Computers in Libraries 2007: Comments in the Catalog

Comments in the Catalog
Glenn Peterson, Hennepin County Library

[the speaker is too tall, so the microphone is currently stacked on a random miscellaneous pile of stuff, to which someone in the front row said, “Is this a mashup?”]

Comments are:
mini reviews
on any title in the catalog
a “blog for every book” (book meaning “anything in the catalog”)

Brief history:  Four threads intertwined.  1) summer book reviews by young readers  2) desire for book reviews by adults prompted by success of kids reviews  3) possible catalog customizations beyond vendor capabilities and 4) conversations about books that could be happening but weren’t.  [NB:  he’s encouraging us to contact our vendors and ask for catalog customizations for commenting, but suspects the response won’t be thrilling.  No kidding, man.  We make serious and bitter jokes about the way we expect our vendor to respond to requests like that, all the time.  It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs, and I wish we were alone in it, but we’re not.]

Very easy interface, logical to the current web environment.  [Horrors.  Making library technology work like normal-people technololgy?  Get out the pitchforks!]

So, it’s a mash-up, combining information on a web page from more than one source.  They have five sources.

  • Bibliographic content
  • Enriched content [syndetics.  we have that.  Let’s have more!]
  • Patron comments
  • Audio reviews (staff podcasts) [we could TOTALLY DO THIS.  Use Dspace or another server, link it in the bib…]
  • Amazon reviews, “This was a mildly controversial feature to add.”
  • Related lists on the sidebar add to the experience

[the bib info is far less prominent in their catalog, which is fascinating to me — talk about the differing expectations of patrons vs librarians.  I was startled as a librarian by that, but thrilled as a user to see the clean and friendly data about a book, which focuses more on the content of the item than the analytical description of that item.]

Most heavily-used feature on their site.  Especially popular with teens.   5700 comments, 3000 users over the first 11 months.  [Nice.  The Penn Tags guy couldn’t tell us how many users or tags had been added to the catalog, and that’s the sort of hard data I’m curious about.  I’m very oriented toward ‘prove it to me’, and data helps.]

[hee] There are 60 comments on the order record for the new as-yet-unreleased Harry Potter book, mainly discussing the choice of title. [/hee]

Maintenance:  Comments are pre-screened for language “using what we officially call our ‘naughty word filter’”, but few are problematic — automated four-hour emails are sent to the people in charge, and they can hide, edit, or allow comments that were filtered.

To-Do List:

  • Ratings.  “Sometimes we get comments that are just, “7”, and we think, I guess they wanted to rate that book”.  Also, surprise at the number of critical comments — assumed that if they were taking time to comment, it’d be because of positive passion, but there’s been solidly useful criticism, as well.
  • Avatars.  People like personalization.
  • User profiles.  Ditto, plus, the ability to track thoughtful reviewers comments across the catalog.
  • Tag cloud.  The most frequent words that appear in comments.

Related developments:  WPopac (Plymouth State U.), SOPAC (Ann Arbor District Library), Millennium (Innovative), and LibraryThing for Libraries.  [hee] “LibraryThing allows you to fulfill your fantasy to be a library cataloger.” [/hee]

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