Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Resource Discovery: Comparative Survey Results on Two Catalog Interfaces

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Resource Discovery: Comparative Survey Results on Two Catalog Interfaces

Article excerpt


Like many libraries, the University of Minnesota Libraries-Twin Cities now offers a next-generation catalog alongside a traditional online public access catalog (OPAC). One year after the launch of its new platform as the default catalog, usage data for the OPAC remained relatively high, and anecdotal comments raised questions. In response, the libraries conducted surveys that covered topics such as perceptions of success, known-item searching, preferred search environments, and desirable resource types. Results show distinct differences in the behavior or faculty, graduate student, and undergraduate survey respondents, and between library staff and non-library staff respondents. Both quantitative and qualitative data inform the analysis and conclusions.


The growing level of searching expertise at large research institutions and the increasingly complex array of available discovery tools present unique challenges to librarians as they try to provide authoritative and clear searching options to their communities. Many libraries have introduced next-generation catalogs to satisfy the needs and expectations of a new generation of library searchers. These catalogs incorporate some of the features that make the current web environment appealing: relevancy ranking, recommendations, tagging, and intuitive user interfaces. Traditional OPACs are generally viewed as more complex systems, catering to advanced users and requiring explicit training in order to extract useful data. Some librarians and users also see them as more effective tools for conducting research than next-generation catalogs. Academic libraries are frequently caught in the middle of conflicting requirements and expectations for discovery from diverse sets of searchers.

In 2002, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Libraries migrated from the NOTIS library system to the [ALEPH500.sub.TM] system and launched a new web interface based on the ALEPH online catalog, originally branded as MNCAT. In 2006, the libraries contracted with the Ex Libris Group as one of three development partners in the creation of a new next-generation search environment called Primo. During the development process, the libraries conducted multiple usability studies that provided data to inform the direction of the product. Participants in the usability studies generally characterized the Primo interface as "clear" and "efficient." (1) A year later the University Libraries branded Primo as MNCAT Plus, rebranded the ALEPH OPAC as MNCAT Classic, and introduced MNCAT Plus to the Twin Cities user community as a beta service.

In August 2008, MNCAT Plus was configured as the default search for the Twin Cities catalog on the libraries' main website, with the libraries continuing to keep a separate link active to the ALEPH OPAC. A new organizational body called the Primo Management Group was created in December 2008 to coordinate support, feedback, and enhancements of the local Primo installation. This committee's charge includes evaluating user input and satisfaction, coordinating communication to users and staff, and prioritizing enhancements to the software and the normalization process.

When the Primo Management Group began planning its first user satisfaction survey, the group noted that a significant number of library users seemed to prefer MNCAT Classic. Therefore, two surveys were developed in response to the group's charge. These two surveys were identical in scope and questions, except that one survey referenced MNCAT Classic and was targeted to MNCAT Classic searchers (appendix A), while the other survey referenced MNCAT Plus and was targeted to MNCAT Plus searchers (appendix B). These surveys were designed to produce statistics that could be used as internal benchmarks to gauge library progress in areas of user experience, as well as to assist with ongoing and future planning with regard to discovery tools and features. …

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