In response to Michael’s TTW post directing us to Karen Schneider’s series on “Why OPACs suck”
, I want to argue in favor of the OPAC.
While I do agree that the current format of OPAC’s might not be the most user-friendly thing in the world, I do have admiration for its basic functions, and for just how far we’ve come technologically. I mean, was the card catalog easy to use? Hardly! But there were some who did master it. It would indeed be wonderful if OPACs came with search engines and other bells and whistles, but for a relatively recent innovation, OPACs are surely be a huge step up from any non-electronic format. Some features Schneider outlines as ones that “OPACS wish they had,” would of course be lovely, such as the ability to search “inline” within only one domain (such as .edu or.gov) or refine an original search, but am I really so lazy that I can’t just hit “New Search” and perform another search with a greater level of specificity?
OPACs are certainly not perfect and alas, people are lazy, so if they’ve picked up habits from Google (good or bad), I suppose we shouldn’t try to re-invent the wheel; rather, respect the skills gained and provide another platform for their use. But maybe, just maybe, we’re expecting too much? Library technology has grown by such leaps and bounds in the past ten years compared to the previous hundred, so why is there this expectation to continue hurdling forward at light speed? Yes, yes, to keep up, stay competitive, be in the “know,” but as I’ve read over and over, just because great, speedy new technologies exist, each individual library must evaluate what to purchase, and how exactly it will fit into their library. Perhaps some libraries operate just fine on a simple OPAC, with the librarian truly helping patrons to both learn to search the system, and fill in the gaps. It seems to me to be a rather large assumption that just because there is an “easy” search link from a library OPAC posted on a MySpace page, that students might actually use it. Yes, it’s there, and of course, by being there, there is a much greater chance that it might actually get used, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Most people have wonderful things to say about libraries in general, but does anybody “really” get as excited about libraries as librarians? We might be expecting just a bit too much from people who aren’t….exactly like us! There will always be library users who embrace whatever system is available, and there will always be library users who have no interest in learning any type of system, and would rather wander around aimlessly looking for something they’re not even sure of, than attempt to use the catalog or even (gasp!) ask a librarian. But for most people, the OPAC is fine. Now I know it sounds like I’m settling for less, but in a day where library budgets are being slashed, professionals in our field are getting more tied up in political issues than ever before, it might be sufficient for some aspects of the library to just be “fine” (as long as it works), and for efforts to be concentrated in more highly-needed areas like user services, online collection/resource development, and access. So, to the OPAC, I enjoy using your friendly services. True, sometimes it takes a few tries to exactly get where I’m going, but sometimes wrong turns are an equally important part of the learning process.