musings on web-scale discovery systems

photo by Pascal

My library is often on the forefront of innovation, having the advantage of a healthy budget and staff size, yet small enough to be nimble. Frequently, when my colleagues return from conferences and give their reports, they’ll conclude with something along the lines of “we’re already doing most of the things they talked about.” At a recent conference report session, that was repeated again, with one exception: we have not implemented a web-scale discovery system.

I’m of two minds about web-scale discovery systems. In theory, they’re pretty awesome, allowing users to discover all of the content available to them from the library, regardless of the source or format. But in reality, they’re hamstrung by exclusive deals and coding limitations. The initial buzz was that they caused a dramatic increase in the use of library resources, but a few years in, and I’m hearing conflicting reports and grumblings.

We held off on buying a web-scale discovery system for two main reasons: one, we didn’t have the funding secured, and two, most of the reference librarians felt indifferent to outright dislike towards the systems out there at the time. We’re now in the process of reviewing and evaluating the current systems available, after many discussions about which problems we are hoping they will solve.

In the end, they really aren’t “Google for Libraries.” We think that our users want a single search box, but do they really? I heard an anecdote about how the library had spent a lot of time teaching users where to find their web-scale discovery system, making sure it was visible on the main library page, etc. After a professor assigned the same students to find a known article (gave them the full citation) using the web-scale discovery system (called it by name), the most frequent question the library got was, “How do I google the <name of web-scale discovery system>?”

I wonder if the ROI really is significant enough to implement and promote a web-scale discovery system? These systems are not cheap, and they take a bit of labor to maintain them. And, frankly, if the battle over exclusive content continues to be waged, it won’t be easy to pick the best one for our collection/users and know that it will stay that way for more than six months or a year.

Does your library have a web-scale discovery system? Is it everything you thought it would be? Would you pick the same one if you had to choose again?

Kindle 2 is kind of cool, actually

I’m not going to gush about how I fell in love with the device, because I didn’t.

My library (as in, the library where I work) has the good fortune of being blessed with both funds and leadership that allow us to experiment with some emerging technologies. When Amazon released the first version of the Kindle, we purchased one to experiment with. It was simply the latest in a long history of ebook readers that we had hoped to be able to incorporate into the library’s function on campus.

I took a turn at using the Kindle, and I was mightily unimpressed. The interface seemed very clunky, to the point of preventing me from getting into the book I tried to read. When the Kindle 2 was released and we received permission to purchase one, I was skeptical that it would be any better, but I still signed up for my turn at using it.

Last week, I was given the Kindle 2, and since it already had a book on it that I was half-way through reading, I figured I would start there. However, I was not highly motivated to make the time for it. Yesterday afternoon, I took the train up to DC, returning this morning. Four hours round trip, plus the extra time spent waiting at each station, gave me plenty of time to finish my book, so I brought the Kindle 2 with me.

I’m not going to gush about how I fell in love with the device, because I didn’t. However, I finished the book with ease before I arrived in DC, and out of shear boredom I pulled down a copy of another book that was already purchased on our library account. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to go from one book to another without having to lug along several selections from my library “just in case” I ran out of something to read.

Right now, I’m at least a third of the way in on the second book, and I plan to finish reading it on the Kindle 2.

I don’t think I’ll end up buying one anytime soon, particularly since I’ve put a stop to buying new books until I’ve read more of the ones I own. However, I have a better understanding of those Kindle enthusiasts who rave about having their entire library (and more) at their fingertips. It’s pretty handy if you’re someone who often has time to kill away from your library.

frustration

I alternately want to throw the monitor displaying the useless manual out the window or burst into tears.

My library purchased the ERM module for III last year. I had a couple of hours of WebEx training in April or May. My notes from it are obscure and useless. I’ve been putting off implementing ERM because it is overwhelmingly huge. Today I decided to try creating some ERM records for an ejournal package rather than simply attaching separate order records to the print bibs. Less than forty-five frustrating minutes later, I have no records created and I am fighting against collapsing into a quivering pile. I alternately want to throw the monitor displaying the useless manual out the window or burst into tears.

I think I need to take some St. John’s Wort and come at this again some other day.