Improving the OPAC – Fruits from the discussions

The discussions on the state and future of the OPAC have been quite interesting and from them I’ve been inspired to tweak our OPAC. One tweak is in production, the other I just put together as a proof of concept on our test server.

Tweak One – Simplifying search options
In a posting to the Next Generation Catalogs for Libraries, Karen Schneider said

In 2002, one of the first modifications to Librarians’ Internet Index on my watch—a data-driven decision based on what I saw from search log analysis generated for another purpose—was to *remove* the options to refine the search on the front page by subject, title, URL, description, and I forget what. Search failures dropped a whole bunch. I forget the percentage, I can look it up, it was high double digits.

library after LC announced the end of its series authority support. We had wondered how much series searching was done and I mentioned that I could probably find out. We turned on OPAC search logging for our user interface when we upgraded to SirsiDynix iLink so I went to the logs and extracted the series searches and put them in a spreadsheet. It was immediately obvious that the users had no idea how to do a series search. We found call numbers, titles, subjects, and search queries we couldn’t categorize. The only successful series searches were performed by librarians. The consensus was that we would be doing our users a service by removing this search option from the basic search screen. It is still available on the advanced search screen.

Next, I am going to see what kind of analysis I can do on subject searches.

Tweak Two – giving the user choices

A recurring theme in the discussions is about the OPAC is giving the user choices. Don’t let them reach a dead end. Give them other places to look. I started thinking about the public library which is less than a mile from campus and wondered if our students are patrons there as well. Is the public library providing additional services? Different services? It turns out that there is a strong college presence in the public library though there is no way to determine the student/faculty/staff mix. This led to me to consider the possibility of customizing the OPAC to include continuing a search from our catalog to the OPAC of the public library. We already had one “continue search in …” link (Google Scholar) and I found that it wouldn’t be that difficult to create the structure to add our own links. In short order, I added a link that would take the search string and pass it to the public library OPAC. Personal note: the wives of three of the librarians here are in the same book group and we sometimes compete to find the next selection for them. This would speed the process to see if the book is available locally.

Continuing the fun, I added Open WorldCat as a continuing search option. OCLC has a web page on the URL syntax to link directly to an ISBN/ISSN in Open WorldCat though I decided to make our link a general search. My thought was that search continuation would be most useful if a search in our catalog wasn’t satisfied in which case there wouldn’t be an ISBN/ISSN to search. I could put in two links, one to a specific item and the other a keyword but that might be confusing. Oh, in case you are wondering, OCLC doesn’t support external searches to your institutional FirstSearch account. I asked.

Related to this, I also added the “Continue search in …” box to the page displayed when a search resulted in no matches.

With the sometimes virulent OPAC bashing that takes place, I would like to conclude this post with a plug for our ILS vendor, SirsiDynix, which provides its customer base with pretty sophisticated tools for customizing the iBistro/iLink OPAC.

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