Way Cooler Than A Catalog

I got a little excited when Shirley Lincicum wrote to the NGC4Lib mail list:

[O]ne of the most frustrating things for me about Next Generation Catalog systems as they currently exist is that they seem wholly focused on the user interface and can, in fact, actually hold libraries back from designing or implementing improved “back end” systems because of the dependencies introduced by the new “discovery layer” applications.

I was excited because almost two years ago I wrote something like this:

Libraries are good at sharing data, but we’ve done a poor job of taking advantage of the network and new technologies to reduce the costs of sharing. …We recognize now that our data is living and evolving, but synchronizing available record enhancements with individual collections remains costly and laborious.

Without efficient mechanisms to share improvements, the value to any one library of trying to share what local improvements or corrections they make is limited, preventing libraries from benefiting from the network in ways that open source software development has.

Some, however, have called Scriblio a “next generation catalog,” so I’m anxious to point out the following: The Scriblio MATC Project Final Report, which hits on some of the above points; this (not funded) IMLS proposal, which fully embraced the challenge (take a look at this diagram); and Scriblio 2.7 with its new internal data model, which finally delivers some of the answers I’ve had in mind.

On the other hand, I’ve resisted the label “next generation catalog” for Scriblio not only because the software does a pretty good job of hosting digital libraries in addition representing library catalogs, but because my hope is that Scriblio does more than put a pretty face on antiquated systems. It’s hard to deny the dramatic changes in writing, publishing, and information sharing, and WordPress is very near the center of it all (WordPress.com alone hosts about 150,000 new posts each day); I see an opportunity for libraries to participate at the start of information creation, rather than at the end.

Shirley continues:

If our metadata and communication standards, and the systems we use to manage the resources we collect, were open enough, and therefore able to be integrated seamlessly into general discovery interfaces like Google, Facebook, etc., it would allow librarians to focus on collecting and organizing stuff (which is challenging enough to do well), and let the folks with the resources to do really good usability research and hire lots of really good programmers to design the interfaces.

I might argue with the end of Shirley’s point, but the overall message that we build systems and data that integrates with Google, Facebook, and whatever else is next is a good one.