I have been talking to a variety of groups in recent weeks, and the future of the catalog has risen to the top of the list in discussion and questions. The catalog is a topic of major debate. However, this discussion is really raising a set of broader issues about discovery and about the continued evolution of library systems, including the catalog, in a changing network environment.
Several things seem to be going on. Here are some thoughts.
The discovery experience does not have to be tied to the inventory management system. In some ways we have end-to-end integrated library systems where the ends are in the wrong places. At one end, the discovery exerience is embedded in a catalog interface. And, as we now realize, it is often a somewhat flat experience with low gravitational pull when compared to some other discovery environments. At the other end, the ‘fulfilment’ options open out onto only a part of the universe of materials which is available to the user: the local catalogued collection. And there is a growing gap between the cataloged collection and the available collection.
Elsewhere, I have suggested that we can think about some distinct processes – discover, locate, request, deliver – in the chain of use of library materials. Increasingly we will see these sourced as part of separate systems which may be articulated in various combinations, and across material types.
Resolution, for example, is now used to locate instances of discovered items, usually articles. In the future, resolution seems likely to develop into more of a service router: given some metadata, what services are available to me on the resource referred to by the metadata (borrow it, buy it, send it to a colleague, …), or which relate to the metadata itself (export in a particular citation format, for example). It is a way of connecting potentially multiple discovery experiences to multiple fulfilment (request/deliver) services, or multiple other services.
So, discovery of the catalogued collection will be increasingly disembedded, or lifted out, from the ILS system, and re-embedded in a variety of other contexts. And potentially changed in the process. And, of course, those contexts themselves are evolving in a network environment.
What are some of those other discovery contexts? Here are some current examples:
- Local catalog discovery environments. There has been a recent emphasis on the creation of an external catalog discovery system, which takes ILS data and makes it work harder in a richer user interface. The NCSU catalog has been much discussed and admired in this context. Ex-Libris has announced its Primo product which will import data from locally managed collections and re-present it. And, we have just seen announcements about the eXtensible Catalog project at the University of Rochester.
- Shared catalog discovery environments. We also observe a greater trend to shared catalogs, often associated with resource sharing arrangements. It has not been unusual to see a tiered offering, with resources at progressively broader levels (for example: local catalog, regional/consortial, Worldcat). The level of integration between these has been small. However, in recent times we have seen growing interest in moving more strongly to the shared level. This may be to strengthen resource sharing arrangements, to better match supply and demand of materials (the ‘long tail’ discussion), to save resources. And once one moves in this direction, the question of scoping the collective resource in different ways emerges: moving from local to some larger grouping or back.
- Syndicated catalog discovery environments. Increasingly, the library wants to project a discovery experience into other contexts. I use ‘syndication’ to cover several ways of doing this. Typically, one might syndicate a service or data. In the former case a machine interface is made available which can be consumed by other applications. We are used to this model in the context of Z39.50, but additional approaches may become more common (OpenSearch, RSS feeds, …). How to project library resources into campus portals, or course management systems has heightened interest here. The syndication of data is becoming of more interest also, as libraries discuss making catalog data available to search engines and others. And OCLC has been very active in this area with Open WorlCat.
- The leveraged discovery environment. This is a clumsy expression for a phenomenon that is increasingly important, where one leverages a discovery environment which is outside your control to bring people back into your catalog environment. Think of Amazon or Gooogle Scholar. Now this may be done using fragile scraping or scripting environments, as for example with library lookup or our FRBR bookmarklets. Here, a browser tool may, for example, recogize an ISBN in a web page and use that to search a library resource. The broader ability to deploy, capture and act on structured data may make this approach more common: the potential use of CoINS is a specific example here.
Here are some questions which arise whatever the discovery context.
The catalog discussion is often presented as just that, the catalog discussion. However, it belongs in a wider context. We may be lifting out the catalog discovery experience, but we are then re-embedding it in potentially multiple discovery contexts, and those discovery contexts are being changed as we re-architect systems in the network environment. These systems include discovery systems for other collection types (the institutional repository, or digital asset repository, or …); the emergence of a general search/resolution layer within the library; external environments as different as Google and Amazon, the RSS aggregator, or the course management system. It also includes a variety of supply chains: resource sharing, e-commerce, local.
The catalog questions is a part of how we re-architect the discovery to delivery apparatus for the available collection.
- Search, share and subscribe
- Thinking about the catalog
- Discover, locate .. vertical and horizontal integration
- Systemwide activities and the long tail
- Systemwide discovery and delivery
- A palindromic service layer
- Making data work – catalogs and Web 2.0
(Lifting out, disembedding, re-embedding: I borrow language from Anthony Giddens who uses it in a somewhat loftier context.)