Will the ILS Soon Be as Obsolete as the Card Catalog? Many Librarians Are Intent upon Altering the Integrated Library Systems, Believing That They Could and Should Be Made More User-Friendly

By Balas, Janet L. | Computers in Libraries, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Will the ILS Soon Be as Obsolete as the Card Catalog? Many Librarians Are Intent upon Altering the Integrated Library Systems, Believing That They Could and Should Be Made More User-Friendly


Balas, Janet L., Computers in Libraries


I'm only stating the obvious when I say that librarians who have been in the profession for more than a few years have seen significant change come to libraries through the implementation of new technologies. We have worked, and often often struggled, to ensure that the library is not left behind by these technologies but instead uses them to improve service and to make our institutions more useful and more vibrant. It hasn't always been easy. When librarians stop to catch their breath, they often wonder what things will be like in the future. Will there still be brick-and-mortar buildings or will the virtual library replace the physical institution? Will users consult flesh-and-blood librarians or will they interact with avatars who represent them?

Most of us have adapted to the changes, appreciating the advantages of the OPAC over the card catalog and welcoming other technologies that have made resources more accessible. For some, however, these changes are not enough. They would like to challenge libraries to change more fundamentally, feeling that such a shake-up is essential for our institutions to remain relevant and successful in the future--a future that's populated by a generation that has grown up with technology and takes it for granted. This generation may not want to visit its fathers'--or its mothers'--libraries.

Recently, to the shock and dismay of many in our profession, a library chose to scrap the Dewey Decimal System. The Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District in Gilbert, Ariz., has arranged the materials in its collection by topic, just like those in a bookstore. The Arizona Republic's article "Gilbert Library to Be First to Drop Dewey Decimal" reports that librarians believed this arrangement would make the collection easier to browse for patrons who are used to visiting bookstores. There has been a lot of chatter about this decision in the media and on the Web, including articles in professional journals, an NPR program, and conversation on discussion lists and blogs. On his blog Gather No Dust, Jeff Scott has posted links to the just-mentioned articles and offers a tour of the Perry Branch. I'm sure that many of us will be following the fortunes of this library.

The folks at the Perry Branch Library dropped the Dewey Decimal System to make their institution seem more like retail bookstores, which are perceived as being more user-friendly. While all librarians might not advocate such a radical change, many are intent upon altering the integrated library systems, believing that they could and should be made more user-friendly.

Movers and Shakers Speak Out

The OPAC is the public face of a library's automation system since it's the part that users interact with. If it serves the users well, then they'll feel that the library serves them well. In "How OPACs Suck," a three-part piece in ALA's TechSource, Karen G. Schneider discusses the deficiencies of the current crop of online catalogs. In the first part, Relevance Rank (Or the Lack of It), she talks about the importance of relevance ranking in searching and offers a brief explanation of how it's implemented. As Schneider explains, users of Google and other Internet search engines are accustomed to having their results ranked so that those judged to be the best matches are listed first. OPACs that don't have this feature seem backward by comparison.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The second part, The Checklist of Shame, is even more scathing. Here Schneider lists the features that are common to most search engines and should be in online catalogs but are not. She also offers a brief explanation of these features.

In the final part of the series, The Big Picture, Schneider's discussion moves away from its focus on the deficiencies in the OPAC's searching capabilities and considers the larger issues of how the catalog should change and integrate into the Web. All three articles offer much food for thought as do the comments that are posted at the end of each. …

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