North Carolina State and Plymouth State Universities' OPACs and Dialog's PsycINFO

By Jacso, Peter | Online, March-April 2007 | Go to article overview
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North Carolina State and Plymouth State Universities' OPACs and Dialog's PsycINFO

Jacso, Peter, Online

I have never before chosen an OPAC for this column, simply because I have not seen one that impressed me enough. Just because they show "Windows dressing" for window dressing and are accessible through the Web, functionally they are not that different from the ones in operation when I started my career 30 years ago. Now, however, I have seen two OPACs that are worthy of Picks: a spectacularly good one at North Carolina State University and another very impressive one at Plymouth State University. My pan is the Dialog version of PsycINFO. Even with DialogWeb enhanced with DialogLink 5, there is barely any extra software functionality at the intradatabase level. Things have not changed much from 30 years ago in the then-revolutionary Dialog system.

the picks


North Carolina State University Libraries (NCSUL) has developed an OPAC ( that gives hope to librarians (and patrons) that all the hard work that went into cataloging (providing metadata for) zillions of books, serials, A/V materials, maps, and government documents will finally pay off in a way that is appealing to millennial users. I am not surprised that this new OPAC is pioneered by NCSUL. It has Andrew Pace as the head of information technology and a team of systems librarians who have already proven their talent through the implementation of the NC LIVE network and their in-house metasearch engine projects. They clearly showed their competence and interest by meshing high tech with time-honored MARC records used not only in catalog records but also for records of abstracting/indexing databases. Pace's erudite and opinionated column in American Libraries (and in his prior columns for Computers in Libraries) clearly shows he can spot a good library software when he sees one--and apparently he has seen one. It is Endeca that finally turns our tools of the trade, the LC subject headings and classification codes--perceived by our patrons as intimidating, discouraging, and user-hostile--into a gold mine of user-friendly metadata.

Mind you, Endeca is not an off-the-shelf, turnkey library automation package. It's a software suite that offers very powerful tools to the system developers who know, like the backs of their hands, the anatomy, structure, and architecture of their data files and the search behavior of typical users. Endeca brings out the most of data content, offering a panoramic view with many options, including tools to gradually, yet swiftly, zoom in on promising subsets and also peek into their semantic or "locational" neighborhood for genuine resource discovery.

As just one example, a search for terrorism in NCSU's OPAC retrieves not only a set of 186 records, automatically relevancy ranked (which can be re-sorted by publication year, title, author, call number, and, yes, circulation popularity), but also creates a multifaceted profile of the results set with the option to filter by topic, genres, formats, regions, eras, languages, and collections--all of which appear in a sidebar with the number of records shown. This, in turn, invites the users to take samples, move on to another cluster, or drill down further within the primary cluster chosen. My short description does not do justice to this top-notch OPAC, but luckily, you can try it yourself, go through its layers, and browse the digital shelves to see the dynamism and navigational clues on your choice of topics.


The complete makeover of your father's OPAC requires not only brainpower but also money. The underlying software and the time required of the many developers involved in projects such as the one at NCSUL take both. However, gradual but significant rejuvenation can be done using open source software with relatively small labor costs, benefiting from the labor of love of talented individuals who want to innovate and create a millennials-pleasing OPAC.

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North Carolina State and Plymouth State Universities' OPACs and Dialog's PsycINFO


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