Academic discovery and library catalogues

A slightly disjointed post. The useful website by Marshall Breeding announced the eXtensibleCataloge project has just released a number of webcasts in preparation for their software release later this year.

eXtensible Cataloge webcast screenshot

eXtensible Cataloge webcast screenshot

I’ve come across this project before, and put a little simply, is in the same field as the Next Generation Catalogues such as Primo, Aquabrowser and VuFind.

However where these are discreet packages, this seems like a more flexible set of tools and modules, and a framework which libraries can build on. I didn’t manage to watch all the screencasts but the 30mins or so that I watched was informative.

As an aside, while the screen consisted of a powerpoint presentation the presenter appeared in a small box at the bottom, and watching him speak oddly made listening to what was being said more easily digestible (or perhaps just gave my eyes something to focus on!).

This looks really interesting, and will be good to see how this compares to other offerings, certainly looks like they are taking a different angle, and perhaps the biggest question will be how much time will it take to configure such a flexible and powerful setup (especially with the small amount of technical staff found in most UK HE Libraries). Anyway, worth checking out, using various metadata standards and using – amongst others – SOLR and Drupal as a base.

While on the eXtensible Cataloge website I came across a link to this blog post from Alex Golub (Rex) an ‘adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai’i Manoa‘. It talks about a typical day as he Discovers and evaluates research and learn about others in the same academic dicipline. Again, well worth a read.

It starts off with an email from recommending a particular book. He notes:

In exchange for giving too much of my money, I’ve trained it (or its trained me?) to tell me how to make it make me give it more money in exchange for books.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the library catalogue could potentially offer a similar service. A Library Catalogue would be well placed to build up a history of what you have borrowed and produce a list of recommend items. But would this only suggest items your library has, and would it be limited by the relatively small user base; if there are only a few academics/researchers with a similar interest then this will be of limited use in producing books you may be interested in (i.e. serendipity).

This is where the JISC TILE project comes in (and I blogged about an event I attended about TILE a few months a go). If we could share this data at a national level (for example) we could create far more useful services, in this case it could draw on the borrowing habits of many researchers in the same field, and could – if you wish – recommend books not yet in your own Library. As well as the TILE project, Ex Libris have announced a new product called bx which sounds like it will do a similar thing with journals.

Another nugget from the blog post mentioned above is that he uses the recommendations & reviews in Amazon as a way to evaluate the book and its author:

So I click on the link and read more reviews, from authors whose work I know and respect.

I’ve been discussing with colleagues the merits and issues with allowing user reviews in an academic library catalogue. I hadn’t considered a use such as this. Local reviews would have been of limited use as other authors in the same field that a researcher respects (as he describes in the quote) are likely to be based at other institutions (and we would be naive to expect such a flood of reviews to a local system that every book had a number of good reviews). Again, maybe a more centralised review system is needed for academic libraries, though preferably not one which requires licensing from a third party at some expense!

And briefly, while we are talking about library catalogues. I see that the British Libraries ‘beta catalogue‘ (running on Primo) has Tag functionality out the box, and I’m pleased to see they have been this quite a central feature, with a ‘tag’ link right about the main search box. This link takes you to a list of the most frequently used and most recently added tags. Creating a new way to browse and discover items. What I love about the Folksonomy approach is that so often users find ways of using tags in ways you would never expect. For example, would a cataloger think to record an item in a museum as ‘over engineered‘? (I think the answer would be no, but it occurs to me I know nothing regarding museum cataloging standards). Could finding examples of over engineered items be useful for someone? of course! (from the Brooklyn Museum online collections, found via Mike Ellis’ excellent Electronic Museum blog). The Library of Congress on flickr pilot springs to mind as well.

So I guess to conclude all this, the quest continues in how we can ensure libraries (and their online catalogues and other systems) provide researchers and users with what they want, and use technology to enable them to discover items that in the past they might have missed.


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