The first OPAC I’m reviewing is that of the Salt Lake County Library System. It is accessible initially from a tool bar at the top of their website, in both English and Spanish, as well as accessible from within the physical library, where Catalog stations are available for users to search the database. I’ll divide my discussion into the three areas discussed in my previous post:
- What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
- What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
- What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?
Tools and interfaces for accessing SLCLS OPAC:
The SLCLS’s catalog is accessible from five different interfaces in two languages, each with their own set of tools to help users search the databases. First is the basic search, which allows users to enter terms in one of five areas: two title search areas, one for author, one for subject, and a general keyword search.
The second interface—the Advanced Search—offers many more tools to access the catalog. It offers four modifiable spaces to create a Boolean keyword search of the catalog using 16 different keyword terms. In addition it allows users to modify the results of their search through selecting as many limiting characteristics as they want—from library location to genre and format.
The third search interface is one designed just to search the Audio/Visual holdings of the library system. Like the basic search it offers simple searches, but in this case it is narrowed down to just title and title keywords of DVD, Audio Book, Music, and Software items.
The final search interface is called Children’s Searches. It is a very basic interface, with only three tools to provide searchers access to the library’s holdings. These are Children’s Author Keyword, Children’s General Keyword, and Children’s Title Keyword. This interface allows users to focus on finding only those materials specifically labeled children’s.
Assistance Available for Using the Catalog
There are several different types of assistance offered to users of this OPAC, ranging from tips and hints included right on the face of the interface to a separate selection of Help and Instructions provided by the manufacturer of the OPAC, and accessible from the top of every page.
While the more detailed information provided by the manufacturer does not precisely match the OPAC as customized by SLCLS, it does allow users to learn how to use the catalog and how to perform specific searches. Horizon, the Integrated Library System (ILS) used by SLCLS, offers three basic search interfaces as explained in the ‘Help and Instructions’ section: Basic Search, Advanced Search, and Power Search. Interestingly enough, SLCLS has modified these interfaces to create 5 different ones, three using the ‘Advanced Search’ format (AV Search, Starts With, and Children’s Search), one using the ‘Power Search’ (interestingly this is the Advanced Search on the catalog), and the one Basic Search. Because the specific searches are customized by SLCLS, there is no information specific to assisting users with them. For instance, the Children’s Search uses the same basic template as the AV search, so there is no information available as to what is searched in the Children’s Search, such as whether it includes Teen materials, AV materials, or works by Children’s authors in other genres.
What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?
Once a search has been attempted, the question becomes how well can a user determine which result will most closely match their information need. There are a lot of factors in this, one of which is how well can the results be sorted through to find those that might suit. Another important factor is what information is present in the record, and how well can this information be assessed/accessed.
The OPAC of the SLCLS offers a variety of features for evaluating results, from a limit option, to suggestions of different spelling/alternative word choice, to information about the location and availability of items. They even offer a help section about interpreting your search results, which explains what formats the results will be shown in, and what further steps you can take with the information found. Users can sort or limit searches, they can view the full details of the item, they can request or book an item, and they can create a list of items or e-mail them to themselves to view later.
While the catalog has a specific Children’s search, it is interesting to see what features are present for children and those serving children to evaluate the results of searches using that interface and the others. In order to illustrate this, I’ve performed several simple searches in different interfaces, and then examined the various tools to evaluate the result and find the best source of information. Say I want to find non-fiction books on trees for children, entering the basic search I would type Tree in the general keyword search. The search produces 2606 results, none of the first three of which appear relevant to my search need. At the top of the page is the option to limit the results based on a variety of criteria, which should help me to weed out extraneous results. One is listed as “All Children’s Nonfiction,” which leaves me with 328 results in the category Nonfiction with the keyword Tree. These results range from a book from the Magic Tree House Nonfiction series to a book about creating Origami Trees. Conducting the same search in the Children’s Search reveals a similar range of entries, which need to be picked through for relevance. It is possible to use the Starts With search or enter Subject starts with to browse to find a subject that is more relevant to the search topic, and then narrow it down to Children’s Non-Fiction.
Beyond these tools to narrow down the results, the library catalog also provides users information about each item through the detailed record view of each item. These sometimes provide further information that can help users decide if this will fit their information need. Horizon also provides further information to explain how to use the detailed record page of each item.
Overall Review of SLCPL OPAC
For a catalog with so many interfaces that have so many tools, with such extensive tutorials and explanations provided, it is incredibly difficult to actually find anything using just the basic searches offered. Because the preferred format of searches is Keyword, and the keyword searches do not rank based on relevance, discovering items within the search seems based merely on happenstance, particularly for general searches. Once a search has been conducted, there are a lot of options for evaluating the results, particularly on an item level with both professional and user reviews.
Perhaps because of the availability of so much assistance in the use of the catalog, it is possible to overcome the shortfalls of the actual search engine. Certainly there are some features that could be very useful for children and parents who are trying to locate materials.