Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Should We Retire the Catalog?

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Should We Retire the Catalog?

Article excerpt

CMOR

With the overwhelming adoption of discovery systems by both libraries and library users, one has to ask--do we still need OPACs? I argue that they are not worth maintaining if we adequately integrate our records into discovery systems.

Like many librarians, I still believe there is an important place in research for sophisticated native databases with advanced, discipline-specific search features, such as Medline, SciFinder, Historical Abstracts, etc. But who among us has ever described our library catalogs in that way? We have long lamented the flaws and limitations of the OPAC modules of our library management systems. Although discovery systems are far from perfect (and I look forward to their improving over time), they do allow our users to find our owned and subscribed materials in a way that is easy and intuitive, including the items that could otherwise be found using the catalog. The library catalog does offer librarians and other expert searchers some options that can make the process of finding known items easier and more accurate (namely field searching and field browsing for title, author, and subject), but such features are not intuitive to our users. Moreover, the necessarily generic advanced search features of our library catalogs are not integral to sophisticated, comprehensive searching of our holdings (as in the databases I mention above) and do not offer the same added value that would make them worthwhile to sustain. Obviously, we still need back-end catalogs (or the equivalent) to feed our holdings into our discovery systems, but the user interface is no longer necessary.

LITWIN

I think whether OPACs are still necessary depends on the type of user and the nature of the research question. At a presentation by a representative of one of the major ILS vendors introducing their discovery system, I recall being told that the discovery system was the result of extensive user studies of undergraduates and was geared toward their needs. That is, the system was designed to help undergraduates find useful resources without a librarian's help. It was not designed for the needs of advanced researchers, who often have much more specific requirements than undergraduates searching for "something useful" for a research paper.

At my institution, we were encouraged to use the discovery tool when helping students. I noticed that when I wanted to help students find something based on my interpretation of their needs and my personal knowledge of the field they were researching, the discovery tool presented an obstacle. It was often harder to find the specific items that I wanted. So, while this tool is useful for discovery, especially for undergraduates, it is not as helpful for users who want to leverage the knowledge they already have of an area of study or of the collection. Therefore, I think we need to maintain--and, I hope, improve--some tool that is geared toward knowledgeable searchers. I think it is important to understand that discovery tools are designed to substitute for much of the work that knowledgeable librarians do in helping users. Sometimes they do that well, but it depends on what the user needs from the interface.

CMOR

I, too, have experienced the occasional frustration of not easily finding a specific item that I know we have in our collection--but this happens quite rarely, and usually as a result of poor mapping or insufficient or incorrect catalog data. When reported, these problems can usually be fixed. Instead of working to improve our catalogs, I would suggest that we insist that our discovery tools improve at known-item searching--for example, changing algorithms so that matching book titles are highly relevant and show in the first few hits. As you note, discovery tools are strong when it comes to easy and simple "discovery." They are also excellent tools for interdisciplinary topics, current topics, and unique topics because titles and subject headings are often not adequate to uncover these types of books. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.