Comments in the Catalog

Glenn Peterson, Web Administrator at Hennepin County Library, gave a show and tell of HCL’s user-centered catalog and Bookspace website. HCL is a Dynix library and they are fortunate to have web coding specialists on staff who can create mashups of their various web applications. When searching the HCL catalog, the bibliographic record offers many more features than just indicating location, call number, and status. These records mash bibliographic information, enriched content from Syndetics, patron comments, audio reviews (podcasts), Amazon reviews, and related lists. Further, each bibliographic record has an associated RSS feed so that users may subscribe and watch for further comments on that same title.

A few words on the comments themselves:

· This is the most heavily used feature on the entire HCL site, and is especially popular with teens. Even before receiving the 7th Harry Potter book, there are currently 60 comments from users merely anticipating the title and conjecturing about what will happen

· Comments demonstrate the “Long Tail” concept—most titles have one or two comments (if any), while very few books have a lot of comments.

· Comments are open! When a patron logs in to make a comment, it goes up right away. Immediate posting sends the message to patrons that their ideas are welcome. Great example of the phrase “radical trust.”

But what about bad language? And what are the maintenance requirements by library staff? All of the comments are pre-screened for language with what Mr. Peterson called the “naughty word filter”; those comments are held aside until staff can take a look. An automatic script runs every four hours and batches comments in an email message that is sent to the Web Services staff. If naughty words are present, the staff will manually edit and include the phrase “edited for publication.” Mr. Peterson assured the crowd that in their experience so far, with over 5700 comments by 3000 users (!), they have very infrequently had to edit for publication. HCL developed submission guidelines to inform patrons not to include spoilers, profanity/obscenity/spiteful remarks, or any personal contact information.

HCL has been able to innovate from within because of their skilled coders. However, there are other projects in the works, both as open source ILS projects and vendor upgrades that are building these types of comments/feedback forms into their catalogs. Yay!

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