Saturday, July 14, 2007

Time to revisit the purpose of OPACs

The word OPAC is an acronym for "Online Public Access Catalogue". I say it's a word because it's one of those terms that have fallen into everyday use, and I suspect many people don't really know what it means other than it being a word.

One day, I might find myself telling this to kids: "Boys and girls, in the days before computers, libraries relied on Card Catalogues to search and locate individual library items."

There's a more comprehensive explanation of their history over at this LISwiki entry.

Anyway I rediscovered Kathryn's post on OPACS and User Privacy. I was drawn to these two images in particular:

Kathryn wrote she'd like to see them in OPACs.

So would I.

I think it's about time we do, and libraries had better do it quick. Especially with all this talk about Library 2.0. and New Media, Social Software etc. Let's put the money where our mouth is.

I mean, here's a tool/ service that almost every library user would make use of, at one point or other. And librarians have always compared ourselves with and we envy at the interactivity that goes on there.

But some librarians feel that an OPAC should remain as an OPAC. It's a tool meant for locating library items, and we should not turn it into some other animal.

I say that may be true in the 1990s, where all this social networking stuff hasn't caught on yet. So now it's time we librarians review the purpose of an OPAC, and what it means to the whole library business.

At it's core, the OPAC should still fulfill it's basic purpose of locating library items. So long we keep that focused, there shouldn't be a danger of it becoming something it;s not supposed to be. Then we build augmented services (that users would find meaningful) around that core service.

Of course changing the OPAC systems wouldn't be easy, but if librarians and libraries are commitment to do so, then it would be done.

In the past, an OPAC was just a computerised version of the card catalogue. And nothing more. Today, it can -- and should -- be more than that. Not simply because librarians want it to. But because more and more of our users find social networking meaningful. And Public Libraries serve a social function.


  1. I use the NLB OPAC very frequently, and I think this is a good idea. What I do is to use OPAC to look for books at home, then go to the internet to look at which book to borrow.

    Integrating user comment and ratings would help so much.

  2. Hi Ivan, I was talking about the OPACs the other day and someone on the staff asked me what I meant? "Do you mean the public computers?" Apparently that is what the IT guys are calling them at MPOW now...still I like the idea of the social networking, even though the children do a lot of that anyway, while they are searching...

  3. I am thankful that I don't have to rely on card catalogues to search and locate library items. I vaguely remember seeing those cabinets containing the card catalogues at the Ang Mo Kio library when I was a young girl, about 7 years old or younger.

    This post reminds me that I may need some help to learn to make more effective searches for library items. I suppose I can approach a librarian for help the next time I visit a library?

  4. Yep, there has been a shift in the way we access and share information. It's about time. :)


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