Magazine article Computers in Libraries

How Next-Gen R U? A Review of Academic OPACs in the United States and Canada

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

How Next-Gen R U? A Review of Academic OPACs in the United States and Canada

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[The Following is a summary of a research study published in Library Hi Tech (29:2 2011).

--Ed.]

As a concept, the next-generation catalog (NGC) is not new to librarians, who have been wishing for better OPAC interfaces for their integrated library systems (ILSs). The NGC has been the focus of discussion for more than 5 years now, from the 2006 report of the implementation of Endeca at North Carolina State University, to Marshall Breeding's 2007 issue of Library Technical Reports dedicated to the NGC, to Roy Tennant's repeated "lipstick on a pig" criticisms of superficial OPAC improvements. Several research articles have also been published that measured NGC features in online catalogs (including one of our own), but they have been limited in scope.

With vendors seeming to abandon their ILS-integrated OPACs in order to develop and promote their discovery tools, we were curious as to just what was the current state of affairs for academic libraries in the quest for the touted NGC. Using the 12 NGC features described later and compiled from both Breeding's report and a presentation by Peter Murray, we set out to measure on a large scale how individual OPACs measured up on these features.

We gathered data from 260 libraries in the United States and Canada--about 10% of the population--randomly selected from Peterson's Four-Year Colleges, 2010 edition. Accounting for consortial catalogs and multiple interfaces in use simultaneously (i.e., when the "classic" ILS-integrated OPAC and a discovery tool were both presented as the library catalog), there was a potential for 273 catalog interfaces. With missing data from 40 institutions (15% of the sample)--these comprised instances where no OPAC was available from the institution's website, as was the case with many for-profit institutions; rabbinical colleges with no web presence; and OPACs that consistently timed out--233 unique interfaces were analyzed. From September 2009 through July 2010, we examined each interface individually, based on its own merit and local implementation, to see how it ranked. With a confidence level of 95%, our numbers can be extrapolated to the whole population with a margin of error of [+ or -] 3.

An interesting and unexpected result of the research was discovering the concurrent use of ILS-integrated OPACs and discovery tools. For example, Michigan's Grand Valley State University offers three options to search its library catalog: Summon, Encore, and its classic III catalog, with the Summon search box offered on every library webpage. Out of 260 institutions, 179 (69%) offered only their ILS-integrated OPAC. Thirty-five (14%) offered a discovery tool plus their "classic" catalog. Only six (2%) presented a discovery tool as the only option. Our research suggests that those offering a discovery tool either find it expedient or necessary to continue access to their legacy catalog. In fact, some discovery tools, such as Innovative Interfaces, Inc.'s Encore, require the legacy catalog for anything but a simple keyword search.

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The 12 NGC Features

1. Single point of entry for all library resources. The library catalog should be a single search or federated search for all library materials, including pointers to the articles in electronic databases, as well as records of books and digital collections.

Only 4% of catalog interfaces included article-level access. Only 3% included access to full text at the article level and journal-title level as well as ebooks. As a feature, federated search is still largely missing.

2. State-of-the-art web interface. Library catalogs should have a modern design similar to ecommerce sites, such as Google, Netflix, and Amazon.com.

We determined that only 50% of the interfaces could be considered state of the art.

3. Enriched content. Library catalogs should include book cover images and user-driven input such as comments, descriptions, ratings, and tag clouds. …

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