Kirjastot.fi – Biblioteken.fi – Libraries.fi was introduced in the 1/2002 issue of SPLQ. Libraries.fi is a portal for the national library field that was founded in 1995. It not only functions as a central site for library Internet services, but also as a professional service and information retrieval service for the library field. The content of Libraries.fi is essentially maintained by a distributed content management method. The content has been divided into various sites: Libraries, Retrieval, Library field, Literature, Music, Children.
Libraries.fi reform 2003-2004
Libraries.fi has established its position as a national Internet service and use of the service has been growing steadily each year without any actual marketing. From the point of view of its users, Libraries.fi apparently represents a sort of easily accessible ‘library authority’, because the majority of Libraries. fi feedback deals with services of individual libraries and locating these services. Users expect the same kind of one-door retrieval in library collections from Libraries.fi as is offered by bibliotek.dk. The organisation of this kind of service is not possible at the moment in Finland however, because the public libraries have over 135 collection databases.
In the year 2003, a broader Libraries.fi reform was launched which will be completed during 2004. The areas of focus for this reform are:
- Switch-over to new publication technology: new publication system with integration of revised tailormade database applications, development of functions and Dublin Core support, web services support and multi-channel support, among other things. The current technology is from 1997-2002.
- Development and expansion of Internet information service: new libraries, especially specialised libraries will be involved. Additionally, a shared chat site and local chat sites will be established as a part of the multichannel system.
- Development of information retrieval with the Information Retrieval Port Project, as a part of Finland’s library project.
- Expansion of the content provider network.
Moderate reform of user interfaces and contents is being carried out on the basis of feedback and visitor statistics. Taking into account the patron perspective as well as the professional perspective is a challenging task. The new front page of the portal is directed first and foremost towards patrons, and professional matters are concentrated within the library field site. The site will contain a library bus section, which will be the first joint information site about Finnish library bus activities. Another aim is to try to publish a broader range of material related to music library operations on the music site.
The most important area for development, however, is the information retrieval services. As competition tightens libraries are compelled to consider the profiling, success factors and production resources of their information retrieval services more closely than before. In the future, specialisation in on one’s own areas of skill and contents will be, in my opinion, more important for libraries than striving to attain the greatest share possible on the information retrieval market. Google and other commercial actors are insurmountable competitors. Libraries should develop high quality and permanent information retrieval services, develop contents and productise their data sorting methods, as well as produce interactivity and guidance which support the information retrieval process. The most important competitive factor of libraries is, above all, a professional, broad-based, multi-channel and free information service on the Internet.
In developing information retrieval services, Libraries.fi focuses especially on a separate ‘Information Retrieval’ portal interface for information searches and on an expansion of the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service. At the moment, the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service includes 33 public libraries (all 20 provincial libraries) and two central specialised libraries. The goal is to involve more specialised libraries as well as other libraries. Specialised libraries add significantly to expertise in answering.
The ‘Ask a Librarian’ service is based on voluntary cooperation between libraries. Each participating library has a person in charge. The main respondent for the service, a librarian from Helsinki City Library – The Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland, makes sure that all questions are answered on time.
The Libraries.fi editorial office is responsible for the development of the service, for the training of the respondents and for the provision of the public archives. Respondents no longer select a certain participating library on the new question forms, but provide their municipality of residence. The editorial office will direct the questions as needed, for example to specialised libraries, and provincial libraries will try to answer questions received from residents of their municipality. Answers are, however, not restricted by municipality or according to who is on duty, rather questions which have been left unanswered can be answered by all participating libraries in a shared answering application.
The answering application and rules for answering have been developed together with the respondents for the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service. The application has many functions which support the functionality of the community of respondents. The service is in three languages and there is, in addition, a special question form for children where a question can be submitted without leaving an email address. About 3,000 questions are answered each year and most of these can be found in the public archives for the service. Answers are promised within three working days, though they are generally delivered the same day.
At first, new service channels will be added to the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service and its answering application, as a trial. The national chat site will be tested first. Libraries in Finland have been slow in taking chat technology into use in an Internet information service, and currently the Helsinki City Library is the only library that offers a chat-based online information service. A text version of the service and questions and answers via SMS will also be integrated at some point. Furthermore, the functionality, reception and opportunities of the Internet information service will be gauged using interactive digital TV.
The Information retrieval port
Libraries.fi will be developed in the future specifically as a library portal for both patrons and library professionals. Creating a proper information retrieval user interface within the portal structure is difficult, therefore a separate retrieval interface is currently being developed. The project name for this is ‘Information Retrieval Port’. A separate interface is also easier to market as a new service. The Information Retrieval Port Project is part of Finland’s library project, which comprises four divisions:
- Nelli (National Electronic Library Interface) information retrieval portal – research and learning support. MetaLib/ Sfx-based retrieval service for licensed e-material, digitised material, collection databases and shared directories. The National Library of Finland is responsible for the project.
- Regional Nelli applications (i.e. Pohjanportti – a gateway to information resources http://www.splq.info/ issues/vol37_2/10.htm). Regional libraries and the National Library of Finland.
- Libraries.fi library portal for libraries and library patrons. The Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland.
- Information retrieval portal – national data management. The Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland.
The goal of the Information Retrieval Port Project is to develop an open, user-friendly search interface which guides the user. The port will take advantage of existing information retrieval services and also function as a developmental environment for information retrieval and information retrieval technology. The port will be made public, either all at once, or in phases, in 2005 and it will continually be developed, flexibly according to demand and experiences of users. At the moment, the port consists of the following parts:
- A publishing system: a user interface is being carried out as part of Libraries. fi’s new publishing system, so that the port has its own display and domain name.
- A keyword directory of the libraries, a system of classification and a semantic web-type search system which uses these directories, have been developed for the port.With this system, search words are put into their context, the search is guided and searches are done in different sources of data. These include the libraries’ collection databases, other databases, Internet service archives, databases for articles, archives for magazines, e-materials, the Libraries. fi Link Library, information retrieval services of other libraries, and general information retrieval services. A search can be limited, for example, by region or according to subject.
- Open-source, non-Z30.50-based multi-search application which primarily searches the libraries’ collection databases. The first version of the application has been in use at Libraries. fi for several years and it has been a particularly popular service. The new version processes and presents search results in a more developed way than before.We are trying to build multi-searches one way or another using the MetaLib application of the Nelli portal as well.
- The ‘Ask a Librarian’ Internet information service: the information searcher is provided with the opportunity to ask a question in every phase of the retrieval via different channels.
One full-time designer is creating the information retrieval port together with the Kirjastot.fi editorial office. Administratively, the project is under the Helsinki City Library – Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland. The project has a guidance committee which represents all library sectors.
Experiences in creating national Internet services for libraries
Libraries.fi will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. The experience gathered in producing the Internet service of the national library field over these ten years can be summed up in the following aspects.
Technology. The functionality and possibilities for development of Internet services should no longer be dependent on information technology solutions. Regardless, for example, of whether we purchase programming work and applications or make them ourselves, or whether we use commercial or opensource solutions, the information technology should support user-based development work in all ways and guarantee a reliably functioning service selection. Nowadays it is quite difficult to explain to users why the rigidity of technology prevents some function or the modification of it.
Production organisation. The production of Internet services requires fulltime creators. It is worthwhile to distribute some of the content production regionally and organisationally into a producer network, but there have to be full-time persons responsible for development, editing and administration. The same applies to the development of network cooperation.
Producing Internet services is effectively a new kind of work, in which the traditional content knowledge of library professionals is combined with professional skill in information technology, communications and design. The production team may consist of representatives from several different fields, but it is important that the team has core skills in the library and information service fields. Cooperation in the organisation’s internal and external network is more important than before, as is the national coordination of production. Networking should be extended outside the library field, for example, to providers of other public sector Internet services and service provider alliances.
The key question is how will the library organisation meet the needs of userbased, Internet-type, creative development work and how will permanent production resources continue to be arranged?
Services. The goal of national library field Internet services is to centralise development and editing and service channels to the extent that it is sensible from the point of view of finding the services, production resources, skill and coordination. This has also been a goal of the Ministry of Education and library strategies in Finland.
The Ministry of Education also annually supports the development of the libraries’ individual Internet services and the content production related to it. This way, all libraries have had the opportunity to creatively build Internet services locally and regionally according to their own goals and skills. Today, Finnish libraries are focusing a great deal on the development of regional Internet services carried out with the combined efforts of the libraries. Despite diminishing resources, libraries have been voluntarily participating in the management of Libraries.fi and they have creditably distributed their skills on the Internet (especially in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service).
The libraries’ individual regional and national Internet services form a common network, in which different services complement one another as a rule. Libraries.fi’s type of web site significantly improves the ease in finding these services and, in a way, unites them as one content and service entity. It is easier to transfer contents automatically from one service to another and to create different user interfaces for the same contents. For example, data from the statistics database of the Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland is transferred to Libraries.fi, while library service information on the Libraries.fi web site can be transferred to a library’s publication system or even to the reservation system at work stations.
It is clear that the production of Internet services must be nationally and regionally coordinated. Not only do Internet services need continuous development to maintain competitiveness, but a clearly coordinated production method is also necessary. This ensures up-to-date information and the continual development of services and helps to avoid overlapping and poorly organised management. Surveying of local points of view, improvement of distributed management, training and monitoring require the activeness and resources of national actors.
The greatest difference between production of the new services and of the traditional services is a new competitive situation. In the Internet world, we are competing openly and globally with new competitive advantages. Thus, market shares and strengths rooted in the traditional institutional status and know-how become, in a way, targets of competition. Traditional critical elements for success must be actively brought forth and their value reconsidered. On the Internet, we compete, above all, according to the terms set by the user, usability and accessibility. Users expect speed, ease, quality, interactivity, personification, and entertainment in using and finding information. On the Internet, the user navigates between services with one click and library services also compete in this way, one against the other, both locally and nationally.
Translated by Turun Täyskäännös