The Plight Of The OPAC

The poor, sad OPAC is certainly suffering from a massive identity crisis currently. OPACs have taken quite a bit of heat and have many in the library world chanting the mantra “OPACs sucks” repeatedly. Personally, I think the discussion has been wonderful – and is the first step in what will probably be a long and drawn out process to overhaul our library systems. Today, Peter Bromberg joined in the recent discussions about how maybe it isn’t just the OPACs that we have problems with in a post comically titled Get your head out of your OPAC. In the post, he writes: “How does the quality of the OPAC ultimately affect the total quality of customer experience and customer satisfaction?” Important question. My thoughts – our users are not judging our services based upon our OPACs – not at all. I seriously doubt most patrons waste their time thinking about our OPACs. They reside in the background; people use them when they need to find physical items on the shelf – and they probably have no clue about what a better designed system could actually do. Fixing the OPAC will not make people use the library and its services. Libraries should be focusing on how to improve the overall experience. Improving the OPAC might be one way to help achieve this – but it will only be one part of a much larger initiative.

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5 Responses to The Plight Of The OPAC

  1. jmnlman says:

    Excellent post. If the library isn’t considered relevant it won’t matter how pretty the catalog interface is. I do often chuckle about library 2.0 often because it seems like it’s more arguments over definitions than substance.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I agree that many of the “discussions” make me chuckle a bit. I think that the tendency to focus on definitions over substance is fairly common in the early stages of such debates. Fortunately, there does seem to be some decent movement away from definition discussion to more substantive commentary. You are dead on about the the OPAC not meaning much if people consider the library to be an anachronism.

  3. Of course, the flip side of this is that an accessible collection is one huge step toward making sure the library is relevant. The logic is fairly simple:

    1. People are moving to the web for services.
    2. The OPAC is the primary mediary between the library and the web-user.
    3. If the OPAC sucks, then people on the web will not use library services.
    4. As “people on the web” increases, “using library services” will decrease.

    The other big part of this is that libraries pay big bucks for these OPACs that suck. We’d like to focus in on other things, but the OPAC sucks a good lot of $$$s that could be used for other great library-user connections.

    As for Library 2.0 — well, I guess I see it as drawing attention to stuff that wasn’t on people’s radar a couple of years ago. It’s a good headsup for staff too. Expect change, because the tide’s a-turning. It may be semantics, but I tell you it has given me a lot of leverage in explaining the need and advantage for a wide range of collaborative tools and etc. Like the Energizer Bunny, it’s silly — but it sure does help keep the momentum running.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Ryan, very true. Your comments are spot on. My one problem is that people didn’t turn to Google because they were dissatisfied with their libraries. Fixing the OPAC won’t just make them turn away from using non-library sources. There is a much bigger picture here. I agree that we need to put some serious work into our OPACs, but I don’t think we can afford to think that if “we build it, they will come.” There is huge marketing piece to all of this also – how will they know that our systems are better????

    The money thing is the primary problem, I think. The amount we spend for ILSs is exhorbitantly cost prohibitive. The biggest problem is that we get locked into relationships with vendors – and if we sever the connection, what are we left with?

    Isn’t there always a flip side???? If there wasn’t the answer would be easy.

  5. Google never bothered me, because it increased our use overall. Sure, reference questions are down (the easy ones anyway), but we’ve filled in those gaps by offering IL courses and the like.

    It has also meant that we could weed out alot of reference materials to make room for workstations and meeting rooms.

    I can see the Library 2 crowd beginning to get a little defensive in the upcoming months, partly because people are recognize that some L2 experiments are failing, and people are beginning to “chuckle.” But as Gershwin wrote, “They all laughed at Rockerfeller Centre — now they’re fighting to get in.”

    The big benefit (as I pretty much hinted at this before) is that the Library 2.0 “arguments” drew attention to easy-to-use technologies. This has meant that I have staff coming to me asking about blogs, wikis and the like instead of me having to spread the word to a skeptical crowd. And these staff are able to tell me applications of L2 that might just work, rather than me trying to do the “build it and they will come” thing from my ivory tower office.

    I guess the “Slow Library” thing tried to bring that locality of application to the L2 discussion. Change isn’t automatically what the user wants, but change may also bring things to the user that he/she never imagined were possible. The key is to understand and anticipate user needs.

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