Sunday, 22 April 2007

Au revoir, ILMS?

There is an argument that the age of the ILMS is passing. Of course, the integrated library management system has served us wonderfully well. We depend on it to provide the efficiencies which come through automation of acquisitions, cataloguing, serials processing, and provision of access to physical resources for our users. The MARC record has transformed the way libraries work. The ILMS integrates everything into a single process.

On the other hand, one part of the ILMS - the OPAC - now looks extremely old-fashioned when compared with the normal, everyday search experience of our users when they use Google, Yahoo or one of the many Internet search engines. Increasingly, our OPACs are falling behind. The search features which are taken for granted now - relevance ranking, "did you mean?", user annotation facilities, user-generated subject headings (tags) - are all missing. The catalogue sucks, to quote the Americans (do a Google search on those two words). But effective search is absolutely critical to our future value to our users. Swinburne's recent user survey found that over 70% of our users use Google every day.

The diminishing number of ILMS vendors does not seem to be doing much about this situation - we want efficient, integrated library systems, but we also want contemporary search capacity. We have systems which developed to control print collections of monographs and serials. Now they are out of date.

At the National Library's New Ideas Forum last week Alison Dellitt and Kent Fitch presented a short overview of how the National Library of Australia is rethinking both search (find and get) and the catalogue. Great thinking - have a look at their IT Architecture Project Report.

Au revoir, ILMS? What do you think?


SharonU said...

I believe we (libraries) have no choice but to head down the "Google," single search across many databases, way in order to make searching a simpler exercise for our users. Although, I would not throw out the advanced search altogether as it does have it place for the accomplished researchers out there.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of work involved in creating a system that will be able to search across not only the library's catalogue but it's databases too. Not all databases use the same search ranking or fields. Perhaps it's time librarians, ILMS creators and database creators start working together to create the ultimate "Google" like search for libraries. Perhaps the NLA will lead the way?!?! JMO

Dana said...

I'm putting on my technical hat for this one.

There are a couple of sides to this issue; while users would like a Google interface that can bring up every source they might ever need, there are some obstacles that stand in their way.

SharonU picked up on at least one problem with the journal situation: Results are presented and ordered differently from publisher to publisher. I believe that journals are unlikely to be willing to work together to solve this for libraries, much less allow tagging or anything similaro.

Another problem is that no matter how good we are, libraries cannot provide the equivalent of pagerank for articles and other scholarly materials; even GoogleBooks doesn't do this particularly well. Pagerank relies on linking from other pages (and to a certain extent on link text, I believe). In scholarly works, this type of ranking is provided by citations.

Far be it from me to be a naysayer, though; there are many services library OPACs can provide to make the user experience more fruitful that do not depend on pagerank or journal publishers:
* Search suggestions (for example for mispelled words). The technical side of this is tricky, but it is far from impossible
* Links in search results to journal publishers that may also have interesting results -- for example LNCS and ACM when a search includes the word "computer".
* User tagging is a great idea, and not one I had ever thought of. It should also be relatively technically easy.
* Awareness of the availability of material as soon as a search is performed; for users used to "always on always there" internet search results, being able to see immediately which materials they can get "right now" would be a bonus.

The coming changes are exciting, and something I very much look forward to witnessing, if I cannot be a part of them.