A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Does Your OPAC Have Charisma?

by on December 26, 2012

In this day and age web user interfaces aren’t simply a functional tool, but also an aesthetic invitation to explore. For OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs) this means to continue honoring our library’s mission statements, and to keep up with the needs of our patrons.  We must aid in the ability to perform instant searches and accessing of information to best serve our communities.  In order to keep up, public libraries have had to leave behind their traditional perception of a catalog and interface and evolve into a next-generation kind of library system.  Modernizing our library catalogs isn’t about creating a gimmick to lure patrons in, but really to show understanding and reflect their user interests and needs.

A library system can have a treasure of information and resources at the disposal of their patrons, however if the user is not able to successfully access any of them, then it only results in an ineffective system. Traditional library catalogs with their restrictive search fields and dated interface leave users with a frustrating experience that only encourages them to use outside search engines instead. In a time when Google seems to reign in its efficiency of serving as a single access point to an unfathomable amount of information,libraries have to prove themselves an authoritative and active participant in the information age.

It is important to be perceptive of these emerging changes to better understand our patrons and their needs. Library OPACs shouldn’t be used as a last resort for information retrieval, patrons should be able to feel comfortable enough to keep wanting to use them.Libraries have far too much information and resources to be considered a secondary searching option, which is not their purpose.

As we browse and search through our own OPACs we can notice and appreciate a smooth interface that allows us to interact and feel in control of our searches. OPACs now must offer us the visual aesthetics and strategic design that every other high functioning website can offer us. We expect it to look modern, to let us “like” it, add reviews, sample items, add tags, manage personal accounts and even browse items as if they were bookshelves! All from the comforts of our computers, tablets and even cell phones. These charismatic OPACs do exist, and are inviting, attractive and trust worthy but can only be considered truly successful if they keep the user wanting to come back.