Discussion Summary

Discussion Forum: “Making Your Catalog the Best it Can Be”

2008 Midwinter Meeting

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Philadelphia, PA

This is a compiled summary of comments made at the various tables during the discussion on "Making Your Catalog the Best it Can Be."

Pushing the catalog out to users

Personalization features (RSS feeds, Firefox extensions, Facebook apps, PDAs, etc.)

Background information available at

  • Facebook – some push-back about privacy & students not wanting the library there
  • Facebook – more anti-Facebook side, students want as their space, not where they go to do research
  • Facebook – mixed experiences from people at the table; don’t want to dismiss it out-of-hand
  • Need to do better RSS feeds, automatic holds
  • Pushing – mobile technology is a real area of interest, pushing alerts out to users via cell phones with text-messaging
  • Level of adaptation among our users varies greatly – make a tool & discover that nobody uses it (RSS – slow growth among our users)
  • Tagging schemes – PennTags is looking successful; taking publicly accessible tags from sources like LibraryThing
  • RSS feeds – especially new books lists
  • Putting links to our catalog in places like Facebook and LibX
  • RSS feeds – new books, custom-searches where you get e-mail when things match your search strategy
  • Publicizing things like LibX toolbar, etc – need to be published through BI or News or word-of-mouth
  • Widgets of custom catalog searches for iGoogle, NetVibes, etc.
  • Staffing issues with these changes – who’s going to do it, administration, funding

Alternate discovery tools

i.e. not the catalog (
Google Book Search,
WorldCat, federated search, etc.)

Background information available at

  • LibraryThing – some success with public libraries
  • Would be great if Google would point back to our holdings like Google Scholar does
  • There’s an underlying issue when you’re using alternate discovery tools; you’re starting with a larger set of items and hoping they’ll come back to the library, vs. starting with the catalog or other library resources – benefits & problems with both
  • Search interfaces: WorldCat & WC Local vs. AquaBrowser, Encore, etc. – possible information overload
  • Lines are blurred now between “Bob’s website” and vetted library-provided content – getting in through alternate ways makes it even more confusing. Now instruction has to shift even more to evaluation & understanding types of sources
  • Combining delivery with discovery – some systems do that automatically – should that be seamless? Nice when it is.
  • Back-end of catalogs are working well, but there’s front-end frustration – makes for a big interest in open-source solutions

Assessment and usability

For information seeking behaviors (different age groups, in the context of the catalog)

Background information available at

  • Would like to have different portals for different people
  • Importance of usability testing – ongoing, has to be continual – evolving user groups
  • Ongoing & recurring usability – takes time & money, and where does that come from
  • Search logs – some value there too, but again time & money an issue
  • Solution would be something like a vendor-created evaluation package (“LibQual of catalogs”)
  • Usability – it would be great if institutions that use the same systems could share usability results
  • Library instruction – do we need to do more with these new catalogs & new ways of searching
  • Usability – one site was using software that’s available online called CrazyEgg (cheap temporary license). Can plant tags on your webpages to see where users are going. Color-coded. See demo and more information at
  • Usability – Jakob Nielsen’s “5 users” thing - after 5 people complete a usability test, you’ve found the majority of issues. Mostly repetitive after that.
  • Flexible, agile design should allow for constant tweaking – catalog should be in a state of perpetual beta
  • Somebody includes a Meebo widget on the error page of catalog, to IM with a librarian; could we put one where there are too many hits, since in a big library there are rarely “no” hits? Can we have the widget not show when there’s not a librarian available?