Panlibus Blog

Remember OPAC Suckiness

It was all the rage three years or so ago.  Karen Schneider even did a three part series on ALA TechSource exploring How OPACSs Suck, in which she listed elements of OPAC Suckitude and desirable features in a non-sucky OPAC.  Karen was not on her own, as this 2006 post from Jennifer Macaulay reminds us.

amazon suck What brought this to mind you may wonder.  I was preparing content for a presentation, when I was struck  by the massive contrast between two sites I was taking screen shots of.  The first is a classic site which does better than any other to show how libraries were being left behind by the rest of the Web.  If amazon.sucked like our old OPAC was a humorous facade on to Amazon.com web services, built by David Walker of California State University, to make that well know Internet retailer look like it had been styled by a well known library System supplier.  Until recently it was a fully working OPAC style interface on to Amazon.  Unfortunately I think recent changes with Amazon web services may have broken it beyond the first couple of clicks. (If you are listening David, fancy trying to fix it?)

RSAMD I was contrasting this with the impressive recently launched interface for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD).  Comparing these two, drives home just how far OPACs, (if that is what we should still be calling them), and more importantly the aspirations of the librarians responsible for them, have come in the last few years.

Are we there yet?  Checking out some of Karen’s 2006 list, you can tick of many items that are now standard in so called next generation OPACs, such as relevance ranking, spelling suggestions, and faceted browsing, so we are well on the way.  As the RSAMD interface shows, it is now possible for a library search interface to hold it’s head high amongst the some of the best of the web.

There is still progress to be made, but should we be still concentrating on a destination site that puts the library’s catalogue on line or should we looking more broadly at how the web presence of the whole library should be an integral part of the web.  I think the answer is both – Stunning catalogue interfaces should become the norm, not the exception to be admired and pointed at.   Meanwhile delivering all library services seamlessly as part of our users’ web experience should be our next goal.

I wonder what contrasts I’ll be reflecting upon in another three years…….

2 Responses

  1. Hugh Taylor Says:

    Wearing my hat as a music graduate, and acknowledging that I’m not a Talis employee, so am unlikely to show quite the same enthusiasm as Richard, I find myself, for once, disagreeing with Richard’s post. Have you actually tried to search for specific pieces of music? Or for variant forms of composers’ names (sadly, they aren’t always represented identically)? OK, so some of the problems in locating what you’re looking for (or in making sure that the RSAMD doesn’t hold it) is down to the data – and that’s a discussion that’s cropped up on this blog before, and will continue to crop up in future – but I think musical works are amongst those for which this sort of approach to constructing an OPAC is least suited. It would take longer than I can spare to do a full analysis of the shortcomings, but anyone seriously interested in the issues surrounding the description of, and access to music materials in OPACs, will quickly see the problems. They’re not new, and they’re not confined to this product, so this certainly isn’t criticism of Talis specifically. But to suggest that it’s any sort of significant step forward is missing the point (or maybe aiming at the wrong target in the first place?).

    It does *look* very good, I’ll grant you that. But if it doesn’t get you to the material that the RSAMD holds then how much do appearances really matter?

  2. Jodi Schneider Says:

    Hugh, I’d encourage you to look at the University of Virginia Music catalog (which uses blacklight.) What do you think?

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