Friday, 12 October 2012


Promotion is part of discoverability, but it is only a part!

Libraries are vast sources of information, contained in a variety of formats, shelved in a variety of ways and locations. So how do [potential] users find the information they need?

In our library we have many different locations, from collections housed in different buildings (including an off-site storage facility), through collections in the basement (hard-copy journals, media items, missing pages/offprints, the archive and the rolling stack) the ground floor (short loan items), the first floor (reference section and Dewey sequence 001-615) to the top floor (Dewey sequence 616-999, oversize items, pamphlets and vulnerable items in secure glass display cabinets). How on earth do we expect users to be able to navigate through our valuable information resources when we spread our stock throughout the buildings in jigsaw-like fashion? If you have the picture, it’s easy enough to do, but if don’t have that useful aid, what do users do, and how can we help them?

The online catalogue

The catalogue is a huge part of the library’s public face; it needs to be clear, accurate, easy to use and reflective of the information resources that are available. At collection level, some of our resources are discoverable through their site code on the online catalogue (e.g. Law Library, Short Loan Collection), whilst some through their sequence (e.g. Reference, Media, Special Collections), and most are discoverable by old-fashioned serendipity – walking the shelves, finding something that catches your eye and turns out to be relevant!!

But what of title-level discoverability, or content discoverability? This is where, I believe, lies the strengths and skills of the cataloguer. An online catalogue can only ever be as good as the cataloguers who got the information onto it in the first place! If that information is wrong, sloppy, or partial, or the access points are too few or badly assigned and aligned then that title/content discoverability will be compromised.

As cataloguers in my workplace, we all recognise the importance of access and consistency, but we know our catalogue is far from perfect, so we are working on cleaning up our data, thus helping to ensure successful discoverability for our users  

We currently have a couple of projects on the go to enhance the discoverability of our resources by ensuring that we have adequate/copious/excessive authorised subject headings in our records, and that all our name headings are consistent according to our chosen authority list. Our jury's still out on the value of the 505 and 520 fields (at least until we get an OPAC display we have more control over), but couple our enhancement work with cataloguers answering users’ questions when on frontline enquiry work, and you have a recipe for success, at least for the regular stuff – if you’ll pardon the expression!

Other collections

However, not all our collections are catalogued on our library management system, and therefore they don’t appear on our online catalogue. The institutional repository uses different software, but, as cataloguers are involved in helping to create entries, it is possible, to a certain extent, to ensure discoverability through naming conventions, use of consistent keywords etc., where possible using the same conventions that are used in our catalogue records which can help to make more things more easily discoverable. 

The other area where information discoverability can be enhanced is in our archive collection. Again, consistent naming conventions, keywords and classifications all help users to find the information they are seeking, and if these are consistent with records in our other systems then this can help to link disparate collections of resources and therefore information.

And that’s what we want to do! Help our users to access information held in our resources that will help them to achieve their degree, their postgraduate qualification, or keep up with developments in their chosen field.

As cataloguers, I get the feeling we do all this with little thanks and little recognition, from colleagues, of the skills, time and effort we put in. We may hide in the basement, and we may not shout out about our achievements, but our work is omnipresent.