Till Kinstler: who needs these catalogues?

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Sometimes my work seems rather pointless to me. As a software developer I implement all kinds of search interfaces for libraries. Every day I process crappy data and fight with broken library systems… Don’t get me wrong, that’s fun, I like my work very much, so much that I even spend part of my spare time on an open source project building one of these “next generation catalogue 2.0 discovery interfaces…”: VuFind…

But who really needs these catalogues and search tools – the old style OPACs as well as the new “discovery interfaces”? Yes, these new catalogues can improve user experience and are definitely more usable than the old boolean OPACs. But even if they are more user friendly, where are the use cases? Where are the users? We know well, that discovery of knowledge resources happens everywhere, all the time – but hardly ever in library catalogues or so called discovery interfaces. People don’t come to the library to use the catalogue or discovery interface. They come to the library to enjoy the great services it offers: to access knowledge resources, to take something home, to get work done, to get solid advice, free internet, to browse shelves, to enjoy the spatial experience and atmosphere, or just a coffee,… But the catalogue is just a leftover from times, when we had nothing better to show people our holdings.

And while we are good at running libraries, we are not good at building search engines… So why do we show users a “search box”, when they already know, what they want? Why do we frustrate them with our ideas of discovery (tools) when they know best themselves how to discover stuff? And why don’t we make our real services more easily accessible? Why don’t we deliver instead of making users search? We spend so much effort and resources on providing search interfaces, that nobody needs any more…

I have some ideas, why we struggle here and I am happy to discuss them while cycling. And please, if you think I am wrong, try to convince me! 🙂

And I have some ideas, what we could improve. Wouldn’t it be great, if you could get a checkout link to your local library in a Google result when you search for a book? Just as you get a link to your favourite book seller? Or as you get a link to your local cinema when you google a film title, including screening times and a map showing how to get there by bike or public transport from your current location? I think, that’s possible…

Till Kinstler

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