:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

What I Hope Will Be


   My recent column "[145]What I Wish I Had Known" (LJ 11/15/05) took a
   look back at lessons learned from years in library automation. This
   month I look forward to a bright library future and the ways it will be

   Effective and easy-to-use finding tools: You might think that library
   users who delight in role-playing games that have complicated formulas
   for acquiring tools, skills, and powers would also delight in puzzling
   out our overly complicated search tools. But, no, it turns out they
   typically wish to minimize time spent trying to find information or
   library materials. Meanwhile, our systems have yet to catch up,
   although there are hopeful signs.

   The Research Library Group's (RLG) RedLightGreen system was an early
   entry in the move to better finding tools, and now there's more. North
   Carolina State University Library recently unveiled a system that uses
   Endeca's capacity to provide hierarchical topical browsing of the
   entire collection. And the University of California has released a
   groundbreaking report on how it should remake its bibliographic
   services, including its union catalog.

   Compelling user services: Our users don't use Google and Yahoo simply
   because they have cute names. They search on them because they're
   useful. To win back and retain our users, we must create compelling,
   effective, and easy-to-use services, and we can. We already have a
   number of valuable services, but they are often hidden behind an overly
   complex interface or are poorly promoted. We can do a better job of
   showcasing our services not only by fixing the native interface to make
   it more user-friendly but also by exposing our data (e.g., catalog
   information) to other applications (e.g., courseware) through
   application program interfaces (APIs). Thankfully, this is already a
   trend among library systems vendors. We also must be better at getting
   the word out about these and other services we offer.

   A professional association that gets it: I find myself increasingly
   alienated from my main professional association in ways that I find
   deeply troubling. The American Library Association (ALA) leaders and
   staff need to know that times have changed. ALA can no longer assume
   that its role at the center of professional communication and
   development is secure. The Internet provides many opportunities for
   professional communication and development that are timely, convenient,
   cheaper, and more effective than twice-yearly conferences and a monthly
   journal. Meanwhile, ALA is so hidebound by tradition it cannot marshal
   the same tools that its members work with on a daily basis, instead
   clinging to outmoded ways of doing things (e.g., despite the valiant
   efforts of at least one councilor, the ALA office still doesn't put key
   documents online so paperwork must be packed up and trucked to

   Wide and deep collaborations to solve common library problems: Many
   libraries share the same problems and wish to exploit similar
   opportunities, yet they often create or implement unique, one-off
   solutions. The institutions for which I have worked have been as guilty
   of this as any. We can no longer afford such behavior. We need to work
   together to create solutions that we all can implement, with
   appropriate local configuration options.

   Collaborations can just as easily coalesce around opportunities. A
   prime example is the Open Content Alliance, which lets libraries
   cooperate on digitizing and sharing content on a massive scale. To do
   this well, we must jointly develop policies, procedures, formats, and

   Institutions must be ready to contribute staff time to a common pool of
   software developers, and only organizations of a certain size will
   likely be able to participate. But smaller institutions should still be
   able to benefit from this work nonetheless. We will need to set aside
   our pride and misgivings and commit to the common good.

   Maybe we can't realize all of these hopes, but, collectively and
   individually, libraries and librarians can create the kinds of
   compelling services that will bring our users back. We can't expect a
   brighter future unless we work hard for it.

   [146] North Carolina State University Catalog
   [147] Open Content Alliance
   [149] UC Bibliographic Services Task Force Report