Last night I was invited to give the new online catalog at the Boston Public Library a spin before its debut tomorrow. It seems recently the BPL (and I’m sure it’s not the only library in the country feeling this sting) can do nothing right by its customers. There is little support for adaptation into an increasingly online world, nor any magic benefactor with unlimited funds to donate so that every branch and service would remain untouched. Change is inevitable. And this new system is a really really good one.
The first thing you’ll have to wrap your head around is that this is no longer simply an online card catalog. This is a website for people who love to read. It takes all of my favorite bits from bibliophil (remember that site? I think the kids are using Goodreads these days) and the unlimited availability of Amazon and puts it all into one place. There are a million reasons I’m in love with this site, but I’ve pulled out my favorites for a faster read. I can’t wait for you to use the site and share your favorite things about it.
1. It’s personal
Create your own username (find me at jennalyns, of course), choose default branches so you find the material that’s closest to you first, and create lists and virtual shelves that help you track not just the library books you’re reading now but every book you’ve ever read or want to read, every movie, every CD. And when you’ve added as much as your heart desires, you can keep it private or share it with the world.
2. It’s social
I can’t say enough about the simple power of Add This. It’s a bit of code you put into your website that lets users share your content in any number of places. Email, Facebook, Twitter, Digg… it’s the online equivalent of letting every user on your site be a town crier for your content. “Extra extra I just checked this book out of the library and I can’t wait to read it!” In addition to social sharing, the site incorporates social functionality so you can follow other users and add comments, tags, and video to items in the catalog. It’s more than just looking at what the library has – it’s interacting with that material and everyone else who uses it.
3. It’s collaborative
The tags and comments I add to a book can help a mother decide if a book is too racy for a teenaged daughter reading well above her grade level (I’m all for letting kids read as voraciously as their ability will let them but I think we can all agree that my mother was appropriately appalled that a librarian didn’t blink twice at letting nine year old me read Go Ask Alice.) It can spark a discussion about why Casablanca is the best movie ever made. It can get people talking, but not in loud voices that are disturbing to me when I’m quietly reading in the library branch PLEASE BE QUIET OH MY GOSH.
4. It’s not afraid of Amazon
Why is there a constant desire to divide people who love libraries and people who love books? Can’t we all just get along? This site rolls into one everything I would want to do with a book – find it in my local library, suggest the library purchase it if it’s not in the library system, or buy it from Amazon if I decide to add it to my personal collection. This is why I say it’s not just an online catalog – it is a solution provider for book lovers.
5. It’s a destination unto itself.
I’m not always thinking about books during library branch hours. With an active online community and the ability to quickly find and take action on materials I can spend hours with the library without waiting for it to open. I also didn’t realize how easy it was to download ebooks, DVDs and CDs from the library site! There aren’t many ways that I currently interact with book/movie/music sites that I can’t do from the library’s new catalog.
I want to be clear that while I love this site and plan to spend many hours browsing and learning, it in no way replaces a visit to the library. There is nothing in the world that can replace the sense of reverence, the hushed and knowledgeable tones of a librarian’s voice, the crackle of a plastic book cover. This site does exactly what the library should being trying to do – it augments the library experience and expands it to a space and time that exists outside of the branch. Bravo, BPL!
What do you think about offline vs. online when it comes to libraries? Also, don’t miss this post I guest wrote for wisebread.com: 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Library Sale.