Catalog vs. the Homepage?
Best Practices in Connecting to Online Resources
Case Western Reserve University
Facilitating patron connections to online resources is a big issue for every library. This was evident from the number of attendees – although held late in the day and late in the annual meeting – this program was one of the best attended of the conference. Nor was the audience disappointed in the content. The program was set up as a debate on connecting to electronic resources (e-resources) from the library homepage versus the library catalog. After presenting an overview on the issue, Georgia Briscoe (University of Colorado Law Library) introduced Karen Selden (University of Colorado Law Library) and Cheryl Nyberg (University of Washington Gallagher Law Library); they in turn spoke about the pros and cons of including e-resources in the catalog, and on the home page. The underlying basis of the entire program was, what is the best way to make electronic resources available to our patrons?
Choices for accessing e-resources include variations on linking and display from the library home page, from the catalog, and/or identification and linking of aggregate database titles. There are differences between the way resources are represented and accessed on the homepage and in the catalog: the home page utilizes HTML and lacks rules of description and organization; traditional library catalogs are governed by the rules of AACR2 and utilize MARC record standards.
Karen discussed some advantages of linking e-resources from the catalog. Resources in the catalog have multiple access points. Electronic resources enhance the collection and make connecting to such resources more convenient for the patron. Libraries can ensure high quality, customized e-resources for inclusion in the catalog by the implementation of collection development policies.
However, inclusion of electronic resources in the catalog increases the workload for technical services staff. Because standards are complex and still evolving, cataloging procedures must be documented and consistently applied. The limitations of the MARC format are a consideration; does a more accessible bibliographic format need to be developed? Link checking and URL maintenance are additional concerns. Other issues include the use of classification numbers, and genre terms.
Cheryl discussed considerations for linking from the home page. A big advantage is that the home page is a first stop for many users, and as such, is a valuable real estate location. The lack of rules eliminates the need to coordinate changes with a large group; remodeling can be done as needed. She presented options for the home page, such as adding legal research guides (bibliographies and periodical indexes, both with links), FAQ's on how to find information in the catalog, and news features (e.g., new databases available).
She does not recommend relying on the catalog in its present incarnation. Because the catalog is structured by rules, change takes a lot of time to implement, resulting in high cost. Traditionally librarians have emphasized the use of the catalog for titles, not as an index for journals. Rethinking catalogs then must include retraining for public services staff.
Several library web sites offering creative solutions to displaying e-resources and other information as well were shown to the audience. In one example, catalogers from the University of California at San Diego create dynamic subject lists utilizing local subject fields (690's) coded into HTML.
Is it possible to come up with a better interface – perhaps a hybrid of our catalogs and web pages – for our patrons?
Recommendations for catalog designers and web page builders alike are to know your patrons and do what is best for them. Use language that patrons can understand. Use surveys and test runs for feedback on what patrons like and dislike. Do consider staffing ramifications. Cluster information by type. Keep in mind that access does not have to be an either/or proposition – e-resources can be linked to in more than one place. Do not be afraid of technology; collaborate with colleagues to find creative solutions. Continually improve.
The speakers were engaging and well informed. I highly recommend the program bibliography for further reading on this topical subject.