The library catalogue of the future

In the last five years the Oslo Public Library has worked on its information service and its digital mediation based on the libraries’ catalogue data. The current MARC format has proven to be rather unsuited for the library catalogue of the future. In contrast, faith in the RDF format has been strengthened.Aktive shelves. Photo: Nikolaj Jonas Blegvad

The Oslo Public Library aims to present its media collection digitally and in new ways. In the Active shelves project we have developed an interactive station for books, with an RDF representation of the library catalogue as a basis for our service. This RDF representation allows for new ways of presenting books and other media.

Active shelves help users and staff to find various books by the same author, as well as books that resemble any they have read previously. The service works by the user placing a book on a shelf where the book’s RFID tag is read. Information about the book, a list of other titles by the same author and a list of similar books appear on the screen. All the titles are presented with cover illustrations, recommendations and rankings.

The user can scroll through different recommendations and set out on a journey of discovery from the list Related titles. With just one click the user may end up going home from the library with more books than would otherwise have been the case.

The Active shelves service is part of an effort to strengthen the library’s information service. The main Oslo Public Library is currently located in an old building from 1933, in which 70 percent of the collection is placed in stacks and is unavailable for users to browse. We are therefore dependent on being able to make our collections available digitally.

From MARC to Active shelves

The Active shelves project is the first attempt to create an end-user service based on an RDF representation of the catalogue. The RDF format enables us to utilize the information that lies hidden in the MARC records. We can combine subject headings, genre and literary form to generate similar titles, and we can use ISBN numbers to retrieve content from other sources to enrich our own data. Examples of this type of external content are cover illustrations, rankings and presentations by the publisher.

The RDF representation of the catalogue is a converted, processed version of the MARC records. Among the main elements we are adding to the data are unique identifiers for works, which means that we can identify different editions of the same work.

We have used the FRBR model that has existed in theory since IFLA produced its study Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records in 1995. This possibility to group different editions of a title is crucial for the digital dissemination of the library’s collection, and forms the basis for the titles we add to the list of other books by the same author. This list is distinct from the traditional search result lists that users obtain from the library catalogue/OPAC, because the list only contains one representation of a title, i.e. the work, rather than a long list with all the editions we have of a title in different languages and formats.

Testing and user participation

The Pode project, the forerunner to Active shelves, provided us with much valuable experience. From using MARC data, z39.50 and SRU as a basis for developing the information service – which was very time-consuming and not suitable for the purpose – we have worked towards achieving a better solution. We have put a great deal of work into converting the data to RDF, and to improving and enriching the records.

The Active Shelf is currently presented on a 22-inch touchscreen located in the library. Work on usability and user experience has formed an important component of the project. A key task has been to carry out user testing in order to adjust and adapt the content and presentation later in order to meet the users’ needs more successfully.

Culture of openness and sharing

Dissemination of literature and information is the primary task of the public library. The library is intended to give guidance and to promote and disseminate books and other media in encounters with users – both in the library and online.

Active shelves gives added value to users when they visit the library, and they must also experience this added value when they visit the library online. We therefore see Active shelves as the basis for the OPAC of the future, also when it comes to traditional searches and presentations of search result lists.

It is important that the libraries offer good digital services to their users. Reciprocal use of data is absolutely necessary if the libraries are to be in a position to improve the information service. A prerequisite for this is that they share good metadata in open interfaces. We need national registries of works and authorities as well as national databases with rich metadata. These types of tools are fundamental to the libraries’ ability to communicate both physical and digital content digitally.

In 2017 the main Oslo Public Library will move into a new, modern building where digital services and digital mediation will form an important part of the information service. Our experience of RDF, and of how data that is openly available makes it possible to create good tools and services for users and employees, is one of the main reasons we have recently chosen to change the library system. We are moving from a closed, proprietary solution to open systems where we have access to our data and can decide for ourselves how we will use them.

Software free to use

The libraries must dare to be untraditional and innovative. We must try out new services, test them on the users and correct them according to feedback. This is what we have done with Active shelves and this is what we will continue to do in the further development of the library information service.

The program software for Active shelves and the conversion program MARC2RDF have been wholly developed by the Oslo Public Library. Anyone who wishes may download the program software from Git- Hub, install it and set up an Active shelves in their own library.

Oslo Public Library