Medialab Solutions, the developer of the AquaBrowser search interface, has extended the product to enhance the way that users find library materials by roviding a mechanism for the Web search engines to harvest the contents of a library’s catalog. Most library catalogs are not friendly to the way that search engines harvest information for the inclusion in their indexes. Like many other databases, the contents of library catalogs fall within what is often called the “hidden Web” that holds information beyond the reach of search engines. Library catalogs typically employ a complex syntax including session keys that make it difficult for a search engine to systematically retrieve and index each record.
To address this problem, Medialab Solutions added a new feature to AquaBrowser that essentially creates a separate Web page for each record from the library’s catalog. With the records represented as Web pages with a sitemap to link them together, search engines can index the library’s collection as they would any other large body of content.
It is not clear how well this strategy will work once many libraries adopt this approach. How will it work when multiple libraries make the same titles available to the search engines? Will there be a mechanism for guiding users from these multiple representations in a search engine to a specific library? In a similar approach but on a much larger scale, OCLC has been making the records in WorldCat available for harvesting by the Internet search engines since December 2004. The WorldCat.org interface provides a mechanism for taking users from what they find in the Internet search engines to the local library.
While it is yet to be seen how effective this approach will be in connecting searchers on the Web with content in libraries, it recognizes a key problem that libraries face. According to the 2005 study conducted by OCLC titled “Perceptions of libraries and information resources” only about one percent of the general public responded that they think of a library Web site when asked “Where do you typically begin your search for information on a given topic?” Eighty nine percent responded that they begin with search engines. Given these measures, the idea of making library materials available in these search engines seems a worthy endeavor.