Wednesday, July 06, 2005

OCLC Pilots Traditional Libraries into Web Services

OCLC Pilots Traditional Libraries into Web Services
: "July 5, 2005 — Over the next few months, a series of pilot projects will expand OCLC’s Open WorldCat project into a full-featured, Web-integrated library service. In December 2004, OCLC ( opened WorldCat, its master union catalog of library holdings, to Google, Yahoo! Search, and other outlets. Initially, the material accessible to the Web search engines was books and monographs. With the new eSerials pilot project, OCLC will begin expanding content to electronic journal collections. The reference services pilot will link Web searchers to reference librarians—sometimes live ones—through an “Ask a Librarian” feature. The bookselling pilot connects Open WorldCat searchers directly with book purchasing options made by OCLC with Baker and Taylor. Member libraries will receive shares of the sales to their patrons. In August, OCLC begins charging member libraries for participating in Open WorldCat through FirstSearch subscriptions. It looks like the libraries, their patrons, and Web users everywhere should be getting their money’s worth.

Phyllis B. Spies, vice president of OCLC Collection Services, explained the strategy. “As we move forward, we have to be thinking about the library in the user environment rather than the user in the library environment,” she said. “No matter how rich the library collection or how good the catalog interface, they may go unseen simply because users spend most of their time elsewhere—on the Web.” Chip Nilges, executive director of OCLC WorldCat Content and Global Access, sees all the pilots—and the experiments still on the drawing board—as meeting OCLC’s corporate objective of “meeting the needs of members and users at the point of need.”

According to Nilges, two of the projects—bookselling and virtual reference desk connections—stemmed in part from a study of comments filed by Open WorldCat users. Some 15 percent of the comments were actually reference questions, which OCLC transmitted to its virtual reference desk service, QuestionPoint, or to its corporate library. Seven percent were requests to buy books. Rather than treat such “Comments” as errors, like good librarians, OCLC interpreted them as unfulfilled needs."

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