Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine

This was the title of an article in yesterday’s Guardian Technology section suggesting that you can’t find titles in a library catalogue using search engines. Well of course you can – sometimes – it’s just not that easy – as the article says the search results are dominated by commercial booksellers. Apart from the fact that restrictive contracts like OCLC’s World Cat prevent opening up catalogues for libraries that subscribe to this cataloguing service, a key reason why you can’t find books in online library catalogues is that retailers are better at getting their web sites ranked higher in search engines than libraries – it’s their job to promote their wares.

Whilst many of workplace libraries are private I have always thought there is a great opportunity, where appropriate, to open your catalogue to people outside your organisation and what better way than through a search engine? Librarians need to negotiate contracts that don’t prevent opening up their catalogue, they need to submit their catalogue to search engines and apply search engine optimisation. They need to be promoting their online catalogue just like an e-commerce website.

Furthermore wouldn’t it be great for librarians to effectively widen the search for library users by harnessing the power of search engine technology by pre-selecting other appropriate resources and including them in the search results? In other words, a function whereby – the book you want isn’t available in this library but you can find it in your local public library, national library, university libraries or in these specialist libraries. Failing that you can buy it from the publisher or these retailers. Now there’s a library service for the future.

Post by guest author Penny Bailey of Bailey Solutions

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