I first read about Karen Schneider about 10 years ago, when she was a frequent poster to (and perhaps more key, I a more frequent reader of) the web4lib listserv (remember listserves?). I found her frankly irritating and annoyingly loquacious. I cannot remember now why I had this attitude, but it got to where I was hitting the delete key anytime I saw her name.
Funny how things change…
A couple of years ago, I started seeing blog posts, magazine articles and other writings attributed to Ms. Schneider that started to resonate with me. Then she posted the famous (or perhaps forgotten, ymmv) “The User is Not Broken: the Meme Masquerading as a Manifesto.” I don’t think I’ve nodded my way more enthusiastically through a blog post since.
Yesterday, Karen Schneider wrote on ALA’s Techsource blog:
It is both ironic and poignant that librarians are still worrying about â€œbibliographic control,â€ after ceding so much of the same to the companies that now rent them journal access per annum at usurious rates, digitize their book collections into DRM obscurity, or sell them ponderous, antiquated â€œmanagementâ€ systems that on close inspection do little more than serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras, bold days when we saw our central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage.
Never have I seen a more eloquent indictment of the ILS as it is today. I was going to wait until I officially leave my current employer before posting something that’s really been eating at me about libraries, but I really feel compelled to weigh in, here.
So-called “next generation” interfaces to today’s OPACs, like Innovative’s Encore and Ex-Libris’ Primo still emphasize print over electronic. Rather they emphasize what is in the catalog over what is in our journal collections (largely available via abstracting and indexing databases, most emphatically not via the catalog). Even with the integration of federated search, the Encore catalog results are displayed first. The results from the A&I databases are drawn in later, and even then it only displays the number of results from each database, rather than details about the results. Someone at Innovative even said that this was on purpose, so that the user would not be distracted by shiny article results (my words). ILS vendors have been doing this for so long that they don’t realize that they’re missing the point nearly completely. Users, particularly student users, but also faculty in increasing numbers in academic libraries don’t want to come to the library to do their research. They don’t care what is IN the library, they want information to be delivered to their desktops. Why else do they start with Google?
As J.R. Jenkins of Serials Solutions said in his recent talk at Electronic Resources & Libraries (and he was quoting Marcia Bates), we are fighting millions of years of evolution here by asking people to do things they don’t want to do, by asking them to do what’s more effort instead of making the things they really need more easily accessible. So, it’s time for my own set of theses on the future of libraries:
1. It is no longer about print. Libraries must figure out a new way to deal with their physical collections that is user-friendly. Deliver the materials to their doorstep, champion portable e-book technologies that are standards-driven and sustainable, something, anything that acknowledges that it’s a pain to schlep to the library.
2. If they want to survive, ILS vendors have to stop listening to librarians and start listening to students. If ILS vendors continue to market and listen to established librarians who largely don’t Get It(TM), they will lose this battle. A library catalog that looks like Amazon.com is not good enough. It might have been a good start eight years ago, even five, but now it’s too little, too late.
3. It’s not about incremental changes and annual releases; it’s about revolution. what we need is the Enterprise-D; what we’ve got is the post-iceberg Titanic, and librarians are convinced that rearranging the deck chairs or buying new, hand-embroidered chair cushions will stop the water from pouring in. Assuming that they even know that there is water; many of them don’t.
4. Federated searching is broken. I hope and pray that someone corrects me on this one. Serials Solutions at least admits its Central Search has shortcomings and tells everyone what it is NOT, but it will still fall far short of users’ expectations, which are fueled not by Amazon but by Google. Federated searching cannot be fixed until applications a) index all relevant content *before* a search is executed, and b) actually search all the content. The idea was that a federated search application sends search criteria to an A&I database, which returns relevant requests *because* it searches the content. Somehow, that didn’t happen.
5. It’s about the users, stupid. It’s as if some librarians are the blind guides in a room full of deaf people. The librarians not only have no desire to “speak” the same language as the users, they are incapable of understanding it. Librarians who aren’t afraid of wikis, who have embraced instant messaging and gaming, who are expert web searchers (and perhaps more importantly, web *consumers*) stand a chance. Librarians who think that the only way to teach students research skills is in the classroom or that Facebook is silly or that fun is a dirty word or that multitasking means having Outlook and Word open at the same time are lost. Simply lost.
6. Google Scholar is also broken. It was a half-hearted attempt not to lose librarians and to give scientists and other researchers some focus, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Why? Data. Think about it–Google searches are usually spot-on for two reasons: they have access to all the data on a web page and so take than into account when indexing; also, they were ingenious enough to incorporate linking data into the search algorithms. If a site is linked to by hundreds of thousands of others, it must be good (and if that’s news to you as a librarian, you might as well turn off your computer and go home). I can only assume that those who first did slashdot took this to advisement (not to mention digg).
So, how do we fix Google Scholar? Easy: give them the content. All of it. the indexing, the abstracting, the full text, all of it. Their motto is “do no evil”; what could possibly go wrong? It bothers me very little that publishers and printers gnash their teeth at this idea.
Another factor here that could improve Scholar is cited data. An algorithm analyzing cited data, weighted slightly for currency (varying by discipline), coupled with having all the content indexed and ready before the first search is executed, now that approaches what researchers expect. It’s all on the Internet, right? The cherry on top of this pie-in-the-sky is one-click desktop delivery in the format of the user’s choosing. At no charge to the user, of course.
7. User-generated content is key in the new web context. The only thing cheaper than processing power and PHP scripting these days is disk space. What is a number-one complaint in any library these days? That they don’t have enough staff to do anything new. need to build a database of reference questions and their answers (or where those answers can be found)? Create a wiki and let students populate it. They love to tell stories. let students and faculty review resources.
It’s well past my time to go home for the day, so a rousing and tidy conclusion will have to wait. I will say I need to thank Karen Schneider for this particular kick in the pants. 😉