The Social Library Catalog

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Learning for Life Online tool #4:
The social Boston Public Library catalog

As more and more people join social networks like Facebook and buy from online retail stores like Amazon, they have come to expect the same kinds of features in all of their online services. Most recently, library catalogs have started to offer useful social features like ratings, comments, sharing, lists and following.

What Is It?

Early in 2011, the Boston Public Library launched its new library catalog. In addition to all the things we expect from a library catalog – good search results, information on where to find items, account information and item renewals – the new catalog offers fantastic interactive features.

How Is It Useful?

Search. The first and best feature of the new catalog is its keyword search and ranked search results, and you don’t need to sign up to use it. Just like Google, this search uses the popularity of items (based on number of copies and number of holds) to give you the most likely results to your search. Searching on “The Help” will take you straight to all the copies of the book; a search for “Harry Potter movies” will get you all of the library’s DVDs of the films, as well as additional items.

Lists. Taking a cue from Amazon, the new catalog makes it extremely easy to create lists and share them online. Anyone can create a list about any topic and include current items in the catalog, items not yet in the catalog (found on Amazon) and related websites. If you have a passion for anything – science, history, painting, carpentry, computers, childcare, baking, health, crafts or travel – you can make a list to help others learn more about it.

Tags. Tags are words and phrases you can add to an item to describe it and make it easier to find. Any user can add tags that describe the genre, tone or theme of a book, movie or album, and any user can search for other items with that tag to find more things to watch, read and listen to.

Sharing. You can share interesting books, movies, CDs and lists straight from the catalog to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and dozens of other sites. Just click on the sharing icons on any item or list to share that information through nearly any social tool you already use. You don’t need to copy and paste anything to share – you do it all right from the catalog.

Following. If you notice that other users often comment with interesting reviews of items or create awesome lists, you can choose to Follow those users just by clicking a button. Don’t worry – it’s nothing creepy. Following just means that you’ll get recommendations for things to read, watch and listen to based on the items that these other users thought were awesome. Better still, the new BPL catalog is linked to other library catalogs across the US and Canada, so you might be following someone from Ottawa, Seattle or New York!

Try It Out

Visit the Boston Public Library catalog and try a few searches. Type keywords into the search bar at the top right corner and see what you get. Use power searches to find very specific things: “Children Chinese DVDs” will show you everything the Boston Public Library owns, not just individual DVD titles. Use the drop-down menu next to the search bar to find Authors, Titles, Subjects, Tags or Lists on topics you’re interested in.

If you have a Boston Public Library card, register with the new catalog by typing in your card number and four-digit PIN. Registering will let you request items to be held for you and allow you to add content like comments and tags, rate items and create lists. Sign up, choose your own username (so you don’t have to type in your library card number any more) and make sure to enter your correct birthdate so you have access to all of the site’s features.

During the Learning for Life Online program, we’ll often create lists of items related to online tools and skills and share them through the blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Use these lists to find all sorts of useful books and sites for living life online.

Help & Resources

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