OPAC Tips & Tricks for Improving User Experience

Glenn Peterson from engagedpatrons.org started out this presentation with template that read “Libraries Change Lives Through Lifelong Learning” – I LOVE IT!!

Glenn reminded us of some big OPAC developments in the past year:

One of the things that we do at our library and is a pet peeve of mine when other libraries don’t is integrating the catalog into the website. This is not an easy task given the inadequate tools our ILS vendors provide to work with the pages – but it’s well worth taking the time to implement. Glenn mentioned that this will increase the user’s experience (and I agree) and will save the user’s time – if you catalog is a separate template than it’s not easy for the users to get to other library resources while in the catalog – by integrating everything you make all of your resources available from everywhere.

There are 2 options for this integration. The first is to use a portal – this hands over the control of the design to your vendor – but not every library can have someone on staff with these skills. The second is to integrate the catalog as a web-based resource (like we do at Jenkins) – this option is for users (like me) who don’t want their site co-opted by their vendor.

Other suggestions from Glenn include linking right into your catalog from your website (something else we do on Jenkins with our New & Noteworthy section) on booklists, newsletters, and new book alerts. The fanciest thing Glenn showed us was a script that he (or his team – I don’t remember) wrote that keeps the patrons logged into the catalog as they browse the site! I love this! This is exactly what he meant by save the user’s time.

Nanette Donohue took over from here and talked about her library’s redesign project (funded by a grant). I have to say I loved hearing from Nanette, she said so many great things about redesign projects – things I think all librarians need to keep in mind when making changes to the website and/or catalog.

So where do you start? A survey of course (which wasn’t very successful for us – but might work better for you). Ask the users what features they’re using – give them options and leave room for an open ended answer as well. Ask what they’d like to see – once again provide some options. lastly, ask them what their thoughts are on usability. We need to focus on the user’s prospective when it comes to catalog redesigns. Nanette reminds us that we are not trying to make this easier for the departments within the library – it’s all about the user!!

So, where else do we look for information before starting our redesign? She suggested consulting (and listening to) your public services staff. They are out there on the forefront all day long, they know the users better than your catalogers or IT staff do. And Nanette reminds us to DREAM BIG! Go in without dismissing anything – who knows what you might be able to achieve – par your list down later if you have to.

What can libraries do to help this process along?

Hire programmers – and if you can’t do that grow your own! This will make all of the difference in the world to the end product. I’d like to add a note – that you should hire a library programmer or grow your own – programmers are great at what they do – but they have no idea what we do and it’s better to get someone who understands our silly little quirks and rules 😉

We need to only support the vendors who will provide us with APIs – and this means real APIs (Glenn pointed out later that the vendor said they’d give an API – but their idea of an API was not what an API actually is). If you can’t find a vendor willing to open up the data (back to Paul Miller’s presentation) then go open source – if we all demand this feature or start moving to open source then the vendors are going to have to make some major changes in they way they do work – and that’s what we want!!

Along those same lines, insist on features that your “power users” want – these are the features your average users will want in a year or two – why not have it in place for them already?

What can the vendors do?

For starters they can do what Talis is doing – join in the discussion – get out there where you users are and listen to what we’re saying! By doing that they will be able to anticipate our needs and maybe have the innovations in place before we ask 😉 . They can look at what librarians are doing to “hack” the catalog and offer those features as standard in the next release. And last but not least – OPEN APIs – if Microsoft can provide them then so can our vendors – stop being so stingy – it’s our data after all – we should be able to do with it as we please.

Perfumed Skunk

What can catalogers do?

Nanette has some strong feelings about cataloging & catalogers (and she’s allowed – cause she is a cataloger herself). She reminds the catalogers out there that we are competing with Google and we need to modernize our practices! Catalogs need to understand that tagging is not the end of controlled vocabulary – it’s just a way to help provide access on another level.

Nanette ended with this quote on the screen:

Until we change the way materials are cataloged, any enhancements to an online catalog are tantamount to spraying perfume on a skunk.

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