The above is from OK/Cancel which I recommend giving a read if you do any usability or interface work. They’re recent comics on testing have been fairly humorous. I think the theme of the above one is applicable to how many see the library going forward and what I disagree partially with.

In the discussions I’ve seen on NCG4Lib and elsewhere, there seems to be mostly conversations about what the “ideal” catalog would look like and sites such as LibraryThing, Amazon and Google are listed as examples or competitors that should be emulated. Leaving the competition idea to the side, I think it’s important to remember that many libraries likely have different missions and different audiences. Trying to make a catch-all interface will likely just make things worse. I’ve read plenty of complaints that generic tools like google and amazon fail to provide what they believe their patrons need.

In reality there are libraries that likely focus on preservation, ones that focus on research in a specific subject area, ones that are general research and ones that serve the general public but have a unique community to serve. There will likely be overlap between the libraries, as they all have similar holdings, but each catalog will likely be different in some way.

This brings me to what I think is going to probably be the most important feature of the “next generation catalog”:

I think flexibility will be key. Currently many interfaces that are used were designed for one audience: librarians. Unfortunately many of these interfaces are also rather rigid so customization is limited at best. In response I see many hooking their ILS into other interfaces such as metasearch through z39 or other methods. Others are going the drastic route of exporting all their holdings into a completely different system.

A recent post at Lorcan’s blog outlined the research the University of Minnesota is doing with regards to facilitating Undergraduate research. They have some interesting ideas and some of their programs are likely useful. If the catalog itself was more flexible they could likely do even more.

As quoted above creating environments and workflows for particular communities will likely become important in the future. Unfortunately, again, most current catalogs seem inflexible and so many integration attempts depend on elaborate hacks and are probably a stretch to be referred to as “integration”.

The “next generation” catalog will likely not exist on it’s own at all but be part of something else such as a workflow, research tool or community portal. What that looks and behaves like will likely depend on the audience and the mission. I think this will not just affect the search interface but also things like error messages, result display, tools available, etc.

In short I think it’s important to keep a couple of questions in mind: