Today's libraries face an incredible challenge: to deliver powerful Web sites that engage users with their collections and services. Because of their experience with modern websites, library users expect sophisticated functionality offered through an easy to use interface. As the web grows ever more social, networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have not only become increasingly popular, but increasingly imitated--in recent weeks we've seen the launch of Google+ which seems to be on track to provide new competition to the mix. Current expectations for a library Web site include a sharp appearance, rich content, intuitive usability, and a single search that provides access to all available information and materials, all permeated with social features that engage library users with the library and with peers of similar interests. Building library Web sites that stand up to these expectations takes a lot of creative use of technology.
In this issue ofSmart Libraries Newsletterwe tell the stories of two major libraries in New York City that have taken strikingly different paths to similar destinations. Both libraries are migrating into their second generation of discovery services. The New York Public Library will shift away from Encore and Queens Borough Public Library will replace AquaBrowser—both highly respected products, but no longer deemed ideal for the specialized needs envisioned by these two libraries. NYPL will implement BiblioCommons, the rising star in the arena of public library discovery services that distinguishes itself through its thoroughly social approach to exploring library collections. Neighboring Queens library has developed its own integrated technology platform, constructed out a set of building blocks including commercial library automation and repository products created and customized by VTLS and a variety of open source applications--especially Drupal--that have been customized and integrated by the library's own team of programmers. Both libraries rely on deep partnerships with an external vendor, but these relationships take quite different forms. NYPL works with BiblioCommons in a way that allows them to use their socially-oriented discovery service in its current form, but also to gain a stake in the company in a way that influences the direction of its future development. Queens has taken a more hands-on approach. By making use of customized software created by VTLS, Queens takes the driver's seat in the design of the overall platform, especially in the interfaces with which its patrons will interact.
The efforts of these two libraries reinforce for me how different the role that discovery plays for public libraries is from the one it plays in the academic world. While academic and research libraries strive to create discovery environments that maximize access to their ever growing investments in scholarly articles, public libraries urgently seek to deliver interfaces that forge bonds with their users, stressing engagement with their collections of books and e-books, and highlighting their services and programs. Both of these libraries will shift in the coming weeks to their new generation environments, providing interesting opportunities to gauge the relative benefits of their respective strategies and technologies.