There’s been quite a few discussions lately about what the future library catalog should look like and how it should function. As can be expected, google and amazon (among others) come up and there is argument over whether we should follow their lead in order to “stay relevant”. I personally think that trying to copy others will do nothing but produce another failure. Instead, it would probably be better to take on some of the other “web 2.0” qualities that many companies have. In order to get a feel I suggest giving a read to 37signals' Getting Real which I quote from below. It will give you an idea of some of the things you should keep in mind when working on a web presence or application.

Whether you like to admit it our not you will likely have to change in the future. The question then becomes can you change and how easily can you do so. For most it’s likely a painful process. Training, blackbox tech, inflexible systems and organization buy-in are all contributers. For libraries to become more nimble and responsive to change then there will likely have to be quite a few changes to the work environment and the backend of the systems.

It is probably worth looking at Open-ILS’s OpenSRF framework in this regards, and their general architecture as well. I have a feeling that it will make change a bit easier, but a good chunk is over my head. As for the environment there will likely have to be a change in attitude where change is welcomed and not feared. Reading some of the library blogs makes me think this is also taking shape.

The take-home is that, unfortunately, change is expensive as it currently stands for many libraries. This needs to change.

You can have the most flexible system, lots of meetings and testing, but in the end you’ll get some things wrong. If you’re depending on the vendor, then they will get things wrong. Can you react and fix it? You thought you had the hottest idea but no one liked it. Can you tweak it into something better or drop it completely? Or are you stuck until the next release cycle or the next time the committee is reformed?

It also seems that many still have the mindset of spending months “perfecting” a site or application, releasing it to the public and then promptly leaving it stagnant until 3 years down the road when they form another committee and repeat the process from scratch. Releasing a completely new presence it likely worth it occassionaly, but things should never be left stagnant. There are always things to tweak, enhance and fix. One of the qualities of “Web 2.0” applications you may want to replicate is that of iterations. Sometimes the changes will be small, other times large, but there’s always change. You adapting to what people need when they need it.

Sure some of these things may be fads and some may not work out, but if your able to change cheaply then the advantage of staying useful and pertinant to people likely outweighs it.

I’m hopeful to keep a Getting Real series going for a little bit as there are a few other topics in the ebook that are worth noting. Again I recommend purchasing a copy.