Wednesday, February 01, 2006

OPAC Design--It's the People, Stupid!

Library OPACs are technological dinosaurs. They are based on what came before--the card catalog. The card catalog served us well for many years but really wasn't able to make a graceful transition into the digital world.

I remember coaching patrons on the use of the early OPAC--many tried typing their requests as sentences in the search box. I always felt embarrassed explaining that it wasn't that easy and thinking that they really should be able to find information that way. What ever happened to natural language searching? I guess it didn't work that well and was abandoned (have to do some research on this).

Some patrons got so annoyed with the technology that they threatened to toss all the computers out the window. I'll admit that there were days when I felt that way myself.

Should librarians give up on the controlled vocabulary approach? Is keyword searching the best approach? Keyword searching works well when you have a large collection of data to deal with. When the amount of information is limited as it is in an OPAC, controlled vocabulary works well--you will be less likely to miss the good stuff.

Should I try to explain this in my Information Literacy classes? I'm seriously considering this...

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