Findability and the Library OPAC

As I stated in my article A Solution to Subject Access of the Library OPAC, it is the responsibility of those of us organizing information to allow the searcher to find his information accurately in as little time as possible. The OPAC should function as the librarian does at a reference interview, and deliver accurate results that answers the patron’s question. The issue is findability.

In his book Ambient Findability, Peter Morville states that the issue of findability is the primary issue in web development: “You can’t use what you can’t find” (Morville, 111). As stated in my previous article, the OPAC requires a custom designed “search engine;” quite different than the keyword based PageRank algorithm utilized by Google (Langville & Meyer). Many OPAC interfaces have, in fact, integrated a similar ranking system to the keyword search. Keyword searches are easy for the patron, but do not provide accurate results.

As an information professional, the organization of information is at the core of my philosophy. Just as the semantic web attempts to organize information available on the web, and make that information available to the information seeker, so does a redesign of the OPAC search engine makes information available to the library patron.

I discovered this very interesting article on the topic: Beyond the OPAC: The Semantic Library.

According to John Blyberg, “the possibilities of the Semantic Web invariably leads back to library service.” The reasons he list are:

  1. Libraries have the infrastructure in place already to take advantage of this technology;
  2. Libraries are positioned already as information gatekeepers;
  3. Libraries are not encumbered by the need to protect proprietary information–sharing the wealth of knowledge is in our bones..

Check out the article – it is a very good overview of the benefits and the issues related to developing this technology.

Roy Tennant stated (and has since retracted) that “MARC must die.” On my blog he commented “The basic point is that limiting ourselves to the MARC/AACR2 (or even RDA) standards is inadequate — we need a metadata infrastructure (and the skills to use it) that supports a wide variety of metadata standards. The days of MARC hegemony are over.” There are still those who believe the problem is MARC. All that MARC is is a standardized format. Nothing more. In this writer’s opinion, there is certainly a need for normalization. This is a software issue, not specifically a metadata issue. FRBR/RDA would be an important addition to the bibliographic record. The relational database model is still the best way to store and retrieve information. But the critical issue is the software interface as it is designed to interpret the user’s needs and retrieve the data. Once the database is normalized, the database queries themselves are trivial. But what we need is a better way of creating queries to produce accurate results. This is a software issue, not a metadata issue.

Findability is not an option. Findability fulfills Cutter’s collocating objective of a bibliographic system – to show what the library has:

  • by a given author
  • on a given subject
  • in a given kind of literature

We live in the Google generation, and need to not only make search as easy as Google does it, but we need to do it better. Collaboration between information professionals and computer scientists can solve this problem.