Libraries Technology

Libraries on the Go (and We’re Losing the Mule)

I need to get this post out early so I’ll have time to prep and relax when I get home for tomorrow afternoon’s interview (wish me luck). This post probably won’t be very well crafted (as if yesterday’s post was well-crafted and meaningful!). There are, however, a few things going on in Library Land that have got me thinking, so permit me to ramble, kind reader.

First, there was news that Washington D.C. Public Library released their own iPhone/iPod Touch app, allowing patrons to search their library catalog. More importantly, the good folks at DCPL released the code under a Creative Commons license so that other libraries could build their own iPhone apps as well (IU, are you paying attention?). I haven’t tried out the app (and, as I’m not a patron, I couldn’t test out the full functionality anyway) but reviews from ACTUAL patrons are fairly positive. Negative reviews came from people who weren’t in the DC area and complained that this app wasn’t useful to them (you don’t say!), which is unfortunate because the app’s rating has gone down as a result. However, these unlucky people may be happy to hear this next piece of news.

OCLC, a worldwide cooperative of libraries, recently tweeted that they have released their own iPhone app, WorldCat Mobile, which allows you to look up titles and check availability in libraries local to you. I downloaded the app and plan to test it more at lunch but quickly: the search works great (in searching KNOWN titles, anyway), however the interface needs a lot of work. The menu options aren’t intuitive and a stupid pop-up kept trying to find my current location, a feature that doesn’t work when I’m in the Tower (Wells Library), even though I already set my location manually. It’s a little frustrating to use but I hope the folks at OCLC take continue to develop this app. A hint to OCLC: hire a programmer who designs Apple apps for a living because while this app is a fair start, it does not look nor function like any other well-developed app I’ve used.

For more info on libraries’ forays into the mobile world, see this February 6th article from Library Journal.

I enjoyed a couple of Heidi Hoerman’s posts at Future4Catalogers’ from a few days ago (I really need to get back to the items I star in GoogleReader a little faster!). One post in particular compares MARC (the standard markup language which libraries use to code metadata) to a mule. Heidi says: it’s time to shoot the mule.

YES! Free the metadata! Don’t get me wrong, MARC served us well in a time well before the internet. In fact, it was probably ahead of it’s time. But now it is very outdated. Our users intensively engage in interweb culture and MARC does not play well with the World Wide Web. It’s time to get away from MARC and I don’t mean by simply converting MARC to XML (although even going over to the Library of Congress’s MARCXML would be a start). No. We truly need to reinvent the containers for metadata with the needs and habits of today’s users in mind, users who aren’t necessarily even stepping through our doors to utilize our services.

I find it amusing that everyone is getting so worked up over RDA (the next generation of guidelines, currently in review, that tells us WHAT to put in metadata containers) when, in the end, whether we’re using AACR2 or RDA, our metadata is not readily shareable using MARC. Forget RDA for the moment and fix the delivery system! Perhaps we should be experimenting with RDF?

One reply on “Libraries on the Go (and We’re Losing the Mule)”

I agree totally with your last point. That’s why I call RDA an “Inadvertent Red Herring.” It’s what got our attention but it’s a cart before a horse in some ways. (Oops, metaphor-creep. Gotta watch that. ;-))


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