End-User Perceptions of a Graphical User Interface for Bibliographic Searching: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Computer publications often praise the graphical user interface (GUI).(1,2,3) Since its introduction in 1985, Microsoft Windows, probably the most popular GUI, has been viewed as a time saver, money saver, productivity booster, and learning-curve tamer.

Until relatively recently, however, few bibliographic applications intended for library end-users employed this platform. While Windows programs have saturated the home and business computing markets with a wide variety of applications from games to package-shipping software, many companies that furnish libraries with information resources continue to distribute character-based interface/DOS products.

The relative scarcity of GUI library products in the exhibit halls at the Information Today Inc.'s 16th Annual National Online Meeting (May 1995) reinforced this perception. University Microfilms International (UMI), a major library database distributor and originator of the popular academic databases Periodicals Abstracts Research Levels I/II and Dissertation Abstracts International, is looking at the GUI as a possible interface. Currently, Information Access Company had no GUI versions of its popular bibliographic databases Health Reference Center or InfoTrac (although it does have three titles running on the Windows platform: Computer Select, IntelliSeek, and Auto Reference Complete - for automobiles). NewsBank, a major full-text resource, also continues to default to the DOS platform. Of course, many DOS applications may be started from Windows, but this does not make them graphical user interface programs.

A few database distributors, however, are aggressively exploiting the Windows platform. Ovid Technologies distributes dozens of scientific, academic, and popular databases accessible via both Windows and DOS. Among these are Dissertation Abstracts, Current Contents, MEDLINE, and Wilson's Readers' Guide Abstracts. SilverPlatter Information offers both Windows and DOS accessibility to the majority of its numerous databases including UMI Periodicals Abstracts Research II, Social Work Abstracts, and the Encyclopedia of Associations. Gale Research includes Windows software with some of its products. LEXIS-NEXIS has given end users a DOS/Windows choice since 1991. EBSCO is testing a full-text Windows bibliographic database. Specialized current-awareness databases such as Reference Update have also migrated to an optional Windows version.

Statistics prove Windows is the interface of choice. In April 1995, the Software Publishers Association (SPA) announced that Windows applications accounted for 65 percent of the software sold in 1994 with sales reaching $4.78 billion. In July 1995, the SPA's tally for Windows applications had already reached $1.43 billion for the first quarter of the year; Windows programs currently account for 71 percent of the total North American market.(4) Meanwhile, DOS applications sales slipped 25 percent. Thirty-one percent of present non-Windows users told the SPA that they would be adopting Windows as their operating platform in the coming months.(5)

Yet character-based bibliographic information is firmly entrenched in our libraries. SilverPlatter's DOS SPIRS software dominates; the character-based ProQuest, used by UMI, is another frequently encountered interface. Most of the online resources that both individual libraries and consortium-oriented libraries use are also character-based (e.g., EBSCO, CARL, FirstSearch). The general public's familiarity with character-based bibliographic databases makes it tempting for librarians to refrain from experimenting with GUIs. Other factors may also account for librarians' reluctance in moving to Windows. Although the popularity of the Windows platform warrants a change and there are enough products to initiate the migration, there is a concern that switching platforms to a GUI will confuse end users. Consequently, public services librarians are concerned that a new interface will result in more end-user training. …