Library Issues

Thinking about the catalog

I’ve been thinking a bit about the library catalog lately, mainly due to my time at CiL talking with Tim from LibraryThing, as well as being on the NGC listserv.

We know that OPACs suck. They suck because they don’t meet the expectations of patrons, and are written for librarians and not the public. But we hate the OPAC because it just fails to deliver the information cleanly, and doesn’t allow for serendipity. But the OPAC is only one part of the ILS, and the other parts are where I feel like I’ll get pushback from within my library.

In thinking and planning in my still-new-to-me position as Head of Library IT, I’m looking at the next year, the next 3 years, the next 5 years. It’s clear that getting out of our current system will benefit us, and that’s not really a question. The question is: where do we go? I don’t want to jump from, I want to jump to.

So what do I want out of an ILS? I know what I want out of an OPAC…and I know how I want it to look, act, feel. But I don’t feel like I’m quite comfortable making judgements about the rest of the ILS quite yet. I know I want flexibility, but that’s like saying I want color…there needs to be more specificity before there is any usefulness in that word. And I’m just not quite sure.

Those of you with more ILS experience, or more experience in other parts of library administration (especially Access or Circ or Acquisitions)…what do YOU want out of an ILS?

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

3 replies on “Thinking about the catalog”

I have always maintained that this thing you refer to, in its current state, is a nice by-product of the rest of the system.

I’m far from being an administrative decision-maker. The first thing I want out of the rest of the ILS is more attention put into its development. This year, I’ve heard little more than two words in relation to the current development of the ILS — Rome and Encore. Neither of those help me out in serials, or other people in acquisitions, circ, or even metadata records maintenance and creation. There is a third word, though — ERAMS. My library has made a huge deal out of this for the past year and a half. I can see how ERAMS helps acquisitions to better manage subscriptions of electronic resources, and allows metadata services to more accurately maintain the metadata for the resources.

I’m still having trouble coming up with an answer to the question, though. I’ve gotten so used to accepting the fact that the back end is supposed to be functional at best. The problem is that we don’t complain enough about this side of the ILS. (That’s the reason why I begged my way into a place on my library’s ILS Forum.) I want features that help to improve the workflow in technical services. Most of my job is checking in materials and maintaining serials records. The ILS I use does a better job at this than most others. Anything the vendor can throw in that can shorten the amount of time it takes go get items to the shelf, and also help to predict patterns and solve problems with materials vendors, would be a boon for me.

I can give you Tech Services, in quick, brief, and dirty format. I want:

1. Accurate and simple order, invoice, payment, and receipt tracking of materials acquired, both e- and print, monographic and serial, across multiple funding streams.
2. Equally accurate and simple bibliographic control that meets current metadata standards (which feeds into a better catalog, yes?).

It’s awfully basic, that list. But it’s the truth. Everything else we do is details, it’s How We’ve Always Done It, it’s tradition and history and custom. What we’re really doing in tech services is responsibly and efficiently acquiring stuff so that we can effectively describe that stuff so that people can easily find the stuff they want.

If you want a real list of functions that are essential to most technical services librarians, let me know, and I can do that, too. But it’ll reflect the above more than anything.

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