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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

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Librarians, to the Barricades!
Volume 39, Number 6 - November/December 2015

Are you tired of playing catch-up in a Google world? Does it sicken you to recall the years and years in which our profession toiled and slaved to bring online searching to a heedless world to find our contributions not even remembered as online triumphs worldwide? Do you accept the back seat we have taken in digital services, but want to draw the line at being flung off the bus completely? Well, it’s time to grab the opportunities offered by today’s technologies, harness those technologies to our content and resources, and bring them into the brilliant light of the future.

As a profession, we are dedicated to the betterment of the human condition by the elimination of ignorance and boredom. With today’s technologies, we no longer need to narrow our performances to ZIP code constituencies. We can serve the world and achieve economies of scale that make our services vastly better and significantly cheaper. And we can do it now!!

In Searcher magazine’s 20-year run, the single most popular and highest-impact article was authored by Steve Coffman, currently vice president at Library Support Services Inc. (LSSI). The article, “Building Earth’s Largest Library: Driving Into the Future” appeared in the March 1999 issue (Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 34–47). It was followed up by a later commentary, “The Response to ‘Building Earth’s Largest Library’” in the July/August 1999 issue (Vol. 7, No. 7). Today the remnants of Searcher left online at only cover issues from the year 2000 forward. However, if you want to read a copy of the original article and Steve’s follow-up, trusty Google led me to them at and

Personally, I wouldn’t waste too much time reading the 1999 piece. Instead, grab hold of this issue or go to and look for Coffman’s current article, “The Cloud Catalog: One Catalog to Serve Them All.” Once again, Coffman wants us to build a comprehensive bibliographic service that is available to all web users; that guides users to any and every library holding a title; that can enrich every record with all the abstracting and indexing, curating, social media commentary, associative linking, etc., that has become standard on the leading online services; and that eliminates the need for technical services departments in each library from spending library budgets and staff time doing the same tasks for the same titles. In the earlier article, Coffman used the example of Amazon’s catalog and book entries as a service model. In this article, he looks to Amazon, Goodreads (now owned by Amazon), Google Books, and OCLC’s WorldCat. With or without the help of one or all of these leading players, Coffman challenges our profession to supply top-quality book service to all and to save a ton of money while doing it. He follows the ancient motto of successful do-gooders, “Do good and do well.”

Think of it. Of course, every book that is available in public domain would automatically be available to individuals and to library records. The tiniest branch library would have a collection of tens of thousands of books, albeit slightly dated in most cases. Imagine the social networking. One would have online book clubs, webinars, forum discussions stretching across the continent. Look to the future as the system expands worldwide. Have you checked out the latest version of Google Translate? It can translate print into 90 languages, focus a smartphone on text for 26 languages, do two-way automatic speech translation in 40 languages, and star and save translations for future reference. Tie that free app to conferences abroad, and we’d have instant delivery for forthcoming documents in whatever language.

And why limit content to books? In time, it would cover movies, television shows, radio programs, streaming media, etc. Think of the features we could amplify to cover all needs. I often see ads for movies about to appear in local theaters that sound interesting, but I have to wait until they appear online, e.g., from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Fire. I’ll forget the title long before the movie appears via one of those routes. But if movies were part of the Cloud Catalog, I could attach a hold such as library patrons use for forthcoming books and get notifications. When I mentioned this to a friend in the movie industry, he thought there was a service that did this already and for multiple suppliers. Great! With library-type items available in a comprehensive Cloud Catalog and in completely open web-compatible formats, we could just link from the existing service to our records. Make a deal. The same with IMDB or other entertainment-focused web sources. Our Cloud Catalog would be a central watering hole for lovers of all types of content.

And the opportunity for leading users to quality sources would be endless. Think of the thousands of Library Guides. Besides incorporating entries from these guides so lovingly curated by professional librarians into the Cloud Catalog, we could have them tabbed like Amazon’s user lists on the side. People would be led to Guides. We could even incorporate Google Custom Search Engine drill-downs to transform URL-heavy Library Guides into focused databases for searching specific topics. And think of all the open access content that could come into the system as we really get rolling.

Most importantly, it would mean that librarians now working to serve limited communities with services often repeated in other libraries could refocus their efforts to serve a world—or at the very least, a nation—of users. It could remind that world or that nation of how important and essential our profession is to those needing the best information or entertainment. We could even bring our own revenue generation to the systems—discounts on books ordered starting with the Cloud Catalog for our users, rewards from booksellers for bringing clients their way. At the very least, we would stop paying for the privilege of attaching promotional material from publishers to our enhanced catalog entries. (Puh-leez! Paying for ads!!)

It could get us back in the game and looking good. But we must start now. We’re way overdue. And about those barricades I mentioned, you know—of course—when we reach them, we’re there to tear them down!

The late Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, contributing editor for ITI's NewsBreaks, and a columnist for Information Today.


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