Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Virtual Library - where to next?

I was going to post about SirsiDynix releasing their Enterprise V1.0 product. I've read the media release and perused the web site at http://www.sirsidynix.com/Solutions/Products/portalsearch.php and I'm still not sure I see anything to get overly excited about. Enterprise is a layer that sits on top of the OPAC (in our case HIP) which provides a few bells & whistles, like faceted results analysis, profiles for specific user groups, some fuzzy searching logic, and a little web2ish content integration (cover images, for example).

It might be attractive to a library with a number of discrete collections, or a consortium, but it seems tied to physical collections and increasingly our collection development revolves around the virtual (ie electronic/digital).

I feel like we can probably stick with our current ILMS for two years before we'd enter a review phase about what we do next. Horizon is now a dead end, if stable, product (after the 7.4.1 upgrade in September). It will continue to be the chief management tool of our physical collections from acquisition to circulation at least until that review.

I think we need to step back and think about how all our resources can best be delivered to our clients and look for tools that allow us to do that, rather than acquiring systems and then trying to figure out how to make them do what we want.

In the last client survey the one area where we lost ground, admittedly not much, was in the 'virtual library' section. Personally I didn't find this a surprise even though I think the resources we provide are better than we have ever provided before. I believe the rapid acquisition of resources and entry points to those resources (think X Search, LearnJCU, Reserve Online, 30000+ ejournals subs, 300+ I&A/FT databases, numerous guides, VISA, LearningFast, remote access, library policies, rules and regs) has swamped an information architecture firmly rooted in a much less virtual information world.

It is time to seriously look at our approach, both in philosophy and technology. I believe we need a more client-centred and client/context-centred approach. I often ponder why we silo-off library materials and services from the rest of the students learning experience. Are we not a key part of the process that creates the perfect graduate? Why aren't our services seamlessly integrated with teaching materials, at the point where they are most relevant. For example why does a student who has logged into LearnJCU and selected a particular subject have to login again to Reserve Online and then enter the subject code to see the readings for the subject? We already know who they are and what subject they're doing. Why aren't the reading lists embedded in the course materials with links directly to the item's full text? I think we should be asking these questions.

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