Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Adding Substance, Not Just Frills, to a Library's Online Catalog

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Adding Substance, Not Just Frills, to a Library's Online Catalog

Article excerpt

In my last column, I mentioned that the Monroeville Public Library has migrated to a new integrated library system. We are using the new system for circulation, cataloging, and the Web OPAC, and will soon be implementing acquisitions and serials modules. The last several months have been both busy and challenging. I was the systems librarian when the library was first automated in the early 1990s, and during intervals between the various project deadlines, it has been interesting to compare the original automation project to the current system migration project. An obvious difference was that this time the items in the collection already had been labeled with bar codes, so we didn't have that huge task to do as part of the migration. Also, the pace of the migration was faster, since there was not the lengthy wait for the shelflist data to be converted to MARC records on tape. Our data had to be extracted from our old system and loaded into the new system, but that went relatively quickly. Staff members were more familiar with the concepts of library automation, even if they were unfamiliar with the new system, so training, while intense, seemed easier.

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The biggest difference, however, is in the capabilities of the new system. The old system had used a minicomputer with dumb terminals, so it was text-only until a Web OPAC was added during the last few years. Our new system has a Web OPAC, as would be expected, and, as is the case with many of the currently available automation systems, there are additional options for enhancing the content of the library's catalog and integrating electronic resources. The difference between our new system's Web OPAC and our old system's online catalog seems almost as great as the difference between our first online catalog and the old card catalog. It is exciting to think about the possibilities for improved library service that added content and integrated resources could provide, but the trick is to make sure the additions are substantive and useful to patrons rather than frivolous bells and whistles.

Amazon and Google Raise the Content Bar

The trend toward integrating content and additional resources is not unique to libraries. Amazon.com has long provided the capability to listen to excerpts from tracks on audio CDs, and has also offered its Look Inside the Book feature for quite some time now. Amazon.com's most recent enhancement is its Search Inside the Book feature, which helps users find the best book on a particular topic. More information on this service is available on the Amazon.com Web site, including a discussion of how it works, a letter from CEO and founder Jeff Bezos on this new capability, some sample searches, and a link to a frequently asked questions page.

Google is also experimenting with a similar enhancement to its searching capabilities: Google Print (BETA) is now available online. Publishers have been invited to test their content online through this trial program. Google hosts the content and ranks pages from this content in search results just as Google ranks Web sites. Search results from this beta program are easily identifiable in a list of search results, because they are marked with a BOOK-BETA tag, the URLs begin with "print.google.com/print," and there is a link to the About Google Print Web page at the bottom of each page. Information on Google Print (BETA) is featured on the Google Web site.

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As Internet users become accustomed to enhanced content on other Web sites, they will expect libraries to provide similar enhancements in the OPAC. Librarians maintaining existing automation systems will need to keep up with their vendors' newest products and to visit the Web sites of the vendors' other customers to get ideas for enhancements that could be useful. Those looking for new automation systems will need to evaluate each product's enhancement and integration capabilities. …

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