Sunday, February 12, 2006

OPAC Research

There is a large body of literature about the online public access catalog (OPAC) in libraries and finding research reporting the difficulties of end-users searching OPACs isn't too difficult. Martha Yee's FRBRization: A Method for Turning Online Public Finding Lists into Online Public Catalogs, published in Information Technology and Libraries 24(3):pp. 77-95, continues the trend of OPAC research, investigating interface displays, begun in the 1990s. But there's a difference in Yee's paper; if catalogs and cataloging bore you or you think Google, metadata are the keys to information organization problems, this article has many gems worth further reflection and I share a few with you.

Martha acknowledges her focus in the paper and its limitations very clearly: "my focus is on recommending more intelligent use of our millions of existing MARC 21 bibliographic, authority, and holdings records in order to improve system design and to FRBRize OPAC displays and indexes. There are other ways in which our practices could be changed to create better and more FRBRized catalogs, such as changes in the cataloging rules, the MARC 21 format, and the whole infrastructure of the shared cataloging environment, but these other approaches are beyond the scope of this paper."

Insider knowledge is made explicit: "Now we insiders know that, in fact, if you want to use both an author and a title in a search, you can construct a keyword search to do so. This fact is not self-evident to anyone but us; however, as we know from experience at UCLA, where there was a faculty rebellion over the loss of the old name-title search in our last OPAC, despite the fact that the default search on the initial screen of our current OPAC was always a keyword search, and if someone entered author terms and title terms, the result would be the rough equivalent of the old name-title search, with somewhat less precision. UCLA faculty did not recognize
that keyword was roughly the same as name-title; I suspect that means most other catalog users would not recognize it, either....The sad fact is that whenever you do a keyword search in most current OPAC software, your search will not be matched against authority records."

The goal is in the tradition of Seymour Lubetzky's cataloging objectives: "It is critical that we educate a generation of system designers to the point that they can recognize that the fundamental assumption that our current software makes—that its job is to find one record at a time—is antithetical to the work of a real catalog."

Martha M. Yee is Cataloging Supervisor at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

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