Monthly Archives: February 2009

Salt Lake County Online Public Access Catalog

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:

  1. What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
  3. 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 fourth interface to SLCLS’s OPAC is called “Starts With” and it allows users to search through the alphabetical lists of one of 16 formats, such as titles, authors, and series, by entering the first word in a specific field.

 

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.

 

In the Advanced Search interface, there are several types of help available.

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.

 catalog-entry

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.

 

Advertisements

Online Public Access Catalogs

The first area I want to look at in my review of these four libraries is their Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs), since they are in many ways the most widely used electronic resource offered by public libraries. Librarians and scholars of library science have had a lot to say about OPACs and the directions they are evolving in libraries of the future, but for the most part these discussions are hidden from users. They may see the changes that are debated, and may even participate in using them, but the actual discussions of Library 2.0 and trends in OPACs are less important then how well they can figure out how to use the catalog in practice. This ease of use is what I’m interested in in looking at the OPACs of the four libraries I’m reviewing.

 

It is difficult to determine “usefulness,” particularly when taken in abstract from actual patrons, so for the purpose of this review, I’ve broken this down into several categories.

  1. What tools and interfaces are available for accessing this resource? If the resource is the library catalog, the database of information about what books, audio visual, and other items are owned by the library, then the tools and interfaces are the ways that users find out information from this database. Some catalogs have multiple different interfaces to enter into searching their catalog–such as a children’s catalog, an advanced search page, an audio visual specific search. Each interface has different tools to aid the user in discovering information, that target specific areas of the catalog, from basic author and title searches, general keyword searches, to limits on publication date, location, and format.
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the resource, in this case the catalog? In this, I’m looking at a wide range of tools, from a ‘help’ section with directions on how to use the catalog, to FAQ sections, as well as clues as to preferred formats to enter information. All of these things can help users learn how to use the tool, and can assist them in getting the most out of their searches, but they can come in a lot of different formats.
  3. What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the resource, particularly in relation to children? When using various electronic tools to look for information, particularly for children, users determine if the information is related to their needs through the descriptions provided both of the service and of the results. For instance, a search of a “kid’s catalog” indicates results would be appropriate for children, while information on the item record might indicate a grade range or reading level. Similarly, a user might be able to narrow down a search based on criteria like reading level or intended audience. This information allows users to evaluate the results of these various electronic resources according to how relevant they are to them and their information needs.

While I know from first hand experience that library staff provide much of the training and explanation to patron in using the library’s electronic services, I am mostly concerned in this review with discovering how users independent of staff presence can navigate these tools. For that reason, I’m interested in discerning what is openly available to any user approaching the service, versus what you’d just have to know the secret combination to get it to work.

Upper Arlington Public Library

Ohio is a state full of libraries, with a system of funding that allows all state residents to get library cards, because of this there are a number of smaller systems tucked in the middle of larger systems. One such system is the relatively smaller Upper Arlington Public Library, which is in a small suburb of Columbus. With one main library, and two small branches, this system serves a direct population of around 32k residants.

Like all of the other libraries in this project, the UAPL has a comitment to providing services to patrons through their extensive electronic presence, both in their website and in their OPAC stations. They list subscriptions to over 100 databases, though many of the listed services are merely subsets of larger services. While a fair number are provided in partnership with the state library, they have invested in a fair number of unique services for their patrons. UAPL is also a member of the Mid-Ohio Digital Initiative (MOLDI) as well as CML, which provides access to the Overdrive services they jointly subscribe to.

In looking at UAPL, my questions are focused, as with the other systems, on what electronic services they offer their patrons, what pathways they have to access them, and to what degree children, parents, and teachers can understand why they would want to use specific services.

Columbus Metropolitan Library

The Columbus Metropolitan Library is probably the most familiar to me of all of the libraries in my study, because for the past two years I have worked in various capacities in the system. While this gives me more familiarity with the resources available to patrons, this study provides a unique opportunity to observe how patrons interact with our website when we are not there to show them all of the features and tools that we offer. Every day I show people how to use the website and databases, but in this project I aim to see how easy it is for patrons to figure out without hands on help.

The largest system in my study, the Columbus Metropolitan Library serves a population of just under a million residents in Franklin County, Ohio, through 20 branch locations and one main library. They have an annual circulation of around 15 million, and subscribe to over 53 “premium resources” .

Like the two Utah systems, CML and WPL both share resources from the State Library, which provides subscriptions to public, school, and academic libraries. In addition, CML participates in the Mid-Ohio Digital Initative (MOLDI), a subscription service in association with other local libraries.

While I know many of the resources available to library patrons, since I show them to patrons all the time, my review of the electronic services the library provides here is more aimed at how easily these resources can be found by non-librarians and in what ways the electronic services can be made more accessible particularly to children and their parents.

Salt Lake City Library

salt-lake-city-library

The second library system that I am looking at for my final project is the city library in Salt Lake City. A smaller system, it serves a population of around 200k, through five branches and a central library. Their annual circulation is around 3.4 million.

The Salt Lake City system subscribes to at least 40 databases, some of which are made available through partnership with Utah’s Pioneer Online State Library system.  This cooperative system allows academic, k-12 school libraries, and public libraries to spread the cost of expensive databases around to more systems.

This smaller system was selected to illustrate different approaches to using some of the same shared resources from the shared state library system (which the county system also utilizes) as well as to contrast with the smaller library system in Ohio that I will also be reviewing. Another reason to look at this system is its position in an urban environment, serving a large ESL population, which is reflected both in its electronic and physical presence.

In looking at this system, my first questions focus on what electronic resources they offer, what pathways they have to enter them, and what sorts of explainations they have of how to use them and why people would want to use them. I’m particularly interested in how these things are directed towards children and their caregivers.

Salt Lake County Public Library

The first library reviewed in my study is the library system that I used as a child, which I had the opportunity to visit while at my parents’ house over the holiday. The Salt Lake County Library system is a large county library system with 19 branches that serve a population of just under a million residents  , 75% of which have library cards. In 2007  they reported 13,585,286 items circulted, from a collection of around 2 milion items. Not only are their branches busy, with around 4.3 million visitors in 2007, but their website recieved almost 8 million visits from outside of the library.

I selected this library as a complement to the other large library system I am reviewing, because it is of a similar size and has a similar budget. It also has an impressive web presence, offering a virtual library experience to its customers, many of whom take advantage of it. They reported impressive numbers of patrons using their electronic resources: 11,830,982 catalog searches, 981,953 searches of their 72 electronic databases.

My inital questions for my study of this library revolve around determining what specific electronic resources they have, what pathways there are to use them, and to what extent these libraries have information avalible to assist children, parents, and teachers in their use both on their website and in their physical buildings.

Final Project

Originally, I had planned on starting a new blog for my final project, but upon consideration I thought it would be appropriate to host the work for my final project on my blog here, as it is a location dedicated to my professional work and was founded to share my ideas on literacy and particularly in libraries. One of the most important directions that literacy in libraries is headed is towards promoting the skills needed to use the electronic tools that more and more libraries are adopting and investing so much time and money on adding to their websites’. So, I will be using this blog to track the process of my project, to present my conclusions, and host the tools I plan on creating to help resolve some of the accessibility issues I’m discovering.

 

For my final project for my Master’s in Library Science degree, I am reviewing the electronic presences of four libraries in order to determine to what degree they provide assistance to children, teachers, and parents in using the various digital tools they offer. All of the libraries reviewed provide a variety of services for patrons on their websites, ranging from the OPAC (online public access catalog), subscription databases, downloadable e-books and audio books, RSS, as well as other Library 2.0 type technologies. The degree to which these tools are accessible varies depending on the website and the service. Some tools are difficult to access because they are buried in the website, while others lack clear directions in how to use the service. However, the largest barrier to use of most libraries’ electronic services is that they lack sufficient explanation to illustrate why someone would want to use the service through a clear description of what can be achieved through its use and the audience it is directed towards.

 

In my next posts, I will introduce the four libraries I am reviewing and then talk about some of the services they offer.