It probably would not surprise anyone to know that I have given quite a bit of thought to the library catalog. While I (and others) have been taking NCSU’s story on the road quite a bit lately, I have not participated very actively in the professional discussion since I uttered those four seemingly innocent little words at LITA’s Top Technology Trends almost two years ago: “The OPAC still sucks.” The fuller context of the quote had to do with newer technologies and trends distracting us from this inescapable fact; nevertheless, I will be remembered in some circles for adding a word to the library lexicon that might have resulted in punishment when I was a kid. Now there are web buttons (I never meant it as a bragging right!), excellent blog posts, and even a song. Ain’t my mother proud?
But my fervent hope is that the last half of this decade will be remembered not for complaining about the sorry state of some library technology but for the libraries and software vendors that tried to do something about it. I was very happy to see that Casey Bisson, information architect for Plymouth (N.H.) State University’s Lamson Library, has received the Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration for his ground-breaking software application known as WPopac. Many folks are already familiar with the online catalog transformed by Casey using the WordPress blog software. Congratulations, Casey.
When I talk about the online catalog, I try hard (with varying metaphors that have varied success) to frame its improvement as only one piece of a much larger puzzle. That puzzle includes many other discovery tools that still have potential for ease of use and greatness but might become 21st-century versions of the OPAC without care and attention–metasearch, journal lists, digital repositories. But it also includes layer upon layer of services that somehow seem easier to add once the complexity of search and discovery has been replaced with new and easy-to-use technology. While “excellent” is a redundant qualifier for Lorcan Dempsey’s blog posts, he has a recent nice one about delivery services. Plan to spend some time when you click–if you’re like me, you will just keep scrolling, reading, and nodding your head once you get there.
As of today, I am going to stop using “OPAC” to describe my catalog. I will still use it to describe the thing we used to have. I won’t use “online catalog” either…it’s a transitional phrase like “horseless carriage” that has outlived its usefulness. And, get this, I’m not going to say things suck anymore; I will merely endeavor to make those things better. The catalog is just the tip of the library iceberg, or perhaps the new interfaces are. I look forward to more solutions, more innovation, and more awards for the efforts of libraries and librarians.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]