Tim Spalding, President of LibraryThing
Catalog enrichment and enhancement—data and features that improve the library catalog—are an increasingly important part of most libraries’ digital strategy. Whereas OPACs were once little more than a digital representation of MARC records, they now gleam with covers, reviews, read-alikes and other data and software connecting patrons to what they need, when they need it.
Where is catalog enrichment going? What should companies like ProQuest and LibraryThing be working on to help libraries into the future?
To know where things are heading, it’s worthwhile to look at where we’ve been—to what I’ll term the “waves” of catalog enrichment. Two waves have already happened, as we’ll explore here, and a third may be on the horizon as we’ll discover in the second installment of this two-part blog series.
The first wave
The first wave of catalog enrichment was all about static elements—book summaries, tables of contents, published reviews and other bits of text. One element, cover images, was graphical. Syndetic Solutions, now part of the ProQuest family, was a leader in this wave. And such elements remain the backbone of catalog enrichment.
While static in conception, the underlying technology was potentially dynamic. If a cover was wrong, it could be swapped. If a new review appeared, it could be added. Enrichments were largely fixed URLs in MARC records and the little pop-up windows they triggered—what one industry insider called “the magical ‘added info’ button.” But even as they appeared to be static “additions” to the record, they held the technical capacity to do anything the web itself could do.
Much of the impetus toward such enrichments came from the growing sense that Amazon—for all its faults—was doing something right: presenting books in a way patrons wanted to see them. Catalog enrichments, together with improvements to core search functions, were touted as a way to “Amazonize” the OPAC.
The second wave
The second wave was, at its root, a technical revolution. And, as far as I can tell, I started it in late 2006—in the shower.
I created LibraryThing itself in 2005 as a service for readers to catalog, organize, rate and review the books they owned or read. Though individually tiny, LibraryThing’s combined “catalog” soon grew to eclipse the largest libraries in the world, and comprise the second-largest source of user reviews for books, after Amazon. I knew all this data could enhance traditional library OPACs if LibraryThing could only get “into” them. But how? (Cue the shower—mankind’s greatest thinking machine!)
Here again, the effort often sought to “catch up” to Amazon and the growing number of sites with user reviews and “more like this” options. Whereas such features were once regarded with a certain amount of suspicion in libraries, they became welcome and expected.
Check out the Third Wave of Catalog Enrichment to explore where we might be headed next, coming soon in part two of this two-part series!