One-stop shopping versus window browsing
After looking at countless OPACs and library websites, I began to wonder how a user’s behaviors affect their interactions with the library. I reflected upon my own selection habits and found myself on the fence. I love the exploration of specialty stores and all the intricacies found within these focused outlets. However, there is usually a point at which I would love to buy food, lumber, gas, and insurance all in the same place; just for the sheer convenience of it. I suppose the difference in each situation is exploration versus efficiency. With the option for larger variety but greater division put against small selection within one roof; the real matter at hand is time.
The majority of users are already crunched for time, even with the best time management skills, and casually browsing for sources just won’t do. But the question remains, are the federated and meta searching tools we have before us actually satisfying our users’ needs? There is something unsettling about realizing just how difficult it is to collect all the possibilities for research sources. Going back to the store analogy, you can at least be assured that the basic concept of the store remains true in each business. In the world of databases, the same information can often be rearranged and presented in decidedly different fashions. Is it fair to continue to ask users to relearn the primary methods for constructing their searches?
There may be a handful of solutions to this problem but two still stick out in my mind (three if you count the ability to force vendors to use the same programming and database languages). The first possible solution is a robust catalog portal system. Something like Sirsi’s EPS Rooms perhaps. True there are OPACs which are just as powerful, but the ability to connect your library’s page content and other related resources, can make looking as rewarding as finding.
The second possibility would be to have a shift in the thinking behind how we keep bibliographic records. Making the records extensible and modular would allow for more complex networks to be formed between records. The developments made by the FRBR and RDA groups are promising. With the right interface, browsing and collocation could be made much more intuitive. The way we approach records needn’t be limited by the card catalog of yore. The ability to create hyperlinks and associate online records makes the necessity of FRBR and RDA even more of a concern for modern libraries.
Though we may never actually attain 100% of resources in a one-stop shopping search tool, we need to be aware of the dangers of giving users lengthy lists of resources. Within the Google era when presented with a list of 20 billion results and a deadline before you, it is no wonder that only a small percentage of those results are even considered. If the lists we keep of databases and websites could be associated with tags or even subject terms from a catalog system; we may be able to guide the user to what they really need. Imagine if the catalog began to understand how you were searching and even who you are, and then asked if certain tags you have searched before should be applied to your current queries. Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s a bit creepy in some sort of sci-fi movie vein, but I kinda like it when the system helps me out and shows me something I didn’t even think of.