This article is from a talk I gave at the “Indiana Online Users Group”. I am sorry that it has taken so long to post, but life has a funny way of messing with your plans. It was a wonderful experience and I want to thank Amanda Hurford for giving me the opportunity.
Traverse the ILS borderland and contemplate the space between 1.0 and 2.0
Well it has been another quiet week in Fort Wayne my hometown, on the edge of the cornfields. As I sat contently at my desk thinking about this presentation, drinking coffee and munching on a cliff bar I wondered what I could possibly share with the group. You have heard and seen a lot today. How could I help tie this all together, and make sense off the options that are available?
Unicorns and Centaurs have something in common with 2.0 Integrate Library Systems. They all live in a fantasy world. There is however a space between 1.0 and 2.0 where custom services can be added. I would like to share how we at the Allen County Public Library have found ways to add folksonomy, online payments, spell checkers, embedded IM clients, customer request forms, and book reviews.
I will show you ways that we have begun to push information out to our customers and provide them new options for searching. Finally, I will give you my vision of where libraries are going and focus on a small group of libraries that are quickly approaching the ideas behind 2.0. Before we delve into tacking on every piece of shiny 2.0 technology onto our flabby systems let me clarify. I am going to be taking about the OPAC not the entire ILS.
The simplest question we need to ask ourselves is “Why aren’t we there already?” 2.0 technologies have been available for years. My favorite answer is to blame someone else. It is the evil ILS pirate vendors that are not providing the products that we need to serve our patrons and they are refusing listen to us. I too am frustrated with the ILS vendors. I don’t think they are listening and in some instances they are holding libraries financially hostage.
Some organizations are looking to Open Source OPAC’s to provide solutions. Open Source OPAC’s still only provide traditional OPAC search solutions and have not fully integrated 2.0 ideas. Could there be other contributing factors? As customers, are we still asking vendors to do the impossible? To create an interface that serves two purposes, a frontend that works for both librarians and the public. I think vendors are guilty of not fully realizing that this is impossible and providing an alternative solution.
I cannot blame them, as they are motivated to please us. We are their customers and the people that will eventually purchase their product. We are their focus and somehow the patron’s experience inadvertently gets lost in the equation. We are acting as unconscious intermediaries between the vendor and the customer. What would happen if we made this declaration? “I don’t have a clue what our patrons want!” There is bravery in making this type of proclamation. This statement allows for discovery to occur.
We are experts in search, we know how to do it and we excel at it, but do we do know what our patrons are doing? Do we follow trends? Do we know our patrons search patterns? If you consider yourself a search expert do you know what the most asked online question is? More importantly, what was the most searched word on your OPAC last week? We need systems that can tell us this type of information, and we are not there yet.
Google owns and defines search, 60% of all online searching is now done through Google. We can make use of this knowledge. We now know how people search and what they want. They want a Google like search tool for the OPAC. This means that a facet search element on the OPAC is not a matter of if it is a matter of when and the biggest improvement you could make would be to add this type of searching feature.
The easiest way to improve is to observe and emulate sites that are successful. These are the sites that I am looking to mimic. Google and American Girl, New York Times online, National Geographic, Target, Harley Davidson, Starbuck. Why are they successful? They have a social conscience and they are talking about what you can do with their product rather than promoting the virtues of their product. The best example I recently have seen is Target. They have a line of flatware, and the approach to selling the product is to show video footage of a summer party. They are selling the experience not the product. How is our OPAC selling the experience? Great sites are constantly looking to attract new and untraditional customers. How are we doing this?
These organizations do not rely on subjective information when innovating, they are looking at customer trends, they measuring and constantly looking to improve. This simple recipe will help you move forward. You cannot let internal political forces and subjective opinion drive design.
2.0 is about services, engagement and the user experience. It is about adding content and getting user interaction. Today it is about tacking on services that provide these elements. I’ll share with you some of the things I have done and my experience with them. So let’s look at how we can jazz up our lumbering, lackadaisical, leaden, lethargic and listless OPAC with some jazzy tools and talk how a real 2.0 OPAC might appear.
For my money Librarything is the best purchase I made in the last couple of years Librarything for Libraries is a wondrous add-on that you can inject right into your catalog with a simple java script. It gives you a taxonomy and provides similar. If you like this you might like this. It is priced by the number of FTE’s in your organization.
It was very easy to implement. If you are a Sirsi customer I have written I blog pos that takes you through the steps. Just follow my instruction.
Librarything has also created a review product that allows patrons to read reviews and write their own. The reviews are then attached to your catalog. Now you have created a sense of ownership. I never thought patrons would write and share reviews but so far we have 236 reviews written by ACPL patrons. Patron can write the review and add it their blog and facebook accounts. It doesn’t get any more 2.0 than that.
Here is the funny part. I purchased the review component, installed, configured and tested it to make sure everything was working correctly. It looked great! I then ignored it for a couple of weeks as I had other fires to fight. I went back into the site to look at the statistics and I stumbled upon 20 reviews that our patrons had written that were waiting for my approval. It never really occurred to me that our patrons would use this produce to write reviews. The lesson I learned is that if you provided an opportunity in the virtual space for people to participate, they will.
How are we meeting people virtually at their “Point of Need?” In the physical world we go to great effort to serve our customers. We staff service desks and equip the staff with phones and computers, but we almost totally ignore them in the virtual space. Sure we might provide an email address with some promise to answer their questions in 24 – 48 hours. Is the virtual patron somehow a second-class citizen? Just because we can easily indentify the need in the physical world does that give us the right to ignore the needs of our online patrons? Shouldn’t we have similar resources to help our online patrons?
Identifying a point of need is not as easy as it sounds. Solving that need once identified is not the challenge. Here are some questions you might ask. What do you do if a patrons search fails on your OPAC? How many times does a patron search fail to find something?
We solved this problem by adding a link on a failed search. It states if you cannot find it tell us and we’ll try and located it. Patrons fill out a form and press send. This has been extremely popular and meets the patron.
Here’s another story you might find funny, it is obvious when you think about it.
It’s a Saturday night and I am at home with my wife. She is trying to log into the library but cannot remember her library card number and doesn’t want to get up and go search for her card. She looks at me and states. “It is ridiculous that you want me to remember a 14 digit number, no other website make me do this. You need to write a frontend so I can create and ID and Password just like every other website on the planet. How hard can that be?” She was programmer for 27 years with IBM so there was no way of talking my way out of this situation.
The second part of the story is that I did write a simple frontend that allowed patrons to create their own id and password that automatically logged them into our OPAC. What I failed to realize was how popular this would become, 200 people sign up for this service on the first day and today we have over 4000 that are using alternative frontend.
2.0 OPAC is about engaging your patron, I have created a webpage that shows the material that we cataloged yesterday and is updated automatically every night. We have created another page that shows the most popular items. John Blyberg has creates a page that shows material that has just been returned. 2.0 OPACs should have these as standard services not add-ons. How are ILS vendors making the OPACs socially relevant? At the moment they’re not.
Here is how I see the trend of managing these resources into the future and fully bringing 2.0 technologies to the OPAC. There needs to be a management layer that integrates resources and the OPAC needs to be thought of as a information component but not a destination. We have been looking around for a tool to do this over the last 2 years and have settled on drupal. Drupal has all the things we need except OPAC integration to the Sirsi/Unicorn system.
The capacity to be able to separate your OPACs data from the formatting is so important. This allows you the freedom to present the data where it is most relevant. John Blyberg has written a Drupal module called SOPAC. SOPAC abstracts the data from the presentation of the data and this allowed me to write a connector class that was customized for our Sirsi/Dynix ILS and to be able to integrate the OPAC into Drupal.
Why did we make this decision and what problems did it solve for our library?
Search was and still is our greatest concern. We were able with Drupal and SOPAC to take our MARC data and use sphinx to create a facet search. Vufind does something similar with solr. Now we have a free facet search component for the catalog without shelling out big bucks for enterprise.
A number of our staff have library blogs out on the web at both wordpress.org and blogspot and they are continuously creating great content with the website. Drupal has a RSS feed aggregator that seamless pulls in this and integrates this content. Drupal has a built in component that allows users to create their own id and passwords that can connect to our OPAC. Users can now tag material and write reviews and the tag cloud is local our collection. We can integrate new services such as Librarything while still maintaining a consistent look and feel across the webiste.
So it has a number of great features but the reason we are looking so closely at Drupal is because of things we cannot imagine. I believe that Drupal as a platform is in a better positioned than current OPACs to implement and manage these new services. ALA, Darien, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan library all run on the Drupal platform and I am seeing more libraries move in this direction over the last 18 months.
OCLC has release information about worldcat local and I am very excited about this. The question that I find myself asking is will allow me to integrate and add a great products like Librarything for my patrons or will they make the decision? OPAC’s are the core technological element to libraries but they now are not the only element.
In ending let’s go back to Google. Marissa Mayer the head of Search at Google said this year that Google in the future is not about providing results it is about providing answers.
Those answers are a combination of knowledge they have collected about you content that they can provide. As we look at the next generation of OPAC’s how can we imagine them? I think that the OPAC should be your best friend that knows everything about you, has a photographic memory and can provide answers to your questions. It would be the first place you would good to look for a good book.