Sunday, September 28, 2008

The "Ideal" OPAC (Today's version)

This week we collaborated to design the perfect OPAC, read articles about the Google Game (Watkins & Elder, 2006. SLJ.; Watkins, 2008. SLJ.), and researched use of databaes in some of our local schools. While it is obvious that the currently available OPAC's do not meet current user expectations or needs, it is similarly obvious that the "perfect" search engine may never exist any mre than the perfect house or automobile. Personal preference, user ability, information needs and other factors will lead designers and users in, similar perhaps, but different directions.

With an ever changing landscape, one can not predict the far future. The ideal library search engine today, in my opinion can be defined through four components: the appearance of search page, appearance of output pages, search characteristics and / or tools, and the scope of search output. The ideal search engine for high school and public libraries could be very similar.

The search page should be sparse and clean. Links should be limited; advanced search, FAQ answers, clear and concise Boolean search instructions, an explanation of keyword and tag searching and how the search process works, live reference and homework help, and a link to a more informational and colorful library splash page.

Output pages should also have clean lines and be easy to read. At top should be a synopsis of results from all available sources and links to these results. Results should also be available simply by scrolling. Results should be accompanied by image of book cover, journal article or Web page. Every result should include a brief summary, list of subject headings and tag cloud, and links to reviews if available from reputable sources. Multiple sort and limiting options should be available to refine search.

User tagging and tag searching should be employed by a "smart" system that suggests spelling, more popular tag choices, title and author names, and subject headings as user is entering search. Initial tagging may be suggested by publishers and librarians but users must be the focal point adding tags and building the system. In addition to this suggestion or funneling system, a list of expanded, related, and narrowed searches should be displayed as a sidebar on results page.

Most importantly to the success of the library search engine or OPAC and of literacy education will be the scope of the search. Searches should include the library book collection, WorldCat, or if preferred by schools, SchoolCat, archived journals or magazines, all leased or publicly available preferred databases, library selected websites, and Google. These returns with summaries should be displayed to any user on any computer anywhere. If certain database articles are available only with a password or from computers inside the library, this note should be made. The available summary, cover image, and tags will assist user in assessing value of the source.

By including Google results along with database and book results, users will have the opportunity to choose the level of information needed and may potentially access a wide variety of sources. If the Wikipedia article can be compared directly to Britannica and to the latest literature or government reports, users will begin to make informed decisions regarding quality of sources. If by narrowing and refining search (The Google Game) to get best possible results, they learn that databases often win, the users themselves will win.

At the public library users looking for a great fiction book will be delighted by the included summaries, subject headings, tag clouds, and reviews. They will be further delighted upon choosing a book that is not on the shelf that they can quickly identify if it is available at another nearby library (WorldCat) or if a used copy can be purchased inexpensively (Amazon) all in the same search.

(Note: Search libraries around the world by location or by OPAC platform used - )

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