OPACs (everyone together now) SUCK

I am trying to do multiple things at once today and I am determined to get my aggregator read before ALA. Otherwise, I will never catch up.

All this talk of OPACs sucking really has some people’s hackles up. If you want a nice recap, go see John Blyberg’s post.

The issue at hand here is really about redefining purpose within the library and staffing your technology department with passionate creators–employees who are extremely knowledgeable, technically, and driven to pursue a vision.

The issue really is redefining our purpose and the purpose of the OPAC. Is the OPAC there to help librarians keep track of all of our stuff or is the OPAC there to help people find things. These two functions, tracking and finding may seem similar, but they are certainly not the same action.

Tracking something requires that you measure, record, and follow. Whether you are tracking a living thing or an inanimate thing, you have to know where it came from, what it looks like, and where it is right now.

If you are finding something, what you need to know the most is where it is right now. Arguments could be made that physical descriptions help, but when was the last time you took a tape measure with centimeters into the stacks? Do we think our patrons carry that around with them? In addition, I am not one of those people who have the happy talent for imagining spacial perceptions with accuracy.
Tracking and Looking do intersect at one very important point: Where is the thing right now? We should start the conversation there and work backwards. How can we make things easier to locate in our systems, both physically and virtually? OPACs should be easier to use, more visually appealing, and just more.

There has also been some whining from vendors that we are abusing them in some fashion. This is ridiculous. It has been said before and I will say it again. Libraries pay a lot of money for products that do not work. Librarians are at fault, but so are the companies that willfully refuse to listen to us and who build systems that… suck. Quit whining and make something better and let’s make something better together.

–Jane, feel the OPAC love

3 thoughts on “OPACs (everyone together now) SUCK

  • June 21, 2006 at 1:00 pm
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    For the amounts of money they charge, not to mention the lack of competition in the field, they should be more than able to quit whining over a little “abuse” and take the heat. It’s their customers complaining. They should get a clue and listen in and act accordingly.

  • June 21, 2006 at 2:57 pm
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    I’m starting to think that the whole idea of an OPAC is kind of wonky. I think what we’re generally talking about it two different things: what patrons want and need inside a library building, and what patrons want and needs at a distance. Inside the library, what patrons want to know is, as you say, “Where is what I want right now? If it’s not here, how soon can I get it?” Outside the library, I think patrons want to go to a library website and find out “what services the library has available to me, including getting what I need to where I want to pick it up, as soon as I can get it.”

    And librarians owe vendors absolutely nothing. In a free market economy, it’s the vendors responsibility to remain competitive. Give us what we want and need, and give us a reason to pay good money for it, and we’ll sign right up.

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