I recently read the very interesting paper called “Panizzi, Lubetzky, and Google: how the modern web environment is reinventing the theory of cataloguing”
Students would love the library catalogue to be like Google. The above study compares student use of OPACs and search engines. Not surprisingly the findings reveal that students prefer searching via search engines than through the catalogue which they find difficult and confusing.
The authors ask, therefore, why descriptive cataloguing no longer seems to work. They go on to explain the theory behind modern library cataloguing rules. They then went back to their findings and ask whether “theoretical principles and practices of traditional bibliographic description have any relevance to the needs and behaviour of university students who know how to use search engines” and whether “conventional OPAC design provides an adequate vehicle for those principles and practices”.
The study was based on observation (through video) and interviews. The study revealed that students seemed confused at the results of the search on the catalogue but were more confident about the “hit list” on Google. While the students preferred Google they did respect the organisational qualities of the catalogue:
“The Web is cluttered; the catalogue is organized” even if it wasn’t always helpful. Students were “unable to derive enough information from the lists of titles or headings to gain any extra understanding.”
Search engines have popularity based rankings meaning that order evolves rather than is imposed. Google fosters a sense of community which appears friendlier.
The authors conclude that the OPAC’s unpopularity “may not be insurmountable” but that the interface design badly needs some development including “some visualisation techniques to restore the richness of the card catalogue which is lost in the two-dimensional world”.
As a newer cataloguer, I do find some of the authorised headings rather restrictive. More use of natural language is needed to enable quicker and more satisfying searches. The proposed move to RDA (Resource Description and Access) does little, in my view, to make the catalogue more user-friendly. (But RDA is another blog post!) Evidently, more radical changes are needed for the library catalogue to compare favourably to search engines.