons, and resources by assigning facet/term combinations. Thus, patrons can know who their librarians are and what resources are recommended for them because they have all been assigned "tags" such as astronomy.

Considering all of the noise surrounding "next generation" library catalogs, I then alluded to the possible use of a database/index combination to manifest such a thing. I described how MyLibrary might be a useful framework, but did not advocate it wholeheartedly because of the limited (Dublin Core) manner in which things can be described. Something like MODS or a native XML database might be more apropos.

Edward Corrado (The College of New Jersey) & James Robertson (New Jersey Institute of Technology) shared "Social software and libraries". In it they first described social software as something that leverages the wisdom of the crowd, fun, interactive, a medium, a tool, and an ecology. They went on to describe and demonstrate quite a number of social software applications/tools. Internet relay chat (IRC). Blogs. Wiki's. Photosharing. RSS. Podcasting. Tagging and folksonomies. Finally, the outlined why these technologies are important to libraries, namely, because collaboration is becoming the norm and to millennials these technologies are already the norm.

In summary, there was a bit of "thinking outside the books" at this conference. Invigorating.

Pennsylvania capitol building
Pennsylvania capitol building
rotunda
rotunda
Pennsylvania House ceiling
Pennsylvania House ceiling

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This travel log was never published elsewhere
Date created: 2006-11-27
Date updated: 2006-11-27
Subject(s): next-generation library catalogs; PALINET; travel log; librarianship;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/palinet-2006/