Librarianship’s Future Strengths: Are OPACs Broken?

I recently stumbled across an older ACRLog posting “Academic Librarianships’ Future Strengths?”

While the entire article gave me something to reflect upon and think about regarding our future strengths, I think the most interesting part of the post, from my perspective (and likely most of you if you’re reading this “Cataloguing” blog!) is the following:

While it’s still enough of a future strength to make the list, I’m optimistic about the OPAC. NC State, Koha, Evergreen, VuFind, Fac-Back-OPAC, WorldCat, LibraryThing, Aquabrowser, the Open Library, and the last proprietary ILS vendors standing, are making inroads. That said, your OPAC is broken if [emphasis added] it:
1. Doesn’t offer faceted browsing;
2. Doesn’t include federated search that retrieves relevant results from your entire collection (e.g. monographs, serials, other media, special collections);
3. Doesn’t have a permanent, clean URL for every item in your collection;
4. Doesn’t produce that URL in a way that shows up in Google/Yahoo/MSN/Ask, etc.;
5. Doesn’t offer useful feeds (e.g. new material, sorted by subject);
6. Requires that your constituents get trained in order to use it effectively.

Out of the 3 comments offered by readers at the end of this article, two of them are commenting on the OPAC. I find this very telling, given that the main thrust of the article is not about OPACs, nor does the section on them dominate the post.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say an OPAC is broken if it does not provide the features listed above, I believe that an OPAC that does not have these features is certainly in serious need of attention. However, if your library doesn’t have a plan or hasn’t started a dialogue about implementing these features, I would be very concerned. While some of these features already exist as an option in catalogues or have the capability of being implemented without significant expense, others require new ILS software, upgrades or the purchase of software such as Webfeat or Search 360 (federated searching). And, of course, when an OPAC requires these things, our first consideration is budget, followed closely by justifying the need for it and the demand on resources (including staff time and expertise for implementing these things).

As long as an OPAC can provide access, it isn’t broken. But, without useful features, it faces serious limitations and handicaps that will only escalate into very serious concerns for the future of any cataloguing department and the future of the catalogue in your library.

That said, I too am very optimistic about the OPAC, given all of the technology and attention it is being given by vendors, library management and professional literature. So – now we need to start making our own lists. What do you think about your own OPACs? Is yours broken? Half-broken? Just a little worse for wear? Or, are you already talking about these feaures and well on your way to implementing them?

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1 Comment

Filed under Access Issues, future of cataloguing, The Library Catalogue

One response to “Librarianship’s Future Strengths: Are OPACs Broken?

  1. Any examples of good OCLC #’s of cataloged websites? I’ve been asked to catalog one but haven’t seen any examples yet. I do plan to search for some before cataloging the site, but it would be nice to look at some examples that are considered good by other catalogers so I have something to base my judgement off of.

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