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Editor's Desk

Volume 4 Issue 1 January 2012

Why Library Catalogs are not as user-friendly as Search Engines? Traditional library card catalogues are data-centered handicrafts with lots of rigid rules controlling their access and descriptions and hence naturally very much underused. Since the legacy is continued in modern Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs) as early OPACs functioned like digital version of card catalogs, end-users also continued to admire library card catalogs and OPACs as handicrafts than understand and use them extensively. Whatever limited use made of them is more for searching known-items and/or as adjuncts to library circulation system than as an information retrieval tool. Interestingly, many studies have reported that large majority of users prefer to browsing books on the shelves of libraries than browsing library catalogues. Search Engines intuitively captured the imagination of end-users with many simple and easy to understand features in information discovery and access. User-centric design, self-service, seamlessness, natural language search, fuzzy search, auto suggestion of search terms, spell-check, auto-plurals, auto-word truncation, showing similar items/pages, relevance ranking, popularity tracking, interaction and feedback, provision for varieties of filtering and browsing, etc. are the features users got acquainted from Search Engines. They never expected users to undergo information literacy trainings and not even to have a search strategy or prepare a complex search query, but allowed users to enter whatever natural language words come to their mind in a search box with a search or go button adjacent to it to click and execute without the burden of knowing field tags, Boolean operators or data structure and so on. As a matter of fact, unlike OPACs, by default they did not restrict the search terms to select fields even though that is an option available and this feature greatly increased the relevance of search results. Search Engines went to the extent of automatically deciding, as soon as two or more keywords are entered in the search box, either to execute as a phrase search or Boolean AND search. Some clever Search Engines execute both in sequence, i.e., first as a phrase search and then as Boolean AND search if the resulting hits are below certain pre-specified number. Once the search results appeared, Search Engines effectively capture the attention of users with relevance ranked presentation, option to change the criteria for ranking like latest first (i.e., by date of publication). The display of results by Search Engines is more convenient and comfortable than that from OPACs. Search Engines guide users, in a simple way, not only to modify the search and re-execute with the search 1

box and keywords intact but also enable them to narrow down the4search January 2011 Volume Issue 1 result through various filtering options like subject, author, format, date, language, etc. They also liberally allow users to play with result pages and items by moving back and forth and marking and demarking, downloading, e-mailing, sharing, exporting and processing and doing many more things. In addition, users can access and collate similar records with more like this feature for a given author or subjects. One welcome development in the recent past is that library OPACs are trying to imitate Search Engines and introduce external links to images, full text, TOC, summaries, author information and reviews of retrieved documents. Classification scheme, cataloging code and controlled vocabulary (thesaurus) are the three sacred tools which pre-occupied librarians more than anything else over a century. But Librarians did not bother to check the acceptance of these tools by end users. Present day Search Engines do have thesauri and taxonomies in the back and help users to map their natural language keywords so that end users are immensely benefited but without taxing them to know what is happening (or how it is happening) in the back. Some of the rigid cataloging rules, the process of delineating metadata elements as access, descriptive and administrative data elements, are no more relevant on Web. As such, AACR, MARC and other standards have appeared more as limitations from user perspective than a userfriendly service. On the other hand, Search Engines have effectively repurposed these data elements to add value to service and grown with the changed and expected user behaviour. Library catalogs are also changing, but slowly. For example, the extent of data mining done by Search Engines cannot be compared with Circulation and OPAC modules of any library management software. In a nutshell, rule-based data-centric design of OPACs turned out to be Librarianfriendly; where as user-centric design of Search Engines are immensely userfriendly. OPACs are no match to Search Engines as for as user-empowerment and minimal consumption-skill requirements are concerned. Of late, Federated Search Engines, in their effort to provide one-stop digital service to users, face challenges in integrating diverse OPACs and different sets of databases within the same OPAC. It is heartening to note that the new J-Gate 2 has many features of a powerful Search Engine and is forging ahead to enhance it soon with even Federated Search Engine features to search in one go all your digital resources including OPAC. M S Sridhar -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------