Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Are We Really Ready to Say Goodbye to the Sucky OPAC?

Comments** from Jane from A Wandering Eyre on my last post started me thinking about what our expectations for the OPAC and its reincarnation are (and even what they should be). I am extremely excited about the conversations taking place about library catalogs. They are a great step forward in the evolution of library systems. I personally believe that the OPAC needs a complete overhaul, but is this a realistic expectation for the immediate future? From my perspective working in systems in a small academic library, I am positive that our OPAC will be our main interface for the public for the forseeable future. This means that regardless of what we think our systems should be, we need to deal with the situation at hand. So, this leads me to ask - are we really ready to say goodbye to the sucky OPAC?

While I know that there is a whole group of library bloggers who would shout YES to this question, I really can't imagine that most libraries would be able to ditch their OPAC in the immediate future. Most of us are not at this point. First of all, there isn't enough buy in from library staff. And this is a big point. As much as forcing change on users is not a good idea, it isn't any better to force it on library staff. Second of all, major changes require planning (many people have commented about the pace of change in libraries) be it for budgetary support, technological support or just for good implementation. And at this point, there isn't a good consensus about what it is that we need in place of the OPAC. There is no system in place from which we at smaller institutions can use to build upon. Third, the amount of money we have invested in our current library system means it isn't going anywhere soon. Regardless of whether this should be the case, it is.

So, this is why I think it is important to spend time tweaking our current systems to make them more usable. Just because the system is sucky doesn't mean that we should just accept it until we come up with something better. I think just giving up on our current systems would do a disservice to our users.

Ultimately, for those who think we need to chuck our sucky OPACs out the door and move on, I would be incredibly interested to hear their views on what would replace it. What is the vision? How does it work? How do we implement it? Do we even know what it should be? (I know I don't know enough about the users needs and search habits at my library to think I have a handle on this.) I'm obviously still formulating my thoughts on this issue - and haven't gotten far beyond the realization that our current systems are not cutting it.

Update to Post - 6/15/06
**Jane's comments were posted to my wordpress blog - additional comments on A Wandering Eyre

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