CIL2008: WoePac to WowPac

Karen Schneider moderated this very interesting two part session on WoePac to WowPac – a look at OPACs as we know them and would like them to be. As a librarian who has often torn her hair out over the sad state – “or should I say sucky state” of our OPACs she’s the perfect person to be introducing the speakers for this session.

First off, Roy Tennant. Roy started off by saying “I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to kill off the the word OPAC – you can see how successful I’ve been.”

Roy wanted to clarify for us that when he talked about the “OPAC” he’s just talking about the discovery part of our systems – the public interface – not the entire ILS. He introduced us to a few tools that add a new discovery level to our systems that harvests data out of the ILS.

When you’re ready for a change in your library you have a few questions to consider before looking at today’s tools.

  • do you want to replace your ILS or just your public interface?
  • can you consider open source options? (some can’t)
  • do you have the technical expertise to set it up and maintain it locally?
  • are you willing to regularly harvest data from your catalog to power a separate user interface?

Some examples of options available to today’s libraries are:

Koha (example from Athens County Public Library)

  • faceted browse
  • highlighted search words
  • availability information
  • no harvesting of information required – because it’s an ILS

Evergreen (example from Georgia Pines)

  • faceted browse
    • some issues with them – strange terms coming up in the facets
  • no harvesting of information required – because it’s an ILS


  • discovery layer only
  • in development (they haven’t started using it themselves yet)
  • the interface looks really good
  • faceted browse
  • availability info shown (it’s being extracted out of the ILS)

LibraryFind (example from Oregon State University Library)

  • MetaSearch system
  • faceted browse
  • clean interface
  • you’ll see articles interfiled among the books in results
  • you can see databases searched

WorldCat Local (example from University of Washington)

  • local branding
  • local version of
  • articles included from some databases
  • real benefit is that you can search the world – so first it searches the local library and then the consortium and then the rest of the world

Next up Kate Sheehan who was part of the first library to use LibraryThing for Libraries. I like Kate’s definition as a bibliophile/social networking mashup (hope the credit for that doesn’t belong with someone else – if so – I’m sorry).

LibraryThing has a ton of data about books and readers and the readers are not afraid to use it. While LibraryThing is all about users (they want to search and catalog their own way) – LibraryThing for Libraries is all about the masses of data.

Kate showed us the search results for “OPAC sucks” in Google and there were 3 pages of results (I got 10 pages).

To improve a woepac, LibraryThing for Libraries takes all the neat stuff that LibraryThing knows and dumps it into your OPAC – any OPAC because this tool is platform agnostic.

Kate gave us a preview of what this tool does:

  • it shows other editions of the title that the library has
  • shows similar books and it’s really good (once again only based on things in the library)
  • can even add reviews with a Greasemonkey script

Computers in Libraries
Originally uploaded by nengard

So how hard is it to implement? Kate says it’s so easy a monkey could do it – really! It’s just a simple javascript that you copy and paste into your template and you’re done.

LibraryThing bases this stuff on what people have actually read (not what they’ve bought – like Amazon). If there is anything wrong with LibraryThing for Libraries, it’s that it doesn’t work as well with non-isbn books – all of these features are based on comparing ISBNs.

So why do libraries want LibraryThing? Basically, data doesn’t grow on trees and LibraryThing has this wealth of information to share with libraries. This is a pretty simple concept.

This is a great tool – especially for libraries with a lot of ISBN materials.

Next up was, Cindy Trainor with a talk titled: “Are we there yet? Next generation library catalog enhancements: an assessment.” Cindi agree with Marshall Breeding (a summary I haven’t written yet) when he says that these next gene systems aren’t really there yet – there is still a long way to go. For that reason Cindi introduced us to her 4 very best websites using her own totally arbitrary system of rating.

Great websites need to have a combination of these 4 characteristics:

  • content – print, video, audio, etc
  • community – communication – power lies in it’s collectiveness – content created by a community in a community for a community
  • interactivity – a single website that people visit and interact with – searchability included in this
  • interoperability – APIs – things that let us pull data from multiple systems and merge them into one (Z39.50, RSS)

The more of these elements a site has the better it is – in Cindi’s opinion. Of her four best websites, Cindi went into detail about Flickr which scored a 26 on her scale (which had a max of 32 points). Flickr made it onto her top 4 because it met all of the criteria:

  • content (photos)
  • community (giant group of users)
  • interactivity (search, browse, never run into a dead end)
  • interoperability (interface into flickr that lets you go in and do other things with the content – badges, posters, flickr soduko, spell with flickr, flickr mashups)

The other top sites were Amazon scoring 26, Pandora scoring 20 and Wikipedia scoring 21.

So, where are the next gen catalog enhancements on this scale?

When you think about what a legacy OPAC looks like we have come a long way – but we still have a long way to go! Cindi showed us a Voyager OPAC and replaced most of the words with blah blah blah – because this is what our patrons see and Voyager scored a 2 using her fake rating system.

Last up was John Blyberg. John didn’t talk to us about our OPACs per say, but the system redressed.

John started with a quote from Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:

β€œThe overall name of these interrelated structures is system. The motorcycle is a system. A real system …There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. That’s all a motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel … the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon.”

He feels that we sort of fetishize our OPACs – the WowPac doesn’t exist – the fact that we can’t put it together is not that it’s hard to do – it has more to do with what sits behind the system. Like the motorcycle our systems are a mental phenomenon.

Consider the library work flow as container versus content – the OPAC is container – the content is then the information in the OPAC.

“I really wish we could get rid of the concept of OPAC – because of the system behind them our OPACs seem to get put into these little boxes – what happens to a plant if you put it in a pot that’s too small for it? It withers and dies and this is what’s going on with our OPACs – they’re being impaired by not getting to the content in our systems.” While I may not have gotten the quote exactly right – this is a really good image from John of what our OPACs are doing to our precious data.

John makes another great point that the OPAC really should be spilling out onto our websites and beyond – Facebook and Flickr and such – not just search boxes – but applications that can trigger based on page content. So if you’re on Facebook viewing something about Harry Potter you get a pop up or a column with library data related to the page you’re on.

We need an understanding of how information flows from point a-b – the term systems librarian is going to be obsolete because we’re all going to be systems librarians (in fact at Drexel, systems is a required course – so in their eyes, we already area). Systems does not have to do with technology only – but the system of our library (the processes we follow day to day).

John also reminds us that in today’s information ecology there is no destination = most people are online to experience information.

A great combination of viewpoints all in one place! I’m glad that I stayed in the room all day πŸ™‚

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