What's the perfect discovery layer?

I've been participating in a discussion about the hypothetical design of the perfect library catalogue discovery layer. I guess I've been thinking a lot in terms of scenarios, these days and when asked if I could design the perfect system, here’s a scenario that helps me think it through:

In the ”old” days, not too long ago, the public library would have dozens of copies of a tax return guide, either like this: http://vpl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2803009038_personal_tax_return_guide, or the one that Revenue Canada gave out for free, as well as samples of the tax return form itself, and those would be the basic knowledge-containers that a citizen might need to do their taxes.

Those documents are largely online now:


This represents a step in the conversion of knowledge from document-centric to network-centric but this conversion hasn’t stopped there.

For $18 you can use this online service to do your taxes:


Within this service is an online guide to filling out the tax return as well as a question-and-answer forum that users participate in to answer each other’s questions. This isn’t just something for the well-off members of a community. $18/year is well within the reach of almost all members of an ordinary community in Canada. For that much money, they get the app that does much of the work for them, an online guidebook, and a knowledge-network to keep themselves informed.

So, let’s ask ourselves, where does the library fit in? If a public library can’t find some way to lead someone seeking information about filling in their tax-return to these services, we’re not really giving our community all the options that are available to them.

The line between the information/knowledge about something and the act of doing it are breaking down. I wrote a proposal for my library many months ago about building a maker lab and I said that the guiding ethos of that lab should be ”turning learning into action”. As I think about these basic first principles of library discovery, I think I’m arriving at the same catchphrase. How can we get a link to that online tax return service, and all the other services and apps and programs in all the subject areas we cover, into our dataset so that when our patrons are discovering (ie: learning) what resources are available for their query, the value we offer them is to turn their learning into action?

Philip Hall 2014