Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Remove the containers

One of the sessions sponsored at the American Library Association annual conferences entitled “Googling the Better Mousetrap: Cyber Resources on the Front Line of Reference.”  The LITA blog provided notes of the session.  

During the session, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said:

Users don’t care about the container! LIS schools spend so much time on encyclopdediae [sic], almanacs, gazetteers, etc.

True!  This has become my criticism of many digital libraries.  They expect you to know the container to look in rather than allowing you to search all of the containers at once.  If they don’t want to provide federated search options, then they should at least put all of the containers together so that the user can see them all at once.  Don’t separate the fee-based services from the full-text journals and ready reference sources.  

Also don’t separate the local digitized content from everything else.  We – the creators of the content – know that it is different and why its different, but our users do not.  Find ways of integrating the digitized content in with everything else.  For example, place records for it in your library’s catalogue.  Link to it from various locations on your web site.  Tell people how it relates to the other content that you own.  

However you do it, remove the idea that the user must know what container to look in.  Merge the containers in whatever ways are possible.  Remember that it is not the container that matters, but what is in the container.  


Kevin said...

Regarding "removing the container", my concern with this idea is that in the physical world, what an item is affects how I use it. I use newspapers, dictionaries, and books of poetry differently, not to mention audio, video and 3-D objects. If all of these are digitized does it make sense that they can all now be used/searched as if they are the same? I think my preference is leaning towards a catalog of collections, and each collection has its own searchability/interface appropriate to what that collection is.

Even Google separates news/images/shopping into different containers.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Kevin, thanks for the comment. You brought to mind how I learned about searching in grad school and how I use those "containers" now.

I agree that the containers can be important, but sometimes we don't want to think of the best place to find something; we just was to find it.

For example, think of information on a company. Do you care which container has the information you need? Probably not. Or if you wanted to know about a specific historic event? You would want to find the information about the event without deciding which part of a library's web site to use. That's what I'm getting at.

Removing the containers -- or blurring the lines between them in some manner -- helps users to locate information without first deciding the best place to look. This is why people like Google.

BTW Google does separate some containers, but not all. They blur the lines. For example, if you search for "huckleberry finn" in Google (web search), the top link takes you to books from Google Print, and there is an ad on the right side of the page.

Now ALL that being said, I know that once you understand the container, and what type of information it contains, that how you look for information changes. You become more efficient. That is what we learned in library school or in research classes in college. I see students, though, who are using electronic resources and don't see the "obvious" difference in the containers because it is all electronic.

Kevin said...

Perhaps an option is initial "cross container" searching with the results displaying which "container" each hit comes from. If you are looking for more related information, look in that "container".

I'm working with a committee to try and develop a statewide library digitization infrastructure and am trying to find the balance between putting everything in one searchable pot, and having the items in distinct, recognizable collections.

Thanks for giving me more stuff to think about.