A great big cloud catalog for the greater good of all?

photo-1432139523732-e9d8af332501Prepare yourself for very big picture thinking on this post. Not a fast read (10 pages), but a mind blowing one. I have re-read it twice and it continues to get my pulse racing!

Have you ever noticed that if the average reader searches Google for a popular book title, that in the first two pages of search results (the only ones they care about), no public library shows up. Think about it,  public libraries are the single largest supplier of books, bigger than  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Costco or local bookstores.  And think about it, libraries don’t show up as an option, much less the best option for getting books at the best price. Why?

A few facts to ponder as provided by Steve Coffman, Information Today….

  • Goodreads ranks 67th among most visited U.S. websites, with 21.4 million unique monthly U.S. visitors, and 47.6 million form the world as a whole
  • OCLC’s Worldcat, our current largest collective catalog and the closest thing we have to Goodreads, ranks 3,748 of all websites in the U.S. and attracted 487,884 visitors in April of 2015
  • According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), collectively, U.S. public libraries had 170,911,488 registered members in 2012 (most recent available data). This accounts for more than half the total U.S. population, and almost six times the number of Goodreads members. So, why don’t libraries show up in search results?
  • More than 9,000 public libraries are diligently paying for and maintaining  individual catalogs at considerable expense. And, these catalogs are embedded in library automation systems that are isolated from web search engines. Everyone is in their silo, thinking their users have unique needs that only they can serve. Is this true? Can public libraries continue to operate this way, forever scrambling to prove themselves in order to get funding to keep the doors open?
  • Coffman recently wrote an astonishing  piece stating the obvious solution to this problem. “Ditch those 9,000 old, outmoded library catalogs and funnel all of our readers through one great catalog built on the web.” Although I know this solution could be met with scorn and bloodcurdling screams of  outrage, it is worth thinking about. What if?
  • In short, if libraries banded together to form a “Cloud Catalog”, “it could be the one source readers would go to  first when they want to find a book, regardless of who has it, what its format is, or whether it is in-print, out-of-print, or not yet published.”
  • There are details in Coffman’s post, lots of details….kudos to him, I bow to his brilliance in taking this subject on! One of the many details is a claim that none of the records in the Cloud Catalog would be MARC records! More blasphemy you say?

Please put your resistance aside and read the full article. If I was still in grad school, I would crank up the popcorn popper, open my dorm door, lure everyone in, and have a good conversation about this idea. Even capturing a small number of high points here gets my pulse racing! This would be a big move on the part of libraries, a “blindside” move according to producer standards of Survivor Island. That’s just it, libraries are barely surviving, and simply cannot continue as they are. We need solutions to this problem of visibility. Read the full piece, invite other library staff to do the same. Let me know when and where you want to hash this out, I’ll bring the popcorn!

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/ (Alex Munsell), licensed under CC0 1.0