It’s always come as a surprise to me just how much we (as librarians) rely on the OPAC. It may be different at other establishments but I know here we use it for many of our enquiries (if you ignore the silly number of enquiries we get about room bookings!) and also for staff tasks such as checking reading lists, checking stock levels before weeding, etc etc.

You’d think with so much of our work relying on the tool, that tool must be amazing. Sadly not. To coin a phrase used by Davey P at Huddersfield University, our OPAC sucks and his survey results show we’re definitely not alone.

Fortunately things are looking up here. We are currently in the massively time consuming process of looking for another library management system. One of the stages is to examine what us, and more importantly our users need from an OPAC. I’m going to be involved in the OPAC project and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m hopeful we can gain feedback from users and potentially integrate features like book covers, ratings, similar item suggestions, and spelling suggestions (boo.

  • “You’d think with so much of our work relying on the tool, that tool must be amazing”

    That’s what common sense would have you believe. Sadly this reasoning doesn’t work in the real world. Once a platform, process, organisation, or bit of software becomes the ‘de-facto’ standard and pleases 90% of the people that use it (or at least those that commisioned it), and has reduced competition to almost nothing, it then sits on it’s ass doing precisely nothing for years and years. Over time better competition might arise, but is always ignored because ‘its not the standard’. New features are requested, but it takes years to get changes because ‘with so many users it needs thorough testing’. This is a cop out for “We have monopoly, pay us a lot more and we’ll think about doing it. When we feel like it.”

    All of which means ‘the standard’ looks more and more creaky as time goes on, and nothing gets done about it for a long long time. Until the dominance is threatened by competition and the people using the ‘standard’ stuff are so pissed off with it they actually start looking at competition – which is what you are doing. It’s only then when asses get put into gear. Recent example? Firefox and IE. It’s taken two years for IE to catch up after sitting on it’s ass for 6 years, only to be caught asleep by a vastly superior product.

    Good luck with the OPAC – sounds like fun 🙂

  • Jo – I spoke to Dave at Online after going along to his presentation. I was very impressed, especially with his efforts in updating (or tweeking) the OPAC at the Uni of Huddersfield. He’s got web skills, so I asked him what do the rest of us, without his skills, do. He said there were open source (web based) OPACs which looked to replicate the Amazon experience. Might want to check over with him on his blog for more details. Agree with Matt’s comments above – OPACs, generally suck.

  • Jo Alcock

    Thanks very much Peter, that’s great to know. We have our first OPAC meeting when we come back in January so I’ll feed back anything interesting.