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OPAC review from a non-librarian

Mar - 10 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

Yesterday I had an interesting chat with my sister about library catalogs. We were talking about the post I made regarding IM & SMS and whether librarians should skip over IM and move on to SMS? I told her about the fact that card catalogs are still being used and she replied with “Well, I’d rather use a card catalog, it was much easier to find things that way.” This from my younger sister! We all keep assuming that the younger generation wants technology – but here’s one person who’d rather use the cards than deal with the library OPAC. I asked her why.

She said that the OPAC (my word, not hers) is very intimidating (I opened up a Voyager example and we did a little keyword search and it proved her point … there were too many results, none of which seemed to match her initial intent). Instead of upsetting me, this actually got me a little excited.

I decided to show her a Koha example and see what her opinion was. We did the same search on the Athens County Public Library site and found the perfect result come up as the first result (yes, we did the same search). “So, is this better?” I asked. “Yes, much” she replied. She found that the Koha interface was familiar and friendly, less intimidating. She also said that she feels that the younger generation is less likely to learn what’s old (in her case – card catalogs are the way she learned – so while they’re old they don’t count in this argument) and more likely to stick with what’s new and hip and familiar – in this case the Koha search results reminded her of Amazon and made it easier for her to find what she was looking for without being overwhelmed.

I need to add here that my “younger” sister is only 2.5 years younger than I am – we’re not talking about a teenager here – but we are talking to someone who finished her undergraduate last year and was very recently surrounded by the next generation of library researchers.

I love my job – I love getting to go out and talk to librarians about what’s new and available for libraries – but I also love talking to the non-librarians to see what they want and expect from their libraries – this was a great chance for me to talk to someone about libraries who doesn’t actually work in a library. I think I’ll try to do this more often :)

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9 Responses so far.

  1. Owen says:

    Music to my ears!

  2. Jo Alcock says:

    This is great to hear, thanks for sharing.

    I’m a huge believer that we need to involve our users more at all stages – it’s no good library staff making decisions based on what we think users want when we haven’t actually asked them.

  3. Nicole says:

    Jo – I totally agree – but this doesn’t seem to be the way most libraries make their decisions.

    Owen – glad to share ;)

  4. Janice says:

    Yes, it is great to ask our users more as we proceed to enrigh and enhance our catalogs. But I’m curious about what specifically made the Koha catalog/results easier to use. Because the search interface is based on standard keywording from the MARC record fields and the subject vocabulary certainly isn’t natural language. The facetted navigation on the search results? The layout of the screens? The placement and wording of the action buttons?

    I don’t see a lot of difference between the Koha catalog and the tweaked ILS catalogs. Point me, Nicole!

  5. Nicole says:

    Janice,

    I’ve sent an email to my sister to ask her to answer you from a user’s perspective.

    Your question is what makes Koha different from a tweaked ILS. First, we’re only talking about the OPAC here – remember to keep the two (ILS & OPAC) separate in your mind – the OPAC is a part of the ILS.

    As for your question the answer may well be nothing (appearance wise) – but the problem is that the OPAC that my sister looked at wasn’t tweaked – it was out of the box and anyone who uses Voyager knows that it is damn near impossible to customize – so most Voyager systems aren’t tweaked. In fact very few OPACs are tweaked to include facets and book jackets these days – so when the out of the box package is already made to look that way – it means less work for the people in house and it means a better interface for our users.

  6. Jonathan.Gorman says:

    I tend to talk to people a bit about libraries and catalogs for precisely this reason. I’m always a little surprised at people who will say things that users might want but can only think of one or two people who might actually use it.

    Janice, I think Nicole hinted at the answer. First and foremost, the top search had a match as the first hit. (I’d guess from the search it was a known item search)

    Were I to go by my own informal user testings I’d guess the following:

    1) The Voyager page stuck close to the default template, which has a lot of options and a lot of scary help text. People do not like this.

    2) Depending on the tweaking of indexes, it can be really annoying searching for a known item within a catalog. I remember place that seemed to have any keyword match in the subject headings heavily weighed. This meant when just typing in a title for a fiction book into the keyword search rarely brought up an match, even an exact title match, instead bring up general works.

    3) From what I’ve observed most people ignore most facets most of the time. However, they will be used occasionally to simply focus the search. (I haven’t done a lot of formal research on this yet). so limiting by format or location essentially. Doable in Voyager as well, but not as clear or obvious.

  7. Nicole says:

    Jonathan,

    We weren’t looking for a known item – we did a keyword search and the first result in Koha made more sense to use than the first page of results in Voyager. Now this is a setting on the part of the library in question and the way Koha indexes and returns results. But it wasn’t just the results – but the results page that seemed to make my sister feel more comfortable and welcome.

  8. Jonathan.Gorman says:

    What search, if you don’t mind my asking?

  9. Nicole says:

    We were using the Voyager catalog at a Seminary so we searched for “Christianity” on both.


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