Online Public Access Catalogs all really have the same aim, to help users discover items that fulfill their information needs. Even though many systems pile features on top and around this purpose, perhaps to facilitate discovery, the basic purpose of the OPAC remains the same. After reviewing four systems it is obvious that there are a lot of factors that go into the intuitiveness of a catalog. Some OPACs have a lot of features, but no assistance for how to use them, others have lots of instruction for multiple features, but they don’t work how they are supposed to, which lessens their overall usefulness. The question isn’t if they work—because with enough time and effort it is possible to find materials through all the catalogs—but how well they work for users independently accessing them.
Many libraries rely on in-person staff instruction to guide users in discovering the features of their OPAC, neglecting those users who either access the OPAC from the internet or prefer not to ask for help. Even those libraries whose OPACs have instruction may not be able to reach those with specific needs, or reach children, who may not understand the terminology used in some catalogs (such as UAPL’s OPAC). There really isn’t one solution to make all of these OPAC’s more accessible for parents, teachers, and children, as each of those reviewed had different issues. Certainly catalogs like CML’s and the UAPL that had almost no instruction could integrate more directly into their interfaces, and those like Salt Lake County Libraries could make their instructions more obvious.
In conducting this first review, I understand that many of these OPACs are purchased from outside distributors, and that the individual libraries may not have the ability to add or modify them to integrate more instruction. Perhaps, instead of cramming instructional tools onto the search interfaces, some of these libraries might provide electronic tutorials to guide users in the catalog. Instructional videos are quick and easy to make, and can bring together written and oral instruction together to better reach both children and adults. In my next post, I will discuss the technology and process of creating an instructional video to demonstrate how to use the CML catalog to find materials for children.