Monday, March 14, 2011

Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs)

There is no substitute for an appealing and powerful OPAC that is available 24/7. 

When my library switched from L4U to Library Destiny Manager it increased library circulation.  Students were able to find books more quickly and were more motivated to find the books that they found in the catalogue.  Key features that motivated students were the existence of cover photos for their books and the additional information provided through Titlepeek.  Students were able to get background information on their books and become convinced it was a great pick and worth locating on the shelves. 

The following innovations and features have all improved access to the collection, improved the breadth of items being circulated and increased the number of circulations per student: Visual Search, Resource Lists, Reading Level Searches and MyQuest.

The real revolution in my library surrounding the OPAC for my younger patrons was the Visual Search feature available in the Destiny Library Manager and its companion user interface DestinyQuest.  Younger students lack some creativity and curiosity in terms of what to look for.  Visual searches using icons that represent subjects triggers interests and moves children from the general to the specific without them becoming demotivated by encountering too much text.  Students still struggle with finding the items using the Dewey call numbers but they know what they want and it is a quick and easy task for a librarian, clerk or teacher to help a child locate a book.

Another useful OPAC tool for patrons are public resource lists created by the teacher-librarian.  These public lists allow students to see books on any number of topics or interest levels.  Students go straight to browsing the book covers and descriptions and do not have to make multiple queries to make sure they have found all the books on Black History or Poetry or popular series.  The librarian has done all the work.

Teachers also benefit from resources lists.  After pulling books for a class unit or theme they can scan these books into a private resource list and be ready for the next time they have the same unit.  They won't need to do all the queries again. A teacher-librarian can make such resource lists for teachers and save the labour of pulling the exact same books for another teacher doing the same topic a little later in the year.

A controversial yet useful feature of modern OPACs such as Library Destiny Manager is the ability to narrow searches by reading range. For example, if your school subscribes and uses Accelerated Reader, over 90 percent of the fiction collection and 30 to 40 percent of your non ficiton collection will have have reading levels associated with them.  Searches by reading range does not guarantee a perfect match with a just right book.  It may even filter out some more appropriate books. Nevertheless such ranges will often assist younger readers in making more successful book choices in their earlier years. Dependence and reliance on such flawed systems can lessen over time.  In our school we do subscribe to Accelerated Reader but use it as part of an arsenal of book selection skills and motivational tools.  It seems to be a happy medium.  This librarian is well aware of the stance of the BCTLA on this issue and other associations.  I believe the concerns although valid are too strongly worded and reactionary to the AR zealotry that has swept some schools and districts, expecially in the United States. Book leveling is a reality and needs to be incorporated in a responsible way by librarians--not just outright banned or ignored.

Perhaps the best example of an OPAC interface and feature that has greatly increased user independence and patron engagement is Destiny Quest and MyQuest. The modern interface that incorporated the best of a Google type search engine with colourful graphics and an abundance of information is called DestinyQuest.  With this interface, students even get prompts for other  books that may also be of interest of them when they browse particular titles in the catalogue. Fellow patrons can post reviews of the books which can also  postively inform patron book selection.

MyQuest is the account based feature of Destiny Quest.  MyQuest users become part of a reading community inside their school.  They give and get reading suggestions.  They are able to create reading wish lists.  Students can search the library from home and create a wish list and print it off. They then can come to school ready to get the item off the shelf. 

A well designed OPAC enables users to independently make better book choices.  Patrons spend more time evaluating their options and make choices that will likely lead to more favourable and successful book selections.

Cataloguing, Processing and Repairing

I just finished learning about additional services for cataloguing and processing. The idea of using jobbers to process books and supply records was raised.  Many of the course participants were quite concerned about the cost per book associated with paying some-else to do the processing.  This make me feel there is a real false economy being developed in libraries. We see labour as limited yes, but we still use it as it were free.  We will spend a lot of time to save a few bucks from our local library budget not matter what the actual cost is in terms of labour.
I think as people working in the public sector and in the school systems we lose sight of the cost of labour. This is understandable since we have so little control over staffing and such budgets. How many of us have seen the total costs associated with staffing our libraries? We focus mostly on the actual money we see in our library accounts and make our economic decisions based on that which in the long term, I think, leads to poor value for dollar library practices. We have to work towards influencing and breaking the cycle of bad library economics. We need to look long-term on this issue.

Labour is very expensive. Calculate your own hourly rate and that of your library clerk and then spend a little bit of time with a stopwatch and see how long it takes to process a book completely and then calculate the labour cost. It is much more than you would expect. As teacher-librarians I think we need to have a good grasp of these figures and share this information with district level staff in charge of budget allocations. Having money in hand for the bit extra to have a jobber do some of this processing would allow librarians and clerks to more wisely invest there labour elsewhere. It could save money and free up limited staffing to valuable library tasks.

Let me repeat for the above--we need to take a long term view. I know we don't want to spend the money out of budgets for such processing. At the very least we can track how much processing is costing you terms of labour and library supplies and make your library and district aware of this. This should not be seen as a threat to clerk jobs either. There is plenty of nonstandard cataloguing and processing to go around. If we can't get enough pressure to bear to get more librarian and clerk time we can at least push to make the use of it more efficient. This is a way of getting more staffing time without increasing actual hours of staffing time just a marginal increase in library budgets.

Needless to say, I am a huge fan of jobbers such as Titlewave (beware-heavy American content) who provide free shipping and very good quality processing. Depending on your order you skip the Marc record but still get spine labelling and barcoding (you need to calculate not only your own labour cost but cost for toner, label and tape when you do it yourself). United Library Service is also an excellent Canadian Jobber.

As for rushing to get items on the shelf and patron's hands I think it is best to hold onto it and get it done right first. Once it is out in circulation it is too easy to lose track of it as an item that will be done later. In essence you are cataloguing twice when you make a brief record, only to have to re-catalogue again later. Every rule has an exception but I think in general handling something twice is too liberal an expenditure of limited labour.

Copy Cataloguing

I just finished learning about copy cataloguing.  This is a process I have been doing for a number of years but never knew it had an official term.  This is the act of getting MARC records from sources such as Canada's AMICUS and the Library of Congress.  I do find the AMICUS interface and quirkiness a bit off putting but will use it more often just the same.

What I have not been doing very much, is increasing the quality of these records by adding to the summary or adding to a myriad of other 5xx tags.  I can be using my Sears subject headings handbook and be adding heading that would be useful to my patrons.  I also realize that I can add summary information from a number of existing items I have that would be very useful to helping teachers identify curricular links.

I found another very valuable resource through our course  materials and that is World Cat.  I found I could even pay a subscription fee based on how many MARC records I would likely need to download in a year.  World Cat is kind a cataloguing coop where member organizations share their records.  A very neat feature of World Cat is the free world catalogue search that is available.  You can search a collection of nearly 1.5 billion books world wide and locate a copy in a member library closest to you.  All you have to do is put in your  postal code. 

Teaching the Dewey

During the last number of  years of teaching library, I have really flip flopped on how much Dewey teaching I do. I hate teaching skills out of context or outside of real life situations. It just seems to make the skills irrelevant and boring.  In hindsight, I think it is also reflective of me not having very many exciting ways to teach the concepts. 

I realize that I have unconsciously relegated Dewey just to a retrieval system of physical addresses. I want kids using the OPAC as soon as possible and look for the books they like by keyword or subject searches.  This has not really served the needs of my younger patrons.  My K to 3 students are essentially shelf browsers.  They are browsers by necessity since the use of the OPAC is onerous and not very productive.  These patrons have limited success in locating the  exact call number on the shelves.

I have put some signage up in the library regarding popular Dewey sections and used smallish icons that  represent the section.  I have matched these icons to the icons I use in the visual search queries I have created in Destiny Library Manager. I now see that I need to vastly increase the number of signs I have and perhaps make the pictures on those signs larger.  The subject terms seem to resonate less with younger patrons than do the pictures.

I think reading through the Dewey and pre-selecting books for younger grades out of these sections is very productive and necessary.  I have just been doing this with my Grade 1s over the last few weeks.  Some kids are resistant to having their book choices limited to about forty books just laid out on the library tables.  However, once they have gotten over this, they are finding much better and exciting reads.  I certainly have a lot to learn about what appeals.  This pre-selection of books and comparing and contrasting them with much more difficult books from these sections has also been productive.  Students are becoming slightly more skilled at examining nonfiction books and identifying what will make them a "just right read."  Previously, I just had grade 1s whoe were picture browsers. These were students who only consumedd nonfiction for pictures and reading of any of the text was totally irrelevant.  Now they are thinking about whether they can read it themselves or whether or not it would be a good book to have read to them (they realize that some books just don't lend themselves to having an adult read them to their child--too long, too complicated-etc).

I think the more time I spend on guiding students through the subjects of Dewey and promoting informed shelf browsing, it will help my nonfiction section to better utilized. I have many great books that just don't circulate.  There are Dewey sections that students just don't visit.  Overt and systematic study of each Dewey category will help overcome this.

I think I am going to reinstitute some of my flash card and library mapping activities.  I also think that having students create posters or advertisements for the Dewey categories would be a useful project.  I don't have a lot of wall space for such posters but I think the activity itself and a little show and tell would be valuable.

I have used some websites and games to help with the Dewey.  I have been using Order in the Library for years and some of the thinkquests.  I am really surprised a truly professionally produced game package or subscription website has not yet been developed for teaching the Dewey.  Maybe this is a moneymaker idea for some librarian/programmer out there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Digital Library Collections

I have just finished my project for creating a digital library.  Check it out.

I also have a length discussion paper attached to the website.

In some ways I think I got a little too consumed with this assignment.  Searching for electronic resources and creating electronic records for them and designing an organizational format to share them was the general thrust of the project.  In an effort to end up with a usable resource for my school, I wanted to be all things to all people.  I had a both students and teachers in mind. I was also very focused on electronic content.  I did pay lip service to videos and some book resources but I wanted mostly to augment my library collection. This is no small task.

The effective organization of electronic resources is incredibly laborious.  Without access to an OPAC that allows you to put your records into a MARC record database, the creation and maintenance of digital libraries is nearly impossible for a busy part time teacher-librarian.

Cataloguing of websites is incredibly difficult.  Some websites are very eclectic in terms of their focus or intended audiences.  Certainly cataloguing of websites requires the use of many more subject headings than we use for more standard physical print resources we catalogue for our libraries.  It seems that some web resources need to be parsed down into sub-sections which are catalogued separately.

Depending on the content being catalogued the use on more and more non-standard subject heading may be required.  Web page cataloguing seems to be a mixture of folksonomy and standardized subject cataloguing.