Modern OPACs

Articles and studies continue to point out that when it comes to fulfilling their information needs, the first choice of students is to use search engines and the other Internet tools they grew up with, as opposed to the current crop of tools the vast majority of libraries provide for them.

As this video highlights, today’s OPAC is often the source of much frustration, both for patrons and library staff. Speaking about our own OPAC, let’s just say that its “leisurely pace” has made me an expert at small-talk while the patron and I wait for the results to come up. It also not hard to detect the frustration/bewilderment they have when we explain why they need to use one tool to search for books, and another to search for articles. They have come to expect one search box as the launching point to find the resources that are available to them.

Thankfully, various libraries are beginning to implement tools that integrate the strengths of Google and other web tools (speed, interactivity, user-friendliness) with the strengths of library resources (controlled vocabulary, access to high-quality material, etc.)

In the news a few months ago was the award given to Casey Brisson, the Information Architect for Plymouth State’s University’s Lamson Library, for his creation of the WPopac application. Among other features, this modern take on the OPAC makes the library’s holdings visible to users of search engines and it allows patrons to add information to the library record. This link shows what a holding record looks like in this catalog.

While the WPopac is the work of a small dedicated team, Endeca is a diverse information technology company. I have come across two libraries that have implemented their search product. McMaster announced their launch of the product today. As you can see when you try a search in their “Endeca-powered library catalogue”, the interface makes it easy to limit a search to geographic region, subject era, etc. Most exciting to me is the seamless integration with their electronic resources.

McMaster’s new OPAC

North Carolina State University Libraries also have an Endeca-based product. They also allow you to install a web-browser search box for the catalog. Another cool feature is that after you type in your search, at the top of the page you get a breakdown of the results by Call Number.


If for whatever reason you were looking for items about Abraham Lincoln and the Fine Arts, this product makes it quick and easy to do.

One area where the Endeca products fall short of Google is spelling error recognition. As someone who constantly has to use Google to find proper spellings for the searches students ask to me to do for them, any help I can get from a search product is appreciated.

In honor of the NCAA basketball tournament I decided to do a search for items on the topic of former Kansas Jayhawk star Wilt Chamberlain. When I typed in “Wilt Chamberlin” in Google it immediately suggested I meant to type in “Wilt Chamberlain”. However with the McMaster and NCSU catalogs, they did not guide me to the person I was obviously looking for.

Except for this small quibble, it is a positive sign that libraries are working hard to bridge the gap between today’s advanced web tools and technology and the legacy products so many of us are tied down to.

Read what I read

Now at Library Playground you will find a link to my Shared Google Reader stories. I come across a lot more stories than I could ever write blog entries about so now I have a one-stop location for myself and others to track trends in the world of libraries and technology. You can also view it as an RSS feed.

Posted in Google. 1 Comment »

EBLIP’s latest

The latest issue of the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice journal has come through my virtual mail slot.

I admire the work being done to by those trying to bring the evidence-based approach (more traditionally found in other academic and research fields) to the world of librarianship.

It is my assumption (without substantial evidence to back-it up, oh the irony!) that the lack of competition libraries have had for centuries to their role as society’s preeminent source/repositories of information has led to a tendency to allow the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” sentiment to permeate their culture.

And when change was considered, I assume most of the decisions were based on staff anecdotes, user surverys, changes made at other libraries etc. A researcher from a field that has traditionally relied on proper evidence-based research techniques (e.g. pharmaceuticals) would consider that approach sub-standard since the conclusions they draw from their research can involve the differences between life and death.

With so many sources of information opening up, libraries can’t afford to be complacent about doing things the same way they always have and if changes (both big and small) are to be made, it is crucial that these choices be based on solid, well researched evidence.

One of my areas of interest is whether screencasts (or other interactive or non-interactive) tutorials can be effective information literacy tools, and if they can, what attributes make them successful. This review from the latest issue of EBLIP calls into question some of the evidence used to reach positive conclusions about a tutorial that aimed to teach skills for searching OVID. This type of critical review within the information professional field, in terms of the research methodologies being used, will help the profession make sound decisions in the future.

While articles like this one from Educause attempt to counter the suggestion that academic libraries are in danger, this blogger sounds the warning that we can’t rely on the idea that we have a captive audience that will ensure we will survive in the form we always have. This essay from the ACRL about the changing roles of academic and research libraries states:

What is at stake is the definition of the indispensable library—indispensable to faculty and students in the first instance, and to the knowledge and information industry in the second. In redefining and reasserting their value, libraries will have to embrace much more aggressively the fact that they are one of many contenders for their institution’s financial support. Libraries have been comparatively slow to realize and accept the need to function in an environment of direct competition for resources, either from within or outside their institutions. As one participant in our roundtable observed, “Don’t assume that people care about libraries. People care about streamlining the processes that support research and learning.” Libraries must be active contestants in the race for financial support or fall increasingly to the periphery of their institution’s strategic vision.

If we are to compete for resources, quality research and evidence is vital in order to make our case.

The Times they are a charging (well sort of)

New York Times

As I was researching ideas for another post I came across a seemingly in-congruent approach to providing access to published content.

I wanted to refresh my memory about an article I had read in the New York Times Magazine about a professor who was found guilty of falsifying scientific data for many years. The heart of the article was about this man’s student assistant who bravely went forward with his suspicions about the celebrated researcher, risking his own future employment prospects.

I knew it was published in 2006 which meant it was not in any of the databases our school subscribes to. Also, I could not remember a single name, school or clearly identifying part of the story so I just started tossing words in to Google like “falsified data”, “new york times”, “student assistant”, etc.

After not getting any usefull results, my inner information professional finally kicked in and I realised I should just go to the Times’ magazine site and type in those terms.

When I did, I got a link to the article I wanted. Unfortunately, it was being offered through their TimesSelect pay archive. Being both cheap and too lazy to sign-up for their free preview, I decided to do one last search in Google now that I was able to see the names of the professor and the writer of the article. Maybe the complete article could be found somewhere in cyberspace.

I was not surprised that the first result of my search was to the New York Times site but I was surprised that when I clicked on the link it took my to a page which provided the complete text of the article.

Is it just me, or does it not make sense for the New York Times to provide free access to an article on one part of its web site and to put it behind a paywall on another part?

This reminded me of another instance when I was looking for an article that was not in our databases. I went to the publisher’s site and it stated that back issues of their magazine could only be read by subscribers who logged-in with their user name and password. Out of curiosity I typed in key bibliographic info about the article I wanted in to Google and low and behold I got a link to the article PDF right on the publisher’s web site.

The URL of the article was incredibly basic, something like:

I’m a total noobie when it comes to understanding secure server technology but I know from our subscription databases that the URLs that appear in the browser (when you click on one of the articles) are incredibly long, with endless strings of numbers and symbols.

In the case of this article and the New York Times article, could some overzealous attorney claim that Google is surreptitiously providing access to content not intended to be made available for free?

 Update September 2007: NY Times’ Brave Change: Opening Archives