Discovery AND Selection = Elsewhere

This slide caused the most discussion and comment during my presentation at the AALL workshop about which I posted previously. I return to it here for a few reasons.

Some of these assertions have attained meme status. In particular I’ve noticed that Roy’s characterization of searching and finding (which he’s been saying since at least 2005 – I’m sure he can tell us the exact date of the coinage) and Lorcan’s dictum about discovery were listened to with some skepticism and resistance only 12 months ago. They are now treated as common knowledge and an accepted starting point for discussions of our issues. This is good for us. It focuses us on change.

The next two about getting our services and assets into the work flow of the user on the network and about needing to present users with all of our system-wide assets aren’t yet memes but they have entered the vocabulary. Lorcan’s ‘networkflow‘ coinage I find helpful and apt in getting at the essence of the way we work and the collective collection phrase (about which Constance has blogged and spoken continuously) neatly and alliteratively captures what people really want to access. I hear other people use these phrases without expecting that they need to be explained. This is progress. These two observations are really about how we should change our services and invest our energy.

The last assertion about selection is far from a meme. In fact, it may not be true. But it could tell us more than any of the others about where we can choose to disinvest and redirect resources and effort.

The formulation arose in a group discussion led by my colleague, Arnold Arcolio, while reporting on user testing and interviewing that he was leading in connection with WorldCat Local at the University of California. While he has much analysis to do and considerable discussion yet to come with UC colleagues, one of the preliminary observations emerging is that the test partcipants overwhelmingly approach the local (or group catalog) with an item already chosen. Using the catalog as a research tool – a place to refine a general interest into a small number of selected ‘best’ items that answer an immediate need – seems to happen very infrequently. In these early interviews the idea seemed quite unusual to the faculty and graduate student users of the catalog.

During our group discussion this user behavior was capsuled as “Selection takes place without us.” We were intrigued with the potential import for our processes and practices should evidence emerge showing this to be generally true. Our investments in description and classification, in the functionality of the local/group catalog and many other areas could be re-examined and recast. If selection takes place without us then our efforts could be redirected to activities valued by our users and our institutions. I’m interested in spinning out the range of impact but, of course, we need evidence to take this beyond a thought-experiment.

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About Jim Michalko

Jim coordinates the OCLC Research office in San Mateo, CA, focuses on relationships with research libraries and work that renovates the library value proposition in the current information environment.

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