Friday, December 4, 2009

The recommend objective

We have in the past, oh, approx. 150 years had four basic objectives that we want to accomplish through the catalog. Often referred to as FISO (Finding, Identifying, Selecting, Obtaining). Svenonius (The Intellectual Foundation of Info Org., 2000, p. 18) rightly added Navigation. So FISON. I am wondering if time has come to add a sixth objective, recommending, so FISONR, or FRISON.

The basic idea in the original four objectives and also in Svenonius' Navigation objective is that people, aka users, come to the system with a desire, a need, a problem, articulate it, and retrieve something relevant (hopefully). That's very good. I think. It has served us well, and I suppose we will continue to develop systems that can accomplish what those objectives set out to do.

But I am starting to wonder if we can't do better and more than that… some would call it being proactive. That's where recommendation comes in; librarians and other information professionals have always done some recommendation, I suppose. Though Patrick Wilson did note, “the librarian not only has no politics, no religion, and no morals; he has no opinion on any open question. Librarians see their role as one of complete hospitality to all opinions” (Second-Hand Knowledge, 1983, p. 190)… despite this official position of the profession, I suppose that some librarians actually do have opinions and have recommend materials to people... anyway, I hope we are ready to take the catalog beyond the sort of liberal librarianship that Wilson talked about… whereas librarians might have made recommendations in the past, based on their knowledge of the material and the topic, I would hope that we in the future could harvest the insight, knowledge and inspiration of the people using and interacting with the material to help recommend and review the material to support other people's information quests.

Almost all information systems use some sort of recommender systems today; Amazon, Netflix, Epinions, CitULike, LibraryThing, Delicious,, Connotea, Flickr, InSuggest, etc. etc. But no traditional library catalogs. Why?

As explained in this short piece in Communications of the ACM ("Just for you" no. 8, 2009), "The key thing with recommender systems is they're trying to help with discovery," . . . unlike search engines that "help you find something you already know you want."

Maybe it is time to move beyond just giving people what the already know they want, to helping people discover information, books, material.

Let's build recommendation into the catalog of the future!


  1. Ranganathan was on to somehting when he expected librarians to use their intuition. The personal should never be left out. One never knows when ones experience, knowledge and awarness will effect someone else. One should never be shy in expressing one's thoughts or recommondations. The more we hide of ourselves the more we hide knowledge. If we don't share, how will anyone else discover anything new. If they don't agree it's nothing personal. At least you tried. Weinberger said " It's not what you know and it's not even who you know. It's how much knowledge you give away. Hoading knowledge diminishes your power because it diminishes your presence. Librarians should never leave out their personal knowledge or experience. You never know who you will effect.

  2. So how do you get librarians to open up and be partisan when most are hired not to be? We need to change how the system works internally for a majority of institutions in order for knowledge to spead. I agree that personal experience and knowledge is invaluable but how do you get the rest of the information world to open up and comply when they have been trained not to interfere with the public with personal opinions? How can we build personal intuition (which should never be discounted whether it's right or wrong) into what's being taught in library schools so it can resonate throughout the profession? Let's let go of the "everyone wins" attitude and give people what they may or may not be looking for. Its for them to decide not us. Let's take chances, risks and see what happens.

  3. People are starved for the personal which is why the internet is so miscellaneous and successfull. Everyone has a voice expect librarians. Far to long have we relied on the objective. We need more persoanl imput into our library systems. Librarians need to trust themselves and be able to express themselves through their craft. What are they so afraid of? Silence has already been broken in libraries. Let's make it louder and get involved in the conversations!