Re-inventing the Online Catalogue

The traditional definition of the library catalogue as a ‘key to exploit the resources of the library’ is now considered as something of the past. Technologies have pushed the limits of the catalogue beyond the holdings of the library, as many academic libraries are nowadays providing pointers in their online catalogue to items not only in their holdings but also to digital contents stored on servers in remote places outside the geographical boundaries of the library.  There has operated a paradigm shift in library operations with a  focus on accessibility to materials, irrespective of their location rather than  on the availability of locally held materials. It matters little, or not at all, for the user then to know where the item is held, provided the librarian provide access to the required document within the premises of the library or even outside the library. The explosive growth of  digital contents on the web backed by a customer-centric policy have led academic libraries in more advanced countries to add machine-readable catalogue records to their online catalogue to link hundred of thousands of URLs with freely available contents.

The Penrose Library at the University of Denver is one such academic libraries which has added links to MARC records and by 1999, the catalogue contained about 1,848 URLs for government documents available freely. Gradually, the library also added URLs with licensed documents, microfilms, full-text online version of  publications, links to publishers’ Web sites, reviews, or tables of contents and online serials. The catalogue search function enables users to locate print and digital content easily as formats are distinguishable from both the browse screens and the full record in the OPAC including the clear display of URLS. Consequently, the library catalogue now not only provides access to its own holdings but also serves as a gateway to web content that the library has selected for its users.

It is worth noting that when the State of Colorado made MARC records for state online publications available on a monthly basis to all libraries, the Penrose Library became the first virtual Colorado depository for state documents with an enhanced access to over 6,000 online titles.

However, several measures are adopted by the library for the smooth running of such platform and written procedures are developed to ensure that the digital materials are integrated effortlessly into the existing workflow. A Catalogue Management Group (CMG) is formed to look after user convenience that minimizes user confusion by providing clickable links to online contents.  It also facilitates interaction between the teams directly affected by the online catalogue. Moreover, a Collection Development Team is put into place to develop policies for selection of online content for inclusion in the catalogue. There are also copy cataloguers in the Monographs Unit who provide systematic access to digital materials.

Since physical processing (barcode, label, etc.) of items is not needed in the digital world, the library is able to load large numbers of records. At  the Penrose Library, loading batch records is accomplished by a team comprised of the head of Technical Services, a catalogue librarian, a catalogue technician, and a student worker. Furthermore, the MARCEdit software is used to manipulate these large record loads.

It is evident that the staffs have responded to the ever changing environment by developing innovative strategies. They were driven by the need of the users and focused on easing accessibility. They saw this as an opportunity to improve and expand their skills too while becoming full-fledged citizens of the digital world. Libraries are evolving over time as digital content is proliferating at an exponential rate. The answer to the question of how to harness the tide of digital information on the web seems to be the provision of a one-stop shop service to access both information held locally and from external sources via a revamped online catalogue with links to full text digital content. It is a model worth studying to be adapted in the local context.

Lalita Chumun


Meagher, Elizabeth S. and Brown, Christopher C., (2010). “Turned loose in the OPAC: URL selection, addition and management process.”, Library High Tech, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp.360-376.


University of Technology, Mauritius Resource Centre on Facebook

The University of Technology, Mauritius Resource Centre  is now using Facebook applications, the much hyped social media,  to connect with its users and to develop professional networking.  You may access the pages by clicking here. You are invited to share your views, comments and opinions.

P. Hauroo