Friday, November 19, 2004

The death knell for libraries? I don't think so!

On Nov 15, 2004, OCLC and Yahoo! officially launched a toolbar that provides "one-click access to Open WorldCat as well as Yahoo! Search's Web search engine." Here's the press release.

As I understand it:
1) OCLC basically made library catalogue records (US public libraries) searchable by a web search engine. When a user searches on the web, the catalogue record is displayed like how a website search result is displayed. At first glance, you'd think it's a URL link to a website.

2) When user clicks on that result link, it brings user to narrow the search to a particular library. The key thing is that the user sees a typical web search engine page, rather than the typical OPAC search page with lots of options and boxes. Users don't necessarily know they are now searching a library OPAC record.

3) The search then brings them to a library record, showing the book cover, synopsis, loan status and library location (depending on the library system I think).

When I last heard the OCLC president, Jay Jordan, talk about this in May '04, he said they were negotiating with a "search engine company" to market this service. I guess that was Yahoo. I have not tried this new toolbar. Last time I tried the "beta" was in May '04, but I think it works the same.

I see this as another step closer in making libraries relevant in the Internet era. Who said libraries won't be relevant anymore? I like this excerpt from this Information Today Inc. article:
"The co-branded toolbar ... ...empowers users ... to seamlessly search for information that is available in offline databases." A Yahoo! representative clarified that they consider "stacks of books" as "offline databases."

The toolbar is available for download at

Monday, November 01, 2004

Not-so-Scary-Halloween: What's the point?

My wife and I chanced upon a poster, displayed in a shopping centre, for a "Not-so-Scary-Halloween". Seemed a bit odd to organise a Halloween party that is "not-so-scary". It's like organising a "Not-so-Merry-Christmas" or "Not-so-Happy-Birthday".

The event was for kids aged 4 to 12. Perhaps the organisers decided to offer a watered down programme to encourage parents to sign up their kids for the event -- a kind of assurance that the kids wouldn't be unduly scared out of their wits and hence suffer psychological harm later in life.

I learnt that Halloween falls on 31 Oct, which is the eve of All Saints' Day. They are somehow related. This web article titled The true origin of Hallowe'en from News Shopper seems pretty reliable.

Maybe my wife and I are insensitive to the feelings of parents. Perhaps we've lagged behind the times. But still, a "Not-so-Scary Halloween"? Clearly the event referred to the commercialised version of Halloween. That's like missing the entire point of celebrating (the commercial version of) Halloween, isn't it?