The digital catalog

It’s so funny reading Chapter 3 of This Book is Overdue!, about the love/hate relationship between the IT staff and librarians. I definitely have had my share of frustrations, but it was always more stressful for the librarians.

First off, Internet. Sometimes it needs someone from the IT department to come over and geek around a bit. Sometimes it’s an area-wide outage. Either way, when the Internet is down, the library is dead. There are no customers. Well, occasionally one or two will linger to crack open a book, because the library is finally quiet. Meanwhile, the staff would bump around, trying to figure out what to do, and the pages would shelve books extra slowly to stretch out their time and tasks so they won’t get bored.

When the Internet is down, the book circulation computer program often was down as well. The librarians and the clerks would drink coffee and discuss the days when the catalog was a paper-based system. It was so nice back then, the older librarians sigh. They didn’t have to worry about Internet outages. Power outage, maybe. Internet didn’t exist yet. Nothing stopped them from using the card catalog, whereas technology is so vulnerable. Thank goodness for memory–if a patron did ask where a particular book might be, we could figure out what section their topic is, from memory. Or at least one or two of the staff had memorized the Dewey Decimal System. I know that Bibles are in 220, and that Christianity follows. Health is around the 618s. Homeschooling is 370.11.

Card catalogs are definitely useful in some circumstances, but the older librarians and catalogers will remember the tedious process of writing out a card in neat script. Card catalogs are very “library.” However, it’s history. Librarians aren’t supposed to hang onto antiquated stuff just because of sentimental value, or because it would be useful some day. Librarians are information professionals, and they must stay on top of technology, and find more efficient ways of managing information. Computerized catalogs are useful for this. Unfortunately, as mentioned in the book, the catalogs offered to the libraries are relics from the 70s and 80s, with little change. The software desperately needs updating, especially compared to the newer search engines on the web. Google and Amazon both have better search systems, because they are more forgiving of usrer errors.

Did you mean user errors?

Exactly what I mean. You can enter part of the title, part of the author, part of the plot, almost anything, and Google and Amazon will help you. Auto-complete is awesome. Also, they’re great about offering alternate¬† spelling options, so if you spell Azkaban wrong, the third Harry Potter book will still pop up in the results. However, many library catalogs aren’t as forgiving. I’ve known many, many library employees (myself included) who use Google or Amazon as our first search option, to make sure we have the details correct, before plugging it into the actual catalog to figure out where it is in the library.

Despite the huge drawbacks of search rigidity, the digital catalog still pwns the card catalog because it is more efficient. But, why oh why can’t Google develop book automation software for libraries? Maybe some day.

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2 Responses to The digital catalog

  1. Dylan

    My library has the exact same problems with our digital catalog. We were lucky enough for Aquabrowser to be approved in this year’s budget. I’m currently busy with its implementation. I’ll let you know how it turns out in a few weeks. That is if we can get enough support from IT in that time.

  2. admin

    Dylan, I have never heard of Aquabrowser–I will have to look that up! Please do let me know how it works out, and good luck with getting IT to help…

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