Bibliographic Displays in OPACs and Web Categories: How Well Do They Comply with Display Guidelines?

Article excerpt

This paper combines findings from two assessments of full bibliographic displays in catalogs of academic libraries. The first assessment evaluated displays in twelve OPACs; the second evaluated displays in ten Web catalogs. Displays were evaluated against a checklist of desirable `features derived from published display guidelines. Findings showed that, on average, displays in OPACs scored 58 percent and displays in Web catalogs scored 60 percent. We discuss some of the weaknesses identified by the assessments, focusing on those found in the majority of the displays evaluated.

In May 1994, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto embarked on a three-year project to investigate issues related to the design of displays of bibliographic records. In the first phase of the project, we decided to go back to the published literature to gather together the design guidelines that have been published regarding displays in general, and bibliographic displays in particular, and then to evaluate how well these guidelines are reflected in existing bibliographic displays. The purpose of this phase was to measure to what extent bibliographic displays in a sample of academic library catalogs complied with available display guidelines. Our assessments focused on full bibliographic displays, rather than brief bibliographic displays. Full bibliographic displays should provide the user with sufficient information for the user to identify and assess the potential usefulness of the item represented by the display in the catalog.

Many researchers have commented on the importance of the design of displays in general. For example, Dumas[1] notes that displays should help users find what they are looking for and obtain information easily. Tullis[2] and Galitz[3] note that effective justification and positioning of labels, text, and instructional information eases eye movement and improves the clarity of the overall screen. Similarly, Tufte[4] states that display formats should contribute to the quality and usability of the information displayed. However, with respect to bibliographic displays, many researchers (e.g., Hildreth,[5] Matthews,[6] Raitt[7]) have stated that existing display formats are ineffective. Matthews[8,9] commented that display formats for bibliographic records are critical but have been neglected. According to some researchers, electronic catalogs have resulted in a degradation in the quality and consistency of bibliographic displays that makes them difficult to read, and therefore less useful. Machine "translation"[10,11] of MARC records has led to idiosyncratic displays because of the relative ease with which the form and content of records can be controlled at the local level. Regarding this, Hildreth has commented that "... the uniformity and commonality of record format on most card and book catalogs has been abandoned in the world of electronic catalogs ... the data included in a display, as well as the manner of its display, varies in short or brief formats of different online catalogs."[12] Ridgeway describes this outcome as an "electronic Tower of Babel."[13]

Related Literature

Research on Bibliographic Displays

The library and information science literature includes a vast number of research reports on OPACs. These include studies of usage patterns and user satisfaction, search behavior and search success, and user interfaces. However, few studies have focused on the displays of bibliographic records in OPACs.

In an early study of catalog cards, Palmer[14] found that the majority of respondents in his sample rarely used more than four or five elements when making judgments on the usefulness of an item, and he concluded that "... some items presently on the catalog card might be removed without damaging the catalog's ability to fulfill most patrons' demands."

Hildreth[15] investigated user-interface features of ten OPAC systems using the checklist methodology. …