Note: Due to a serious illness in my family, I won't be publishing February 16.
REPLIES TO "BEAT OUT BY AMAZON"
I just read "Beat Out by Amazon" and have a possible answer to your "why this and why that" questions. in my mind, "the catalog" was really created for librarians, not patrons, since catalogs are made up of MARC records, which are clearly librarian tools full of jargon and stuff that only a pro would use. By putting all those together into an electronic catalog and giving patrons access, I"m not sure it ever occurred to us to design something especially for them! What an oversight.
Oh, sure, later people started making GUIs, but that was only putting a friendly face on something that was still our jargon underneath. Amazon, by contrast, thought of users first (as you said, they were in it for the money) and designed something from the ground up.
It makes me mad too to see us being beat at our own game, by Amazon and other net portal and search engine types. but we missed out, and I doubt we'll ever catch up now. There are a few libraries that are building consumer-oriented search sites (like 'Brarydog of the public library of charlotte and mecklenburg county, NC - http://www.brarydog.net), and they are gaining some notoriety for it. Unfortunately, though, these services are still seen as the exception, not the rule.
I often recommend that librarians tout what they can do better -- personal service, "real" info instead of net junk, professional searching, plus all the other things like being community centers, etc. I sure wish that the big cheeses in our industry (say, the heads of ALA & SLA) could make things move faster rather than have endless meetings about little ideas. I certainly don't have all the answers myself... but I, too, am mad that we've been "beat out by amazon"!
Kathy (Miller) Dempsey (), editor of Computers in Libaries (http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/ciltop.htm and Marketing Library Services newsletter
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I think you are too hard on libraries. Maybe your local library did not do those things but some of us have for many years.
Guidelines for Subject Access to Fiction in now in its 2nd edition. OCLC had the fiction access project in the early 90's where subject headings and genre terms were added to records. Many of us have advocated being able to find all the cat mysteries or erotic science fiction for quite some time. In my catalog you can search by genre terms. Field 655 and subfield v of 6XX are for genre/form terms. We can add them and search them. They are in my catalog.
Also field 520 is for a summary. Almost all records I add to our catalog have a summary or a table of contents (in field 505). These are not new fields. We just have to take the time to add the information. There are services we can purchase (Syndatic and Blackwells) which will add these fields. I saw an ad for another firm which will add Accelerated Reader info to the proper field.
My catalog has links to the net. If an item has errata, source code, and index or exists full text on-line I have a link. There are over 500 such links in my catalog. I've yet to see Amazon link to a full text version of an item.
Also it is sometimes easier to find things in my catalog. Try searching Amazon for the journal Nature or Science. Far too many hits. It is much easier in the card catalog. If someone misspells a name authority records direct my patrons to items if they have no hits. Does your system have authority records? They can be a great aid in searching.
Where we have not done our work is pushing our system vendors to separate the index for genre/form from the subjects. In making the catalog look better and be more user friendly and fun to use. However, there are some encouraging improvements in the works. There are catalogs being sold which also take Encoded Archival Description (EAD), Dublin Core, TEI headers, and other data structures. iBristo incorporates information from the Web and links it to the MARC record so patrons can see the book cover, reviews, books from netlibrary and other info. It is supposed to look pretty sharp.
Amazon has done some things right. It looks better than most of our catalogs. More fun and less serious. It does use fuzzy logic, which should be incorporated into our systems.
Another piece of information of information we can add, but not enough of us do is awards. Field 586 is used for that. You can look in my catalog and find if the book is an LJ reference book of the year, Choice outstanding book etc. I'd like to see more public libraries put in the Newberry, Caldacott, Pulitzer and King winners. We had the vision to create he field but few of us use it.
This topic struck a sore spot with me. I read more often about the death of MARC, how it can not handle electronic formats or can not do this or that. Most often it can. Many of the problems are with our systems or our use of MARC. How the indexes are constructed and presented, the look and feel of the user interface are two major problems. Filling of result sets or indexes is something we have left to the vendors to decide on. No system follows ALA filling rules, yet we had worked out those for reasons over many years of discussion and practical use. Enough of this rant and back to work.
David Bigwood (), Lunar & Planetary Institute
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I realize that you intended this question as rhetorical, but the answer (of course) is money.
If libraries were staffed adequately and if librarians received a commission every time they satisfied a client, librarians might be more creative.
If the goal of the libraries were simply to serve as many people as possible and in as many ways as possible, librarians might be more creative. (The institutional goal often seems rather to be "to maintain and preserve our materials.")
If libraries could risk millions of dollars and not even break even for several years, librarians might be more creative. (After leading the field of online bookstores for years, is Amazon making a profit yet?)
If, if, if .... But as the French say, "With 'if' we could put Paris in a bottle."
[from a reader who prefers not to be identified]
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NOTE: I've updated my page on When and How To Search the Net (http://marylaine.com/howto.html. If you find it useful, you're welcome to print it and hand it out.
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Books continue to have tremendous impact on readers and society at large; why would anyone bother to try banning them if it were otherwise? Unlike any other form of communication, books create an emotional and intellectual intimacy people are loathe to lose. Libraries, too, are unique and vital places that we should value and protect, just as we fight to preserve prairies and forests, rivers and wetlands. We need it all: the wild and the cultured, books and media, solitude and communion.
Donna Seaman. "A Reading Life in Review." American Libraries, August, 2000
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.
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