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Future of OPACs Catalogs

Mar - 25 - 2006
Nicole C. Engard

If I wasn’t finished with the conference and I was posting this live I’d say that this was the best presentation of the entire conference – now that I know what comes after I’d have to vote this as the second best.

Roy Tennant started this presentation by killing the word OPAC and replacing it with the word catalog (hence the strikethrough in the title – in case you didn’t get that).

So what can our catalogs do well?

  • Inventory Control – they’re great at telling us what we have and where we have it
  • Known Item Searching – great at title or author searching
  • Searching for Items in a particular location – specifically our own libraries

What don’t they do well?

  • Searching beyond known items
  • Searching beyond book and journal titles – no searching for specific chapters or articles within journals
  • They don’t display results in a logical groupings (FRBR needed)
  • There is no faceted browsing
  • There is no relevance ranking
  • There are no recommendation services – like on Amazon

Roy went on to ask how we got into this mess? Apparently the idea of an online catalog started in the back room – which was an interesting way to put it because I guess that means all cataloging departments are put in the back room – back on the subject. The catalog was meant for inventory, acquisitions and circulation and was given to the public as an afterthought – so the catalog was optimized for our needs and not necessarily the customer’s. So what we’ve done is made our lives a lot easier and our patrons lives only a little bit easier.

Then there’s the software itself. We have asked for – and so created – systems where we can’t get information out – and then we blame the vendors when we too were and are to blame. Librarians as a whole are slow to exploit opportunities and reluctant to collaborate in building systems and so we’re left with a substandard solution.

So what do we do? We need to stop thinking of the catalog as the primary finding tool. We have more than what’s in our catalog and the solution to that is not to cram everything we can into the catalog – but to adopt new technologies that logically search the different resources. Our catalogs should be for books – and journals etc that are in our physical location – they should not house all of our electronic collections and special databases.

What’s the future? (What do we want for the future?) Our catalog should be just one system among many – it will function well by itself and play well with others. It will be refocused on what is in the building – not everything we can provide access to. It will not be the central finding tool.

Roy told us to look for the BSTF Final Report titled Rethinking How We Provide Bibliographic Services for the University of California and give it a read (which I’ll do once I finish all of this writing) and to keep an eye out for a document titled “The Changing Nature of the Catalog” which was written for the Library of Congress.

Lastly he pointed us to some promising looks at catalogs of the future. Xerxes from Cal State San Marcos Library is a logical search that asks the user to limit their search to books in the library, books available in 24 hours (usually via ILL with the member libraries) and books available within 5-10 days (all of WorldCat). The users don’t need to know where the books are coming from, they just need to know when they can get them – they don’t need to know what libraries they’re searching, they just need to know that the title can be on their desk within the next X hours. Why bog our users down with information that only we care about?

Next up – Andrew Pace who started with this quote (which may not be exact) “Library Automation: Yesterday’s Technology Tomorrow”. Andrew’s job was to show us the next generation of catalogs – catalogs which are living up to Roy’s (and my) dreams.

  • Talis – who I’ll write much more about later
  • Polaris – using AJAX
  • III – offering OPAC Pro (wonder what the $$ look like on that one)
  • Endeca – which he demoed
  • Geogia Pines

Andrew showed us his amazing new catalog – something that a lot of bloggers were posting about a little while back. The NCSU Library Catalog is still powered by Unicorn, but it uses Endeca to prettify (yes that’s a real term) the search pages and results. Let me tell you, after this demo I was drooling!!

The top search box is for keyword searching – but not like any keyword searching you’re used to – it lets you choose where to find your keyword – title, author, anywhere, etc. The search results are then accompanied by browsable subjects that help you narrow your search as well as narrowing options like format (book, ebook, etc) and language. Right on the results page in green (checked in) and red (checked out) is the status of the book – no need to click in and see if your book is available. Location and links to online versions are also right there on the first list of results – in our catalog you have to click to see this information. When you click you get even more information – like “More Titles Like This” and “Table of Contents”.

Near the end of his talk Andrew informed us that Endeca may be a newbie in the library world, but their search technologies are used on sites such as WalMart and Barnes & Noble – so these people know what they’re doing.

I know I covered a lot here, but there was a lot in this presentation. I can’t wait for Monday so I can share this info with the librarians who couldn’t accompany me to the conference – I think there are so many areas in which we can improve.

[update]Looks like my strikethrough in the title doesn’t work in Bloglines – so if you are wondering what I’m talking about visit my site.[/update]

[update2]Added link to LC Report “The Changing Nature of the Catalog[/update]

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2 Responses so far.

  1. [...] I know that you’ve been wondering since I posted about the Future of Catalogs what my favorite session was at CIL this year – well, here it is! [...]

  2. [...] I mentioned that this report (The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools) would be coming in my post on the future of catalogs – well it’s here and I have one more week at home to read all 52 pages. I’ll have a report for you once I finish reading. [...]


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