May 2011 Archives

"Great Outcomes" find a home

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Last October, I took part in a program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that would turn out to be not just the first in an ongoing series of events, but that eventually would foster an entirely new library community. The talks that I and others gave that day inaugurated a series called "Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference" that so far has offered programs attended by a total of 687 individuals in nine U.S. locations. Two more programs are offered before the end of June. The ideas that went into these programs and the enthusiasm that was generated by all those who participated, have now found a "place to live" on the Web: the "Good Practices for Great Outcomes" portal.

The impetus for the first program, and for those that followed, was to provide a venue to discuss how catalogers could do more with the resources they already had in place. In some cases, these discussions focus on the specifics of what's included in an OCLC cataloging subscription and how to get more value out of those resources and tools. In many cases, though, participants took these talks in creative new directions, sharing ideas with colleagues on how to improve workflows and improve efficiency.

Simply put--we were amazed at how much we could learn from each other about how to accomplish more on behalf of our libraries.

Chris Martire, Director of OCLC Member Services, and her team provided the inspiration and hard work to organize this series on behalf of the library technical services community. The response to the events has been incredibly positive, and the participation from members and the community so energetic. I'm pleased to see this series take off and gather a new community around it.

The series speakers, who come from both within and outside the OCLC family, are only part of what has made these free, local events successful. The other critical ingredient is the librarians and library staff who attend. In these programs, librarians hear from peers, build professional networking contacts, discuss successes and challenges with the speakers and each other and showcase inspirational examples of how they're coping with budget cuts while still making a difference in the communities they serve.

The events in this series that I've attended are always lively, with some very engaged catalogers on hand to talk, listen, find solutions, make connections... and often have some fun, too. In many cases, the events have been so popular that we've had to change to a bigger room shortly before the event. But that's the kind of problem you want to have for something like this!

I still remember a discussion that followed the talks from Daniel Starr (Associate Chief Librarian) and Andrea Puccio (Senior Library Associate) from the Metropolitan Museum at that first event. It was apparent that the workflow changes they made at the library serving the Met were not just to save money, but to free up staff to do other tasks--to take care of the community of users who rely on their library every day. That focus, and the enthusiasm I've seen at these events, will carry us through even harder times than we've seen recently, I have no doubt.

Stop by the site to see videos of past events, find out about upcoming ones, read and comment on the associated blog, and follow what's happening on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. We need you to be part of the community and the conversation.

Hope to see you at a future event, and/or online!
Bruce Washburn, a Consulting Software Engineer with OCLC Research, just put up a post on the Developer Network Blog about a project he's just completed with Open Library. I won't repeat the technical background information that both Bruce and George Oates from the Open Library have detailed, but I do want to take a moment and reflect on how a collaboration like this benefits libraries.

The short version of what they accomplished is simple: Bruce used the Open Library API to create a bot that updated around 4 million Open Library editions with OCLC Numbers, to be used in links back to WorldCat. WorldCat links had been available using ISBNs, but OCLC Numbers provide a more reliable link to a specific record, and their presence in Open Library records makes it easier to find an edition there if you have an OCLC number in hand.

We're seeing a rapid increase in projects to collaborate on improved data linking through the identifier standards maintained by the library community. Rather than replicating data, we're seeing more partners interested in connecting through the WorldCat "switch" to library collections. Instead of trying to connect to thousands of libraries and millions of records individually and manually, partners like Open Library can provide ways for data services (like APIs) to "talk" to each other programmatically. That allows libraries and their communities to better participate at scale on the Web. Without any additional work on the part of member libraries, their materials become more visible, findable and useful in the Web's ecosystem.

That's what's so exciting to me about how our innovation is moving forward in our profession. It's not about any one person, organization or group "doing stuff" on their own to invent new hardware, software, services or systems. It's about a collaborative environment where synchronicity and serendipity are as important as assembly or engineering. That gives me great hope and great enthusiasm for our shared future

Our thanks to Bruce, George and the other folks at both OCLC and the Open Library who helped make this project happen. It's another great example of how sharing our cooperative data in new and interesting ways can shine a light on the great work that libraries do every day.

[Note: you can also read a nice piece from David Rapp about the project over at LibraryJounal]