I have been thinking lately of a library subject guide system. A really great utopian library subject system. I imagined a system where librarians would list databases and other resources (chosen from Metalib and/or some other central repository of our stuff, when possible; URLs entered manually when not); also add other narrative text as desired. And organize the whole thing coherently somehow, without knowing any HTML.
And then we’re kind of at the kind of subject guides most of us have today (but perhaps easier to create), but then there’s all sorts of cool new features (I really hate saying ‘2.0’) we can imagine:
- You should be able to take an RSS feed from somewhere else and add it to your subject guide.
- All the metalib-searchable resources listed on your subject guide should be meta-searchable with a box right on the subject guide (probably in a custom interface that ISN’T metalib, using XServer, but that’s another story).
- Hey, this subject guide should have a community-editable wiki on it too, for people to share their own subject/discipline-specific tips and tricks.
- It should have a librarian blog on it too.
- It should have RSS feeds coming out of it too, that people can subscribe to, to get new content.
So this has been this fantasy that’s been building in my head for a while. (Incidentally, Andrew Nagy’s system at Villanova takes some really nice steps in this direction; this is also along the lines of what the CDL subject portal project is supposed to accomplish). And I even thought “Gee, if we built this system, we’d probably want to make it available for faculty too, if they wanted to use it for specific courses.”
So today I saw a brief demo of Sakai. And I thought, hmm, how is this different from what I’m envisioning? Isn’t Sakai already a place to provide an organized ‘research guide’—with the collaborative tools I’m envisioning as part of an ideal 21st century ‘subject guide’ resource? It already has some (beta/alpha in-development) Metalib integration. To be sure, it lacks significant integration features I’d want, not only with Metalib but with other library systems. But would adding those features to sakai be any harder than adding everything we need to any other base platform, or writing them from scratch?
I think this isn’t just an issue with ‘subject guide’ and sakai, it will increasingly be an issue with various things we are used to thinking of as seperate components, but which we realize:
a) have significant overlapping functionality
b) we want to operate as part of a unified integrated environment.
In the end, I’m not sure Sakai is my answer for subject pages. I in fact know very little about it. It might be overkill. It might in fact be a lot more work to try and get what I need in Sakai than to try and get what I need from a different platform.
But I think these are provocative questions–how do we best get everything to operate as a unified integrated environment, and how do we keep from re-inventing the wheel when the functionality of “different” systems is increasingly convergent?