As the resident librarian around here I wanted to toss out a bit about the electronic library catalogs (aka card catalogs) of 2005. While it's true that many people think of paper card catalogs, I think it's worth pointing out that while many people still think of them as tools to simply find books, videos, etc, and then go to the library and checkout the book (DVD, CD, or lead them to the right magazine or quality web site), that library catalogs of 2005 are offering MANY more services than what many people expect to find. What follows is a brief, and I do mean brief, overview. Btw, these days card catalogs re referred to as OPACS (Online Public Access Catalogs).
The challenge in describing and demonstrating all of this is that every library offers different services and technology. However, here's a taste of what I'm talking about. Remember, all libraries offer different services.
+ Book Reviews, Cover Images, Etc.
Here's a search for a from the online catalog at the San Francisco Public Library. The basic page contains what you've come to expect from a card catalog. However, you'll also notice a thumbnail image of the cover. You'll also find a brief summary of the book. Neat! Now, click the "I" icon (right side of page) and you'll find links to reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. Naturally, reviews and what "value added" info is available depends on the individual entry.
Here's another example. In this case you get reviews plus a portion of the opening chapter of the book.
The Henderson County Public Library in Kentucky mines their catalog and produces all sorts of lists. For example, a list of the most requested items, most popular movies, and a list of new materials.
Of course, library catalogs are also utilizing RSS to inform patrons about new book and useful materials. The University
of Alberta offers a long list of feeds by subject area and library.
+ Hyperlinked Subject Headings
Here's a search for "search engines" from the Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore. You'll see a list of titles and images of book covers. The first book listed is JB's, "The Search." Now, click the "Details" button. You'll find a summary and the table of contents. Finally, click the "catalog record" tab and look for subject term links that are all hyperlinked. Simply click one or more of them to find other books that have been assigned these subject terms by a human indexer. Click on "Internet Searching" and you'll see what I mean.
I think you'll see that a variety of interfaces are available depending on the searcher's skills and needs. A library system in Illinois makes their catalog available in a traditional method or by using a series of images.
+ Online renewal and Reserving Materials
Pretty straightforward. Enter the bar code or title and you're done
As I've hope you've now seen, today's library catalog might not be what you've come to expect. Of course, I'm only showing a few examples from a few libraries. It's not to difficult to imagine full text and public domain material being added to each record in the future.
Finally, don't confuse a library catalog with the many full text (newspapers, magazines, reference books) and FREE databases that libraries (of all types) make available from home or office. All you need is a library card. Each library offers different tools. More on that here. In fact, one database many libraries offer is called NetLibrary which allows the user to "virtually" check out the full text of thousands of new and old books that you can annotate, print (in some cases), and share.
Postscript: Last week, Chris published an article I wrote for SearchDay about a library catalog that contains more than 120 million items and then allows you to link to local libraries to see if the material is available. Heck, it will even format the entry into one of several bibliographic formats.