A whirlwind of reports, product announcements, and spirited discussions swept over the library landscape in 2006. Lorcan Dempsey's blog announced the posting of the University of California Bibliographic Services Task Force (BSTF) report and the debut of the new Endeca-based online catalog at North Carolina State University, which exemplified many of the BSTF recommendations. (1) The Library of Congress-commissioned Karen Calhoun report followed a couple of months later. (2) The Library of Congress (LC) described a priority shift to "access to content rather than access to description." (3) LC's discontinuation of series authority work was the first change in bibliographic control along these lines. (4) At least one ILS (integrated library system) vendor announced development of a new product in response to many of the shortcomings of the existing systems. Among other benefits, Ex Libris's Primo is expected to permit unified searches of material traditionally siloed in separate databases and enable users to access library materials from within course-management systems and institutional portals. (5)
Much in these reports and developments was both exciting and disturbing to library staff. In the words of one colleague reading BSTF's interim report, "I must say it really shook up my world when I read it. Not that there were any surprises--it was very much mom-and-apple-pie stuff that has been said before but somehow you voiced it in a more compelling and urgent way." (6)
What Users Want
These events and the subsequent discussion stemmed from an earnest look at a question reminiscent of Freud, "What do users want?" The following assertions have been made on behalf of users.
* Users want simplicity and immediacy. Users are accustomed to a single search box on an entry screen, without an obligation to categorize search keywords.
* Users want the search interface to be intuitive; this does not mean they want the response to their searches to be simple-minded. On the contrary, as Kautzman and Ryan have noted, "An intuitive interface is not by definition 'dumbed down' or anti-scholarly." (7)
* Users benefit from prevention of dead-end searches, provision of enhancements like tables of contents and cover art, and navigation assistance that groups results and enables jumps to "more like this."
* Users want one system to search, to cover a wide information universe. They frequently do not know about the separate silos that exist and what is in each; even when they do, having to search them one at a time is unwelcome.
* They expect immediate access to full-text online resources wherever possible. For other materials, they want a full range of fulfillment options, not restricted to those services the library controls.
* They appreciate the opportunities to annotate, review, and "tag" resources, as well as share them with others. Users like results sorted by relevance, a key component of which is how others like themselves have used the resources.
* Instead of having to come to the library, physically or virtually, they would appreciate the above services being delivered to where they are--be it an institutional portal, course-management system, commercial search engine, and other mechanism.
Choices in How We View Metadata
Libraries determined to reform their operations and modernize themselves in response to these demands and expectations have a couple of choices of how to regard metadata. One view sees library metadata as overkill in light of what users of commercial search engines can be satisfied with. Any search functionality or data element not enjoying significant usage is a prime candidate for elimination. The granularity of library metadata probably is responsible for presenting too many searching choices on online catalog screens. With the arrival of e-resources in library workloads, the current methods of resource description appear less and less scalable. …