Last week An Event Apart, billed as “two days of peace, love, design, code, and content” took place in Seattle. I kept up with some of the stuff going on there and noticed this tweet. I saw it while Jared Spool was speaking and knew that he’s done work with Amazon so I figured the factoid came from him. I was able to verify this by finding an article: The Magic Behind Amazon’s 2.7 Billion Dollar Question. All of this is to just provide a bit more of a citation.
These big numbers got me thinking about the viability of patron review and comments in library catalogs. Should we be discouraged? After all, how many library websites have 3 million visitors every day? I don’t actually care. It doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be discouraged. I’m not even interested in the metrics. Why? Because library websites should just be as normal as possible. Full stop. Part of this normality is the possibility for interaction. People should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if they feel motivated.
What interests me more than these stats is how most of the discussion I’ve seen surrounding improving the OPAC has stopped with making them social and easy to use. I’ve advocated for these goals and will continue to do so. They’re important and they should be a priority, but in the scheme of things they’re low hanging fruit. Shouldn’t we be aiming to make some deeper, more significant connections? What I haven’t seen, and I just might not be looking in the right spots, is advocacy for going beyond creating OPACs that are imitation amazon.coms. We can do better. I’m not 100% sure what they’d look like, but they’d be more than just inventory systems for book mausoleums.
For one, they could include user generated content. I’m not necessarily talking about YouTube videos created by local people. I’m talking about capturing and making available information produced in library programs. There’s a ton of great stuff happening in our buildings. Not only could we do a better job telling those stories, we could do a better job making the content from those programs and meetings available and useful. Thinking about this end goal might even have an impact on how a library plans and conducts events.
Let’s not exclude stuff created by organizations and enthusiast groups around the community. I know that the Helsinki City Library is exploring this idea. There are probably some great curricular tie-ins too. Local university and high school students could produce reports relevant to the community. Into the OPAC they go. Useful chat transcripts could be findable in the OPAC too. Taking it a step further, why not make scapes created by librarians and others findable in the OPAC.
Again, a deep participation OPAC wouldn’t just keep track of where books are. It would also be a evolving database of things important to the community. Yes, this has everything to do with my thoughts about the unsustainability of libraries relying on content provision as their reasons for being.
I can’t think of a much better way to engage people than to say to them, “We want to know what’s important to you. We want to help you share your expertise.” By doing this librarians can fulfill their role as universal joints, connecting people to information, information to other information, and people to people.