My third OPAC to review is that of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). Like the Salt Lake County system, CML’s catalog is fairly complicated, with multiple interfaces and a number of tools designed to facilitate access. The catalog is accessible from catalog terminals in the library building, from the header bar at the top of the library’s website, and from a box available on the front page of the website. As in my previous review, I will look at the follow three areas in my discussion of this OPAC:
- 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 are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?
Tools and Interfaces Available for Accessing the Catalog
While there are at least five different interfaces for the CML OPAC, most of the tools available for searching the catalog are the same wherever the search is conducted.
The first interface is the one on the front page, which allows users to search either databases (called Premium Resources) or the Catalog. Users can conduct a search of the OPAC from here based on Author, Title or Keyword.
Perhaps the most frequently used is the interface reached by hitting “catalog” at the top of all website pages (it is the search interface displayed on the catalog stations at the library). It is a basic search, with just one box for a general keyword search. Under the keyword search are links to the advance search, and a portable search interface that can be accessed via portable devices such as blackberries or iPhones. (it is the same as the basic search interface, except with out the graphics)
The next most common interface is the advanced search, which offers users the chance to specify the keyword searches to particular fields. So if users know part of a title or the author’s name, they can use the Advanced Search to narrow it down. There are seven spaces to search Title, Author, Subject, ISBN/ISSN, call number, Publisher, or publication year. It is also possible to select a specific format, such as DVDs, Large Print or just Books.
Recently the library has launched a new search interface, a Kid’s Catalog. It is accessible from a link on the basic catalog interface and from the kid’s page on their website. The Kid’s Catalog features two interfaces that are roughly identical to the basic search and advanced search of the general catalog. In the advanced search, however, there are only four categories to search in (Title, Author, Subject, and Call Number) and a format limitation. This catalog basically adds a limit to all searches, restricting results to items listed as juvenile in certain places in the MARC field.
Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the Use of the Catalog
CML’s OPAC provides a very limited degree of assistance for users searching in their catalog. The search interface is provided by Aquabrowser, which offers a small introduction on searching from the results page. Clicking on HELP at the top of the results screen brings up a short document with a few tips on some of the special features, such as the display cloud that appears to offer alternative word choices. The only interface with additional directions is the mobile interface, which has more detailed written descriptions of how to conduct a search.
Assistance in Evaluating Search Results
The catalog has a variety of tools to help users evaluate and narrow down the search results to help determine the item that best fits the information needs. First there is the item record itself, from the first search results to the detailed record screen. In addition, there are two primary areas for narrowing down results, an area on the right side that suggests other search terms and one on the left side that allows users to narrow down the results. The search results are displayed in a list that shows the title, the author, a brief summary of the item, the call number, the series, the subject, and what search terms discovered the item. It does not show if it is available, where it might be located if it is available, nor does it allow users to place reserves from the initial record. This location and availability information is contained on the individual item record, which also might contain a huge range of other information. Each item record contains the basic bibliographic data, as well as availability and location, summary, table of contents, sometimes reviews, and sometimes excerpts from the book.
Along the right site of the results screen, there is a display called a “Discovery Cloud” that offers alternate spellings, related search terms, transitions to other terms, and links them to the original search. This cloud can be turned off if it is distracting or not needed, as it is most useful if a user needs assistance coming up with a keyword. One thing that is difficult with the cloud is that it doesn’t offer such obvious variations as plural forms of the word. This is significant because the key word search does not rank plural items with singular. So for a search of “tree” there are over 6,500 results and for “trees” there are just under 6,500, but the results are sorted entirely different, so to find non-fiction books on trees would require a user to go through pages and pages of results. It would be nice if the alternate spellings and search traces showed plurals, especially irregular plural formats.
The left side of the results screen offers ways to limit and search through the results, which is very important because of the shear magnitude of the results generated by a keyword search that can pull words from often lengthy records. There are many different categories under which results can be narrowed down, depending on what kind of search is performed and whether the search uses the Kid’s Catalog or the general one.
The first option is to limit by location, which narrows down the items to those items that are at a branch or that have been checked out from that branch. So if people want just books at the location they are this is a start to narrow down the options, but it isn’t perfect, since it also pulls up items that are currently checked out from the location. In addition, the only way to find out if an item is in is to open up the record and scroll down, since availability is not shown on the results page.
Next come a series of refine options, allowing users to limit their results to produce more focused results. Some of these are fairly standard bibliographic areas, author, subject, language and format, but some offer more detailed factors that can be very useful in locating a particular book within a large amount of search results. Each area has the top 5 or so results for that limiter, with the number of items listed under that term, with a link to the remaining terms. For instance the area “Author” offers the specific spellings and format of all the authors who created materials in the search results, sometimes with thousands of results, which can be seen on a separate screen. Other options can be very specific, such as location were the story takes place, character in the item, or merely narrow down the format to non-fiction or picture book. These are helpful if paired with a very broad search term.
The children’s catalog has additional limiting areas that are specifically designed to assist parents and caregivers with selecting items for their children. Beyond merely limiting the results to materials identified as having a target audience of Juvenile (which is something that also can be used to limit results in the general catalog), this catalog provides other factors allowing users to select materials particularly for children. Rather then just specifying the type of book, like picture book or chapter book, the Children’s Catalog allows users to narrow down by age level to find picture books for either toddlers or preschoolers or juvenile fiction by grade level. This search also allows users to narrow down the results by number of pages, which many parents and teachers also use as criteria to determine age appropriateness (whether or not this is an effective method is another question).
Overall Review of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s OPAC
CML’s OPAC is heavy on features, but very light on instruction. This leads one to wonder how well users are able to independently use the catalog and take advantage of the features. In addition, without any explanation about how the search works and how to get the most out of it by putting the right kinds of terms in, it is hard to believe that even with great limit options and information to aid interpretation people are able to effectively discover all of the works available to meet their information needs. The features to help parents and teachers find resources for children are very helpful, but there is no where that points them out or explains how to use them or why one might want to.