ALA Midwinter 2007: MARS Hot Topics Discussion on OPACS

MARS hot topics discussion group, mars products and services committee: Not your Dad’s Interface: next generation opacs and search engines

Endeca: Someone from NCSU spoke

  • Endeca is not a replacement for their catalog
  • Barnes and Noble, Walmart – both use Endeca as search front-ends…
  • Does great relevance ranking, and allows you to tweak those

AquaBrowser: Someone from King County Public Library spoke

  • Deadends – syndetics content
  • Deadends – searches that bring up no results
  • No option for database implementation
  • It has RSS!
  • The need – a desire to escape OPAC limitations
  • OPAC keyword search didn’t always work
  • Also didn’t work for Ref desk staff
  • great search example – song, “Another Sunny Day” – catalog can’t find it by song title, unless they use an odd pull-down menu (using librarian terminology) – Aquabrowser just finds the song.
  • Color coding and other visual search options allow customers to browse in ways they can’t in the OPAC
  • Some librarians hate it
  • Liked ILS independence
  • The “cool factor” – very important for public libraries
  • Ran a Survey Monkey usability survey… customers liked it “gave more options when you don’t know what you’re looking for”
  • Realities: ILS independent? have to have unique ID for bib records
  • Interesting – AquaBrowser server keeps load off of the ILS server
  • Have to update AquaBrowser every night for new items
  • Also not their default catalog link (they’re trying to raise awareness of it, so they have AquaBrowser as another search option)
  • Catalogers love it – it’s a great clean-up tool (because it searches better)

Grokker: Jody Fagan, James Madison University

  • They did usability tests with EBSCOHost’s visual search interface
  • Everyone who has an EBSCOHost product has this visual interface – EBSCOHost administrator has the ability to set this up through the administrator interface
  • Half of the students tested liked the visual search interface better than the traditional search
  • From EBSCOHost – 1% of libraries have disabled visual search
  • And visual searches accounts for only 1% of all searches
  • Summary: change default search behavior from phrase to and search (mirrors googleish search); show visual search as an option

Interesting – two of the presenters showed screencast snippets as part of their presentation. Cool.

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Inviting Participation, Part 4: Specific Tools – Blogs

This is part 4 of my Inviting Participation in Web 2.0 series of articles.

So far, I’ve introduced both active and passive forms of inviting participation using web 2.0 tools. My next goal is to cover specific tools, like blogs, wikis, and myspace. How does one invite participation using all these way-cool web 2.0 tools?

Inviting Participation with Blogs
The first tool I’m going to discuss is blogs. Blogs are the granddaddy of social tools, and there are many ways to invite participation using them. So to start off the “specific tools” part of this series, let’s take a peek at both passive and active forms of invitation using blogs.

Passive Invitations: Remember passive invitations? These are the more indirect but useful ways to invite participation. There are many ways to do this using blogs – here are some ideas:

  • Turn Comments On: If comments are off, you are not inviting participation. Period.
  • Quick Moderation: You are allowed to moderate comments – sometimes people say bad things. But if you DO moderate comments, make sure that you do it quickly and fairly. Also make sure to get all comments online and public as fast as humanly possible – the faster, the better. YOU don’t want to be the barrier that hinders participation!
  • Easy to find rss: Make sure to place a link to your blog’s feed in the upper right or left corner of your blog (usability gurus think that’s the best place for them). Also don’t disguise it with techie words like XML, Aggregate, or even Syndicate. Instead, use customer-friendly words and concepts like Subscribe. Also use the more popular graphic icons for RSS feeds (the Firefox-ish radio icon or the orange RSS icon). Also make sure there’s a “what is this?” link that explains what RSS and blogs are, and even more important – how and why RSS might benefit your customers.
  • Include links to your stuff: When you’re talking about a book in your library, link to the catalog record. When you are talking about a library program, link to the event page on your website. Always point to your own stuff.

And some great ideas from my readers on passive invitations:

From Kathryn Greenhill: “make comments available in one spot.” Great idea, and one that really hints at how to treat the main page of a blog. A main blog page CAN be just a running list of your newest stuff, plus a few other links. Or, the main blog page can be a true introduction to yourself and your blog by displaying a few recent posts, the most popular posts, recent comments, categories, etc. This way, the main page becomes a passive invitation – it says “here’s what this blog is about – come on in if interested” without actually having to write anything (though that’s a good idea, too).

And one from Brian Gray: “Utilizing the functions of blogging software, such as pings, trackbacks, keywords, categories, etc. It promotes readership by other bloggers or people that utilize the various search resources to streamline the readings. Also, posting on others blogs says ‘I am interested in what you have to say, have you checked my blog.’ ” The point? Blogs do trackbacks – make sure they’re on, and use them. These blog-specific tools help literally connect your blog and your ideas to the general blogging community.

Active Invitations: Again, actually asking is the primary way to create active invitations to participate. There are many ways to directly ask for participation that can start and continue conversations, and can even begin building community. Here are some ideas on how to ask:

  • Think like a dj: You know – you’ve all heard a dj at a radio station announce “be the 10th caller and win a [fill in the blank].” While I don’t think we should give away cars and trips to Japan, I think we can adapt that mentality of dangling carrots in order to gain participation.  Even simple things, like asking people to click a link, read a short article, or to watch a video are great ways to “direct” customers into participation.  And a blog is the perfect place to do this.
  • Figure out the goal for your post: What do you want the customer to do after they’ve read your blog post? Why not tell them what they should do to make that thing happen. An easy (well, maybe not TOO easy) way to do that is to figure out what the end result of your blog post should be, and then write the post to support that goal.
  • Ask for Opinions: Opinions are always great, because people are more willing to share… so ask for them! Ask things like: what’s your favorite movie/book?  What’s your favorite genre? Why? Asking these things is a great way to start a discussion.
  • Use polls and surveys: Not really sure why (other than referring to my last point on opinions), but people tend to fill out online polls and short surveys – especially if they’re about more trivial stuff. You can simply do these within a blog post.
  • Use props: When supplementing the text in your blog post with images and links, make sure to invite readers to click on them. This tells readers “ooh – I can click on this!”

It’s your turn again – am I missing anything? What other forms of active and passive invitations can there be using blogs? Let me know!

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Inviting Participation, Part 3: Active Invitations

This is part 3 of my Inviting Participation in Web 2.0 series of articles.

So far in this series, I’ve introduced the concept of inviting participation, and I’ve covered passive invitations to participation. And some of you have actually been participating in this discussion, too – that’s wonderful! Y’all have great ideas. So keep sharing them!

Today’s topic is active invitations. In my first post in this series, I introduced active invitations with an example from my blog. In that post, I asked readers to leave a comment and tell me what rss reader they used. That post is a great example of what I’ll call an active invitation to participate.

papercuts blog at tscplHere’s another example from one of my library’s blogs. Our Papercuts blog included this post: 52 Questions: #1 What Did You Believe In As a Child? This post starts a new year-long 52 Questions series of posts for us – and is also a great example of an active invitation to participate! From the post: “We want to hear from our readers, so each week we are going to ask a random question and expect YOU to answer!”

What is an Active Invitation?
So again… what is an active invitation to participate? Instead of being indirect, or passive, active invitations are (drumroll please) DIRECT.

Compare an invitation to the reference desk for a sec. A passive invitation is when the reference librarian sits behind a desk and waits for questions. An active invitation is when the library does roving reference. The reference staff walk around, actively asking customers if they need help.

One Basic Way to Actively Invite Participation
Passive invitations come in at least three different forms (at least, that’s what I came up with). Active invitations, on the other hand, come in one basic form with different ways to implement it. The basic form is easy: it involves one word. That word is (another drumroll please):


You have to actually ask customers to do something. It’s a real, live, direct invitation. In the two examples above, my blog and the Papercuts blog – we both asked our readers to directly respond to something we said in our blog posts. That’s an active invitation!

Many Ways to Ask
Ok. I said one form, many ways to implement. Let me explain – the basic form, asking, can be done in every web 2.0 tool you use. But the asking might be done in a number of different ways, depending on the tool. Here are some examples:


  • ask readers to do something by typing out a question
  • ask them to respond by commenting (like I’m doing with this series to you!).
  • ask them to click a link (say, to a library catalog book record)
  • ask them to fill out a form
  • ask them to visit the library!


  • You still ask, but this asking is spoken and recorded – it’s within the podcast itself.
  • You can ask the same types of things as you would on a blog – ask listeners to comment, click a link (and provide links that accompany your podcast post), etc.


  • same as above, but it’s visual and audible – viewers actually see and hear you.
  • since it’s visual, you can have text appear at the bottom of the screen asking viewers to do something (a secondary form of active invitation?).


  • Many ways to ask: on the blog or in a bulletin sent out to friends
  • ask within a video or podcast (done via a music artist account)
  • ask for comments

Web polls and surveys are active forms of invitation, usually done on your website.

How to Ask?
Now, easy as this concept is, it’s not always easy to ask for a response. You have to incorporate the asking into your writing and talking, which can be tricky at first (especially if you’re not used to doing this!).

I’d say when you’re going for participation, you need to think like a dj. Have you ever listened to a radio station dj invite participation by stating “the 10th caller wins a Harley! Call now!” Now, don’t be giving away motorcycles… but DO remember to ask frequently! Morning show dj’s ask for participation multiple times every show… and you should, to. Why not ask for participation in every post?

What to Ask?
And now, here are some suggestions for what to ask:

  • ask them to click the link to checkout a book
  • click a link, then respond to something in your post
  • one from my library’s media dept – ask what movies do you want to see on movie night (instead of the librarians picking movies to watch).
  • what for opinions – about our website, our service, the content of this post, etc.
  • what are your favorite books?

One other thought:
Why not ask customers to help create something with the library, as a type of co-production? That’s REALLY way web 2.0-ish! Think about Youtube, MySpace, flickr, or wikipedia for a sec – they don’t exist if customers aren’t actively creating and submitting content. It’s really more like a co-production, where the company (ie., Youtube) is creating the passive participation stuff – the friends, channels, ability to tag and comment, etc. And then, YOU are the ones doing the active stuff – creating and uploading videos, commenting on those videos, and making friends.

How can a library do that? SJCPL’s subject guide wiki is a good example. They allow customers to add info via the commenting feature within the wiki tool they’re using. Also check out the Gail Borden Public Library District’s Storypalooza. They are asking customers to tell stories,video it, and upload the video to Youtube. Then the library will link to the videos via their website, and have a voting contest. Winners are going to receive a prize. How cool is that?

Ok. It’s your turn again. What am I missing? What else can you think of that’s an active form of invitation? Please comment and share!

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Inviting Participation, Part 2: Passive Invitations

This is part 2 of my Inviting Participation in Web 2.0 series of articles.

I thought I’d tackle the more difficult type of invitation first – passive invitations. Going back to the example in my first post on inviting participation, my Are You Blogging This song. Within my blog post about the song, I didn’t directly ask anyone to post anything about the song or to comment about it in my post. But the title of my song DID ask people, very directly, to participate, since it asked the question… are you blogging this? Listeners felt compelled to respond. That’s a good example of a passive invitation to participate.

So what exactly is a passive invitation? I think the word passive could probably be switched out with indirect. With passive invitations, you aren’t directly asking for anything; ie., “hey, can you write back” or “please comment on this post.” Instead, you are inviting participation indirectly – hence, passive invitations.

Passive invitations can come in different forms. The first form involves content:

  • Just watching, reading or listening to your library’s content is a form of passive participation. Make sure you are highly readable, highly watchable … and actually have content!
  • Write compelling content. Like the title of my song, your content needs to say “comment on me” – even if you’re not directly asking for comments! Maybe that content is funny, or slightly on the edge, or “just what the doctor ordered.” Either way, it should scream “comment now.”
  • Use action-oriented titles. Again, like the title of my song. Rather than have the content itself direct the reader, a title can be action-oriented. Sort of like an email subject line that says “action requested: who’s going to the party?”
  • Use a conversational tone in writing and speaking. Be approachable, and you’re more likely to invite participation. For blogs, this means learning to write for the web (even if you’re an academic librarian at Harvard). For podcasting, it might mean varying your voice pitch so you’re not monotone (I tend to have a problem with that), having a conversation rather than reading a script, or even giggling. For Videoblogging, it might mean just being You (rather than trying to act out a part).
  • Include text links with podcasts and videoblogs. When you post video or audio, make sure you include accompanying text that describes what you’re going to talk about in the podcast or videoblog, and include links to relevant items. These can be links to other websites, or links to books in your colleciton that you’re discussing in the podcast. These links allow people to participate as they’re listening/watching, by browsing through the links.

The second form uses web 2.0 tools to invite participation:

  • Allow commenting! Simply providing the ability to post a comment is a passive way of inviting comments. Turning comments off is definitely NOT inviting participation!
  • If you moderate comments, make sure you do so promptly. Nothing will bring comments to zero faster than sending in a comment, only to have it not appear online for 2 weeks. Make sure participation takes place in a timely manner.
  • Always respond to comments and answer questions – and do so quickly.
  • Make sure your content is easy to listen to, watch, and/or read. If you have a Myspace page, allow everyone to see it. A page that starts out only viewable if you sign up to be a friend is not inviting participation! Make sure your links to the podcast are clickable and actually work in different browsers – you can’t participate if you can’t listen to it!
  • Use multiple formats when possible. For example, if you are videoblogging, create a blog post that uses both Quicktime and Windows movie formats – and also post the video to Myspace and to Youtube. This gives more people the ability to participate. On the flip side of that, using only a Windows movie format tells Mac users that you want them to work harder to participate… and they probably won’t!
  • Have RSS feeds. RSS is a great way for libraries to send out content and for customers to receive content, so make sure your website and your content can be aggregated. Also make sure there’s a great, simple explanation of what to do with RSS.

And finally, training. Yes, I think training is a form of passive invitation. Why? Because … you can teach customers about RSS and RSS readers, and instruct them, in class, to subscribe to your library’s blog. And to comment … which means that you have just invited them to participate.

Remember that I asked YOU to participate in this discussion? Well, now is a good time… what am I leaving out? Can you think of other passive, indirect invitations to participate? If so, please leave a comment – we can discuss them right here!

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