usability in OPACs

Meredith of ALA Wiki fame has two good posts this week on the usability of library catalogs and access to library information generally. One comments on the In Defense of Stupid Users article — which I mentioned here a while ago but bears re-linking — talks about taking responsibility for our difficult to use catalogs. The second post discusses Lorcan Dempsey’s post about user interfaces and why people enjoy sites like Amazon and Google, and why they don’t enjoy searching at the library. Meredith pulls out the “how does this affect libraries?” parts of this article and wonders, as I often do, how do we fix systemic problems that aren’t going to be addressed by buying better middleware?

So, unlike the major online presences, our systems have low gravitational pull, they do not put the user in control, they do not adapt reflexively based on user behavior, they do not participate fully in the network experience of their users….The more I think about these isues, the more I think that a major question for us moving forward is organizational. What are the organizational frameworks through which we can mobilize collective resources to meet the challenges of the current environment? How do we overcome fragmentation; streamline supply; reduce the cost of the system and service development which is incurred redundantly across many institutions.

Anyone who continues to think that this problem is all about “being like Google” or “dumbing down the interface” is missing the point. Our interfaces have been so difficult for so long, we have a great opportunity to make great strides simply by not making it hard for people to find what we have, that’s a good start.

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