Tag Archives: MLIS

Upper Arlington Public Library OPAC

The last Online Public Access Catalog I will be reviewing is that of the Upper Arlington Public Library. Like the other OPAC’s this one has multiple levels and tools that users can utilize to access the catalog and find information. The UAPL OPAC does not have as many user interfaces as the CML OPAC, but it is equally as complicated. Accessible from a link on the sidebar of the main page, the library does not have dedicated computer terminals at the branches just for catalog access, allowing users to just use the internet access computers to search the catalog. My review here will follow the same pattern as with the previous reviews, looking at the following three questions:

  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 Available for Accessing the Catalog:

 There are two main access points for the Upper Arlington OPAC, as well as a series of tools that can be used to “filter” the results of each interface before the search is conducted. The two interfaces are extremely different types of searches, not merely an advanced and basic interface.

  The primary search that opens from the “Library Catalog” link on the side bar of the main page is a “Browse Search.” It is a very simple interface, with one entry point and five different “search types.” These are really search areas, as all searches performed from this access point are the same type—they are catalog/index searches that are word specific. That is if you type in “tree” in a title search, you will get an alphabetical list of titles in the catalog that start with the word tree. The search works the same way with subjects, authors, call number searches, and journal title searches. Similar to the Salt Lake County OPAC’s “Starts With” search, this search allows users to enter into the catalog and see all entries; in fact once a search is conducted users can browse through all catalog entries, not just ones with Tree in the first word.

 This OPAC also has a Keyword Search, accessible from a link at the top of the search interface. This interface has three different entry points that can be customized to perform a keyword search in one out of nine areas. These range from the typical Author, Subject, Title, Subject, and Anywhere, to the more specialized numerical searches ISBN, ISSN, LCCN, OCLC (yes this is the OCLC accession number, I looked it up and tested it), and by the barcode. Under the search boxes is an area to create filters to further limit the search results. These limits are in four different drop-down menus and two different date range possibilities (publication ranges and context dates). Users can narrow down results based on Nature of Contents, Format, Language, or Publication Location, but none of the choice options within these areas would be useful for those looking for materials for children, or even a lot of public library patrons. They range in the “nature of contents” from Abstracts/summaries to legislation, and finishing with thesis and treaties.

 One final tool for searching the catalog is actually not directly on either of the search interfaces, but is set on a box on the side of the page frame and from a link at the bottom of each search interface. This is a “Session Filter” option that allows users to set limits on the results of every search conducted during a specific session (what is a session is not explained, but if the screen is left on either search interface for very long it moves to the “My Account” screen. For the most part these limits are the same as those at the bottom of the Keyword search interface, with the addition of the ability to narrow down the search to items at one or more of the systems three branches.

 

Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the use of the Catalog:

Of the four OPAC’s reviewed, the UAPL has the least available tools integrated to assist users in searching the catalog. There are some text instructions, for instance “Select items to filter on. Hold down CTRL to make multiple selections.” But that is pretty much the extent of the assistance available from on the website for users to learn how to navigate the catalog.

 

Explanations/Tools Available to Evaluate the Results:

 Results are displayed in a numbered list that tells the user the number available, where they are located, what the title is, the author is, publication information, and also allows users to place a reserve directly from the results list. An icon next to the number illustrates what format the item is, though there is not a key to explain what they mean. Below the icon are three links to different levels of information on the item, first a full item screen, second an item level screen, and then the MARC record screen.

The three types of records contain data describing the item. First is the “full” record, which contains basic information about the item: call number, author, title, publication, and subject. It doesn’t have any information about if the item is available or at what library it could be found, beyond the call number. The second record is the “item” record dedicated to the circulation status of the item, its current location, and so on, as well as including the basic details from the “full” record page. It provides a chart of different status options, from Checked Out, On Hold, Requested, and so on. The final record is the MARC record of the item, simplified somewhat, but showing all of the information entered in the basic fields. For those not accustomed to reading and interpreting MARC records, this may not be the most informative screen.

 

Overall Review of Upper Arlington Public Library OPAC

 

 In some ways this is a very simple OPAC, it doesn’t have a lot of flashy Library 2.0 features, but that doesn’t mean that using it is straight forward and easy. Besides not having instruction and guidance built into the catalog, it is not an intuitive search, as it uses terms and record numbers that are not popularly used outside of library science. In particular, there are no tools or limiters that might help users discover what materials are suitable for children. The limits seem better suited for adults or even academic libraries. Even the individual item records are difficult to interpret, seeming to offer a perspective more suitable for staff and professionals, not parents, teachers, or children.

Columbus Metropolitan Library OPAC

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:

  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 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.

 

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.

Distance Learning–an education in education

Though I have been working in education for a long time, ugh, I haven’t been an actual student alone for some time, and never before in a distance education type of setting (unless you count my adviser being AWOL). Last semester and during the next couple of weeks, I will be trying out two different types of distance education. Since Kent State’s MLIS program is the only one in the state, it offers programs for the entire area, which means that it provides various ways for students to attend classes. Last semester I was in an on-line management class and this intersession, I am in a video conference class.

Years ago, I graded classes for an on-line class and helped with running it, so I thought an on-line class would be easy peesy. However, it was not so. Neither the work nor the readings were particularly onerous, but the direction of the class made it incredibly difficult to complete the assignments. The professor’s expectations were never fully explained, and when questioned he provided little feedback and even less personal assistance. My thoughts on this, is that it is partially due to the format of the class that makes it difficult for some people to pick up the implications of questions. In an in-person class, the teacher can see and hear the ways the students are asking and responding to directions.

Despite this, I am signed up for a video class, where the teacher is teaching a full class in Kent and a full class in Columbus. Today is only the second class, but I’m hoping that the communication will improve between the students and the teacher. In the first class, it was very difficult for the Columbus students to respond to the teacher and the Kent students. As the two classes have students at very different levels of experience in libraries, and distance in the program, it should be interesting to see how the materials are presented.