Having a customer is a privilege

Aggregating library metadata is a privilege also

As part of the NLNZ - OCLC Partnering Agreement the National Library added a copy of New Zealand’s National Union Catalogue (a record of what NZ libraries hold in their collections) to the OCLC database WorldCat. As the data would be maintained on WorldCat, the Library had to decide whether to continue to maintain a copy of the National Union Catalogue in New Zealand.

The decision was yes. Apart from supporting inter-library loan and giving smaller libraries the choice to continue their current workflows, a local copy enables the Library to participate with aggregators and create products for our core customers: libraries, young New Zealanders and researchers.

There is no doubt that aggregators provide a variety of channels for customers to access their library. But inherent to the secret of their success, aggregators aim to meet the needs of many. Libraries also need to meet the needs of few – most importantly their core customer groups. So how do we provide both?

Access for many? Think aggregate.

During Roy Tennant’s keynote at the 2007 LIANZA Conference, he encouraged libraries to add their data to aggregators. Roy talked about ‘networking up’ to services that surface data through Google as a way to provide customers with a channel to library data. From Google users drill down to the aggregator's website and onto their library’s catalogue. This enables a library to leverage off the research and development of aggregators who tend to have greater resources. The message: Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Following this model, the Library have leveraged OCLC's resources to provide a channel for customers to access New Zealand library content through the WorldCat.org website. WorldCat's data is surfaced to Google and is a service all New Zealand libraries can provide to their customers.

Searching on WorldCat.org

Searching for an item on WorldCat.org is easy. A user can either start from a Google search box, by entering a query preceded by “Find in a Library”, or search directly from the WorldCat.org homepage. Clicking on a result and entering their location will show the user where the item is held locally. If their library has set up deep linking the user will be able to click through to the item record in that library's catalogue.

OCLC is not the only library data aggregator. The Open Library is making moves in the market and the Internet Archive has been active since 1996. It is also possible for a group of libraries to work together as a collective to surface their data. As the majority of library data is standards based so there are ways to export, link, and aggregate data using third party services or open source software, all of these creating a channel back to the library’s own services.

Create channels, use common sense

There is common sense in Roy’s message. Libraries are usually under-funded but have a wide range of communities to serve. Aggregation is one way to provide increased access to this broad customer base. Even though I believe Roy was referring to aggregators of library data, most web 2.0 services and search engines are also aggregators. They gather together 'like' data from different data sources (you and me) into a cohesive online products. They are also usually free.

Both library data aggregators and web 2.0 services are a way to provide access channels for customers through the web. Customers are diverse and the means we provide for access also need to be diverse. This blog is a good example of a ‘channel’ that may bring a different demographic of customers to the Library's collections. To this blog I could even add links to other channels like Flickr or WorldCat.org (and there are blog posts to show you how). But an increase in access channels does not automatically mean customers will gain value from your services.

Focus is key. Choose channels that will give the most strategic benefit, have a specific purpose or customer target, have benefit in themselves (this blog also communicated information as well as acting as a channel) and with as much cost-benefit as possible. Resources are scare and should be focused on creating services for core communities. The value of the majority of channels is increased access to services; it is the services themselves that are essential.

Access for your communities? Think customise.

Roy stated that libraries no longer control information or the expectations of our users. While the latter may be true, libraries have the ability to control the quality of services they provide to their communities.

Ian Brooks, another LIANZA Conference keynote, said that ‘having a customer is a privilege’. How true. As a library customer myself I appreciate that my library caters directly to my needs. I like being able to request a book and have it sent to my local branch. This service is so good I don’t mind paying for it. Once a customer drills down from an aggregator to a library service, that services must meet their needs.

The National Library are currently working on a product that can be considered 'a channel'. It will provide a single search box to the National Union Catalogue and National Library resources. As Roy succinctly put, customers “don’t want to learn how to use you” and expect this type of search.

But once a customer finds an item through our single search box they will have access to customised services. For researchers this may mean full-text searching. For librarians this may mean the ability to create reports of publications. Ideally the products will provide both English and te reo Maori options. We are thinking local and relevant.

Value of libraries

Contrary to Roy’s mantra of easy and simple, the value of libraries is quality information. OCLC, in their 2005 research paper Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, found that users value library information because of its quality and reliability, even if those same users found it inaccessible.

This tells libraries that their information needs to be made easier to access but that libraries should still provide ways for customers to access the information’s depth. Without drifting into analogy, some customers want to paddle and some want to deep-sea dive.

To give an example, another LIANZA keynote Dr Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal discussed the way Māori are shifting their research focus from understanding Māoridom to a new creative paradigm, and emphasised the value of library resources for researchers. I am sure he would not have been able to adequately complete his research for Rangiātea : ko ahau te huarahi te pono me te ora with the use of one federated search box.

What does this mean?

Libraries need to provide access channels that are as diverse as their customers. They also need to provide services tailored to meet their core customers' needs when they arrive. This will require some careful analysis of how to resource each. The model of using larger aggregators to link customers to tailored services enables libraries to tackle both.

To achieve this model of service it is essential that libraries recognise the value of their data. In the whiz-bang web 2.0 world, I believe cataloguing is still sexy. Just as libraries should feel privileged to have customers, aggregators should feel privileged to have our data.

By Sarah Jane Barnett

Sarah is a writer and reviewer, and managed change as a service manager at the Library.

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