Monday, August 14, 2006

Catalog files reviewed

Most of what is in here is related to improvements to the library's catalog or OPAC. I can't implement these ideas, but I can problem solve and then offer suggestions to my library's ILS for the next upgrade.

I subscribe to the philosophy to make the collection as browsable as possible, thus avoiding the catalog. Many users want to find a book, not learn how to use a computer, so to save time, it is good to learn how to browse and to teach browsing. Intuitive placement, good signage, instruction and routine are key pieces to save the time of the user.

One of my favorite things to do is to pull the exact book the patron needs without either the patron or myself having to use the catalog. It tells the patron that they could find that themselves if they learned the system. Teaching this technique along with providing catalog searching tips also helps. Patrons like to browse, help them do that. When you get stumped, use the catalog.

One thing we did to improve services with the catalog was to purchase a tablet pc to help with inventory and roving reference. This allows you to browse with the patron, then use the catalog without leaving the patron.

Much of the problem of the catalog is a confusion of purpose mixed with the inability to take advantage of technology. The purpose of the catalog is to find books, not information. A classic example is the patron who has come in with an illness diagnosed and is seeking more information. They type in the disease with no results, then they ask for help. We then refer them to Merck or a host of other medical resources that would not come up with the OPAC search. This is the key fault in the OPAC, it cannot give you all the information in every book. You are relying on the subject area. Due to lack of space on the original card catalog, a cataloger had to decide what the major subject of the book was. As a result, you or your patron will have to realize that the information may be housed in a larger book, up the category tree, and unfindable in an OPAC.

Next, catalog file resources.

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